The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—known as Zaire until 1997—has suffered two wars since 1996. The first war in 1996 began as a direct result of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The second began in 1998 and involved the armed forces of at least seven countries and multiple militias. According to the International Rescue Committee, since 1998, an estimated 5.4 million people have died, most from preventable diseases as a result of the collapse of infrastructure, lack of food security, displacement, and destroyed health-care systems.
In 2006, DRC held its first multi-party elections in over 40 years, and over 25 million citizens participated. The elections signified the end of a three-year transition period during which time the country moved from intense war to a system of power sharing between the former government, former armed forces, opposition parties, and civil society. Elections were held again in 2011. However, national and provincial structures remain incapable of ensuring basic security for communities, providing transparent management of resources and wealth, and addressing entrenched problems of corruption, poverty, lack of development and heightened ethnic and regional tensions.
In the eastern part of the country, the war never conclusively ended. A range of armed forces, including the Congolese military, the FARDC, continue to perpetrate violence against the civilian population, including forced displacement, abductions, looting, forceful recruitment and use of child soldiers, and massive sexual violence. Ostensibly tasked with safeguarding the Congolese people, the FARDC has been accused of committing widespread atrocities and establishing criminal networks in eastern Congo. According to the United Nations, 27,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2006 in South Kivu Province alone, a figure that represents only those assaults that were officially reported. Ethnic hostility, much of it echoes from the Rwandan genocide, and fed by inter-group violence, has produced an environment where groups fear their entire existence is under threat and engage in pre-emptive attacks against each other. In this complex situation, multiple armed forces, including the national armed forces and various militias engage in armed conflict and prey on the civilian population. Among the most brutal of the armed forces are the FDLR, a group whose leadership is associated with the perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.