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Survey Results from Eastern DRC

The population of eastern DRC has been exposed to a high prevalence of violence and suffered serious and widespread human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law perpetrated by belligerents in Congo’s previous and current conflicts. There is abundant evidence of the warring parties attacking villages, markets, churches, and hospitals, and other structures necessary for the survival and welfare of civilians.[1] Formal and informal armed groups and militias also routinely steal cattle and destroy fields necessary for people’s survival. While the extent of the violence remains to be fully examined and documented, the present survey of eastern Congo revealed:

  • A majority of the population surveyed in eastern Congo experienced having one or more household members disappear (60%), were interrogated or persecuted by armed groups (55%), forced to work or enslaved (53%), were beaten by armed groups (46%) or threatened with death (46%), or were themselves abducted for at least a week (34%).
  • Most respondents experienced the violent death of a family member or friend (61%) or a household member (42%); most families also suffered deaths due to disease or malnutrition (56%).
  • Most respondents reported being displaced at least once (81%), while the average respondent had been displaced approximately three times. Twenty percent of respondents remained displaced at the time of the survey with the largest displaced population (33%) in North Kivu.
  • Among respondents in eastern Congo, 16 percent were victims of sexual violence and 23 percent witnessed an act of sexual violence. One-third of the respondents said they would not accept victims of sexual violence back in their community.
  • More than two-thirds of respondents (66% to 87%) indicated that they lacked food/water, health care, housing, and had their homes or property destroyed or confiscated during the conflicts.

The widespread commission of crimes means that Congolese civilians have learned to flee their homes at the first signs of violence; but this forced flight itself undermines the traditional survival strategies of rural populations and weakens their community. Wage earners are often the first to be killed; armed groups then target survivors and the younger members of the community for forced recruitment. In an environment where State services and administration, are already minimal, the disruption of civilian livelihoods is compounded by little or no access to medical, psychological, and other social services. As a result of these man-made, interrelated calamities, malnutrition and infant mortality are driven to extremes, and many of the healthy easily succumb to preventable and curable diseases.

Respondents identified several factors contributing to the origins of the conflicts in a variety of complex and interlinked causes. The most frequently cited factors were power or politics (47%), the exploitation of natural resources (37%), land issues (35%), and ethnic divisions (29%). Responses in North Kivu and South Kivu were comparable. In Ituri, however, 60 percent of respondents identified conflicts over land as the primary catalyst for collective violence, while conflicts over power, ethnic divisions, and natural resources were less frequently identified. In the three regions, respondents mentioned problems of nationality (15%) and the relationship with Rwanda (5%), including the influx of refugees after the 1994 genocide, and Rwandan support for rebel groups, as factors contributing to the violence.

The population in eastern Congo continues to live in fear of violence, even while conducting the most basic daily tasks, and feels the least secure when they encounter soldiers or armed groups.

  • Respondents felt least safe when meeting soldiers or armed groups, but also when talking openly about their experiences, walking at night in their villages, or meeting strangers.
  • A third (38%) believed that the recomposed National Congolese Army (FARDC) protected them. Respondents also felt that no one (6%) or “only God” (31%) protected them.
  • Most respondents described their lives in general as the same (42%) or worse (39%) now compared to before the 2002 peace agreement and the same (51%) or worse (39%) than before the 2006 presidential elections.

In this context, it is not surprising that respondents’ priorities in eastern DRC are peace and security:

  • A majority of respondents indicated peace as their first priority (51%) and security as the second highest priority (34%).
  • After peace and security, respondents cited social concerns, such as money (27%), education (26%), and food and water (26%).
  • For the respondents, the Congolese government’s top priorities should include peace (51%) and providing security (42%).
  • By contrast, respondents most frequently indicated that development should be the international community’s top priority (36%), followed by financial aid/money (28%), and the provision of food and water (23%).
  • Justice was seldom mentioned among respondents’ own priorities and more frequently among what they felt should be the government and international community priorities.

A strong majority of respondents in eastern Congo believed that peace could be achieved (90%). Most defined peace as the ability to live together, united and reconciled (49%), the absence of fear (47%) and of violence (41%).

  • The vast majority of respondents believed the Congolese government could bring durable peace to eastern Congo (86%).
  • Respondents endorsed a multifaceted understanding of what is require to achieve peace, including arrest of those responsible for crimes (28%), dialogue between ethnic groups (22%), dialogue with the militias (22%), establishing the truth (20%), and a military victory over the armed groups (17%).

An overwhelming majority of respondents surveyed in eastern Congo believed accountability is necessary to achieve peace (82%), with four out of five respondents (85%) affirming the importance of holding those who committed grave crimes accountable.

  • Most respondents believe that among those who should be held accountable are militia leaders (56%), militias more generally (44%), Rwanda or the Rwandan government (36%), Uganda or the Ugandan government (23%), the Congolese government (17%) and the Congolese National Army (13%).
  • Most respondents wanted to see those who committed grave crimes punished (69%), put in jail (34%), or tried by a court of justice (25%). Few respondents supported forgiving perpetrators of these crimes (7%) or giving them amnesty (6%).

Importantly, despite the general impunity that has prevailed so far, most respondents in eastern Congo still believe that justice can be achieved (80%).

