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Continuous armed conflict and economic and political instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) pose serious challenges to achieving social reconstruction, justice, and peace. Decades of repressive autocratic rule under Mobutu Sese Seko came to an end through the violent campaign of Laurent Desire Kabila in 1997. But Kabila’s new reign quickly erupted into war and de facto division of the country into rebel-controlled, foreign-occupied territories. While open armed conflict officially came to an end with the signing of a peace agreement in 2002, violence continued unabated in numerous local conflicts in the East. The wars in eastern Congo have been described as the deadliest since World War II. The International Rescue Committee and the Burnet Institute estimated that 5.4 million “excess deaths” occurred in Congo between August 1998 and April 2007.[1] Today, two years after the first democratic elections were held in the DRC since independence, local violence continues to simmer, and even flare, in the East. All sides to the conflict have committed flagrant violations of international humanitarian law, including targeting civilians for murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence; forced displacement; recruiting child soldiers; abducting civilians; looting; and damaging property. A state of near impunity exists for perpetrators with only a handful being prosecuted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) or national Congolese civil or military courts.

Despite this environment of impunity, Congo has made modest efforts to support the quest for justice. Former belligerents expressed support for justice and reconciliation and called for an end to impunity when they signed the Sun City Peace Agreement in 2002. Congo is credited with lodging the ratification that marked the entry into force of the Rome Statute establishing the ICC.[2] It made one of the first state referrals to the ICC to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity known to have occurred during the war and became the first investigation opened by the ICC’s office of the prosecutor.[3] Since then, three Iturian warlords have been surrendered to the ICC. The ICC has also unsealed an arrest warrant for charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Central African Republic against the Congolese Jean-Pierre Bemba, a Senator, former Vice President and leading opposition figure who lost the run-off in the 2006 presidential elections to Joseph Kabila.[4] The arrest warrant for Bemba was quickly executed by the Belgian authorities in May 2008. The Congolese government has also called on the United Nations (UN) to set up an ad-hoc international tribunal to rule on crimes committed before 2002.[5]

The Congolese government and other institutions, however, lack the political will, capacity, and/ or necessary resources to rebuild the nation and address both the national and local root causes of the complex conflicts in the DRC. Among the institutions specifically mandated to address past atrocities and injustices, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that operated during the transition period leading to the 2006 elections and a National Observatory of Human Rights have been criticized as being neither credible nor effective. These institutions were established by ruling elites without consulting the victims of abuses and were dominated by former belligerents, who have insured that no credible investigations of past violations would occur. Lastly, by framing the conflict regionally with a focus on Rwanda, international peace builders failed to address other local causes of violence, such as conflict over land, exploitation of natural resources, or social antagonisms.[6]

As a result, the parties to the 2002–2007 transition and the current elected Congolese government have brought little significant change to the daily abuses to which Congolese civilians remain victim. While the conflict has been largely confined to eastern DRC over the last few years, in North Kivu in particular, the situation remains volatile and a factor of national and regional destabilization. Recent violence and subsequent negotiations, however, have spurred new hopes for a lasting peace in Congo.

Against this backdrop of fitful transitional steps in the DRC, the Human Rights Center (HRC) at the University of California, Berkeley, the Payson Center at Tulane University, and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), conducted a survey to document the experiences, views, and attitudes of those most affected by the conflict in the DRC.[7] In contrast to other war-affected areas in Africa, such as northern Uganda, little research exists in the case of eastern DRC. Yet the views of victims are essential to policymakers in the fields of peace negotiation, post-conflict reconstruction, and transitional justice.

The objectives of the survey were to:

  1. Assess the overall exposure to violence among the population in eastern Congo as a result of war and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law since 1993.
  2. Understand the priorities and needs of civilians affected by the conflict.
  3. Capture attitudes about peace and social reconstruction, including resettlement, protection, unity, and the reintegration of former combatants.
  4. Document attitudes and opinions about transitional justice mechanisms.
  5. Elucidate views on the relationship between peace, justice, and social reconstruction.

The geographic focus of this survey captured attitudes in the three regions of eastern DRC most directly affected by war, namely the Ituri district of Oriental province and the provinces of North and South Kivu. In doing so, this survey gives voice to the perceptions and concerns of the Congolese population that has suffered and remains the most vulnerable to mass violence and human rights abuse as a result of the ongoing armed conflict in the region. This focus is reflected in the in-depth analysis of the survey results from the Ituri district, and North and South Kivu in this report. For the purposes of comparison, however, the survey also assessed opinions in Kinshasa and Kisangani. The Congo wars have had a substantially different impact in Kinshasa, the nation’s capital and seat of national government, which is far removed from the worst fighting and human rights atrocities that occurred in the past and continue to affect eastern DRC. Kisangani has had a mixed experience, having been subjected to foreign occupation and intense fighting at the height of the Congo wars but having experienced greater peace than eastern DRC since the transition, thereby sharing some attributes as an urban setting more aligned with Kinshasa than eastern DRC. Several comparative results of the survey from Kinshasa and Kisangani are explored in this report.

Acknowledging the difficulties and inherent limitations of conducting a population-based opinion survey such as this one (see methodology section), the HRC, Payson Center, and ICTJ pursued this survey to encourage the Congolese government, formal and informal belligerents engaged in ongoing conflict, and international actors, including United Nations entities such as MONUC and OHCHR, multilateral and bilateral actors engaged in political and development assistance, to engage in further consultation and dialogue with the Congolese population to design and implement long-term initiatives to secure peace and security, transitional justice mechanisms, good governance, and the rule of law that responds to the population’s needs. To that end, this report concludes with a detailed summary of the survey’s key findings, as well as recommendations emerging from these results.


[1] International Rescue Committee and Burnet Institute, “Mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo: An Ongoing Crisis” (2007). However, such estimates should be interpreted with caution because they rely on assumptions about total population size and the baseline mortality level against which “excess mortality” is measured.

[2] DRC signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 8 September 2000 and ratified it on 11 April 2002. See (accessed on 9 June 2008).

[3] “Prosecutor receives referral of the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” The Hague: ICC press release, 19 April 2004; “The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court opens its first investigation,” The Hague: ICC press release, 23 June 2004.

[4] “ICC Arrest Jean-Pierre Bemba – massive sexual crimes in Central African Republic will not go unpunished,” The Hague: ICC press release, 24 May 2008.

[5] The ICC can only investigate crimes committed on or after it came into being, on 1 July 2002.

[6] Autesserre S., “Local Violence, National Peace? Postwar ‘Settlement’ in the Eastern D.R. Congo (2003–2006), ” African Studies Review 49/3 (2006): 1–29.

[7] HRC, Payson Center, and ICTJ have previously established a partnership to survey attitudes towards peace, justice, and reconciliation in neighboring Uganda, which, like the DRC, has experienced years of war and various attempts at establishing peace and justice to overcome the conflict. Like the situations in eastern DRC, northern Uganda is the site of an investigation by the ICC, which has issued an arrest warrant against Joseph Kony and other commanders who allegedly perpetrated war crimes in their service of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The partnership between HRC, Payson Center, and ICTJ resulted in two reports: “Forgotten Voices: A Population-Based Survey on Attitudes about Peace and Justice in Northern Uganda” (July 2005) and “When the War Ends: A Population-Based Survey on Attitudes about Peace, Justice, and Social Reconstruction in Northern Uganda” (December 2007). Although similar in its objective, the survey in DRC was adapted to the local situation.