After the Rwandan genocide, hundreds of thousands of perpetrators of violence fled into the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—then called Zaire. In massive refugee camps, they organized, began preying on the local populations, and conducting attacks back into Rwanda.
In 1996, militias under the command of Congolese rebel leader Laurent Kabila, with the support of the Rwandan government and Ugandan army, rose against the Congolese state and less than a year later, Mobutu's government fell. These forces committed massive human rights abuses against civilians. Laurent Kabila claimed the presidency and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Shortly after coming to power, Kabila changed his support away from the Rwandan government and began aiding armed groups associated with the perpetration of the Rwandan genocide. In August 1998, Rwanda and Uganda again invaded the DRC. Other nations quickly joined in and Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia rallied to the Congolese government's defense. A large number of local rebel groups and militias, some ethnically based and many sponsored by foreign militaries, also took part in the conflict. The United Nations (UN) has accused all nations involved of using the war as a cover for looting diamonds, coltan, gold, and other resources from this mineral-rich region.
In January 2008, the International Rescue Committee reported that an estimated 5.4 million people had died over the preceding ten years as a result of the conflict. Nearly half of these deaths were children under five. Most of the deaths were due to easily preventable and treatable illnesses, such as fever, malaria, diarrhea, respiratory infections, and malnutrition. Prevention would have been possible if the war had not destroyed DRC’s infrastructure, medical care systems, and economy. Today, a range of armed forces continue to perpetrate violence against the civilian population, including forced displacement, abductions, looting, forceful recruitment and use of child soldiers, and sexual violence. As of 2020, more than five million people were internally displaced, and an additional million people had fled the country.
The dense jungles and mountainous landscape of eastern DRC remain home to numerous rebel groups, which have complex histories and agendas, and are responsible for perpetrating mass atrocities against civilians. At times, each organization has received government support from different countries in the region, and many of the rebels have profited generously from the continued exploitation of the DRC’s abundant natural resources. All prey on the civilian population. Some of the most dangerous areas for civilians include the provinces: North and South Kivu, Ituri, Katanga, Orientale, and Bas-Congo.