  • Respondents defined justice according to several rule-of-law attributes, including establishing the truth (51%), applying the law (49%), being just/fair (48%), punishing those responsible (21%), and holding trials for those suspected of committing crimes (14%). 
  • The means to achieve justice cited most frequently by respondents are: the national justice system (51%), the ICC (26%), military courts (20%), a truth-seeking mechanism (20%), traditional (customary) justice (15%), or other conflict-resolution mechanisms (14%).

Respondents showed support for prosecutions, with a distinct preference for trials held in-country, whether national or internationalized.

  • Respondents from eastern Congo expressed a strong preference for obtaining both peace and justice (62%) over a peace based on amnesty (38%).
  • One-third of respondents were unwilling to forgive, even if it were the only way to achieve peace. But a majority (68%) would accept or forgive criminals if doing so were the only way to attain peace, even if perpetrators had directly attacked them. This suggests that given the choice, respondents favor accountability and trials, but their priority is to achieve peace.
  • Presented with various trial options, 45 percent of respondents chose trials conducted by the domestic judicial system, 40 percent chose trials conducted by an international jurisdiction but in Congo, 7 percent chose international trials abroad, and 8 percent chose no trials at all. In sum, 85 percent of respondents wanted trials held in DRC, whether national or international, and respondents expressed a preference for trials with international oversight (47%), whether in DRC or abroad, over domestic trials (45%).

Approximately one-quarter of respondents in eastern Congo had heard of the ICC (27%) or of its proceedings against the first Congolese to appear before this Court, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo (28%).

  • Among those who had heard about the ICC, a majority held the false view that the Court itself could arrest criminals (77%).
  • Some of the respondents in eastern Congo believe the ICC is not neutral (28%), most frequently because they saw it as doing nothing to help (27%), working with the government (24%), investigating only one (ethnic) group (14%), or not arresting criminals (12%).

A strong majority of respondents surveyed in eastern Congo (88%) affirmed the importance of truth-seeking.

  • When asked how truth could be established, over half of the respondents identified the national judicial system (56%), showing again their primary reliance on this system. A third of respondents believed that the truth can be established by allowing people to talk freely (32%). Only a quarter refers to obtaining truth through a truth commission (24%) or an independent and free media (24%).
  • Nevertheless, while most respondents said they would be willing to talk openly about what happened to them or their families (63%), only half of these (30%) said they would feel safe or very safe doing so. Among those who said they would not want to talk openly about their experiences, half justified their position because they feared reprisal or revenge, whereas others justified not talking because they said it would be useless (24%).

In sum, although justice was a relatively remote priority for respondents, they nonetheless saw accountability as necessary to achieve a lasting peace. There was a strong preference for judicial means (whether national or international), but some significant interest in non-judicial mechanisms to achieve accountability (truth seeking, traditional justice, other conflict-resolution mechanisms). Despite the majority’s (68%) willingness to “forgive” or reintegrate war criminals if this were the only way to achieve peace, 62 percent still preferred obtaining peace with justice over peace with forgiveness.

In a country with limited means of telecommunication, radio programs were, unsurprisingly, the primary source of information for the respondents.

  • Fifty-four percent of respondents listened to the radio on a daily basis.
  • For 67 percent, it was the primary source of information, followed by family and the community in general (23%).
  • Most respondents trusted the radio moderately (27%), a lot (26%), or extremely (5%), although fewer believed journalists were moderately free (24%), very free (16%), or extremely free (3%) to report on social and political issues.

Survey Results from Kinshasa and Kisangani

The surveys conducted in Kinshasa and Kisangani show the extent to which people living in those two cities have also been affected by the war.

  • A majority of respondents in Kinshasa (65%) and Kisangani (61%) identified themselves as victims of the conflicts, although at a lower level than those in eastern Congo (80%).
  • Respondents in Kinshasa, Kisangani, and eastern Congo defined peace in similar terms and also saw it predominantly as the role of the Congolese government to bring peace. Yet respondents in Kinshasa were more frequently convinced that the stakeholders were committed to achieving peace (76%) compared to Kisangani (54%) and eastern Congo (58%).
  • The priorities of respondents in the East, Kinshasa, and Kisangani diverge. Fifty-seven percent of respondents in Kinshasa and 47 percent in Kisangani identified the economy or employment as one of their priorities, compared to 15 percent in the East. Respondents in Kinshasa and Kisangani also more frequently identified food and education as priorities compared to those in the East. By contrast, respondents identified security as a priority more frequently in the East (34%) compared to Kisangani (22%) and Kinshasa (5%). Peace was identified as a priority more frequently in both the East (51%) and Kisangani (56%) than in Kinshasa (32%). These results were also reflected in the priorities respondents identified for the government.
  • Respondents in all regions placed great importance on the need for accountability for those who committed grave crimes. When asked directly what should happen to those who committed these crimes, respondents in Kinshasa (41%) and Kisangani (39%) said more frequently that they wanted to see them in court than did respondents in eastern Congo (25%).
  • Regarding how to achieve justice, respondents in Kinshasa opted more frequently for trials in international courts abroad (20%) compared to those in Kisangani (9%), and eastern Congo (7%). They also had more frequently heard about the ICC and the Lubanga proceedings.


[1] Van Herp M, Parque V, Rackley E, Ford N, “Mortality, Violence and Lack of Access to Health Care in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Disasters 27/2 (2003): 141–153.