Our statement on the Democratic Republic of Congo M23 Conflict

Article by Laura Bernard

We wish to express our concern about the ongoing security situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country where we work with partners on topics such as gender mainstreaming in forest and biodiversity conservation, equal land tenure rights, and Indigenous rights and livelihoods.  

Since June 2022, the province of North Kivu has been at the center of violent surges as the armed group M23 launched an offensive in the region. However, in a recent article, the International Committee of the Red Cross listed DR Congo as one of many humanitarian crises not receiving enough support or attention from the international community. 

With regional armed forces, UN peacekeepers and (international) aid agencies currently on the ground, we stress that all parties to the conflict must invest in dialogue and peace. In line with the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, all actions must be responsive to the specific needs, priorities and vulnerabilities of women, girls and other marginalized groups, and it is vital for women to be meaningfully included in working towards peace. We are concerned about the insufficient promotion of a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the ongoing armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We express our deepest regrets to the families of the many victims this conflict has already cost. 

As part of the Green Livelihoods Alliance, WECF works with four partners in DRC and the two based in North Kivu (Programme Intégré pour le Développement du Peuple Pygmée – PIDP and Conseil pour la Terre des Ancêtres – CTA) have been considerably impacted by the ongoing escalation since November 2022.  

CTA and rural women from Rokoko village, Nyaragongo territory, during an awareness workshop in May 2022

It is well-documented how armed conflicts and militarism disproportionately impact marginalized communities, such as women in all their diversity, children, elders, LGBTQI and disabled people as well as Indigenous people. Already made vulnerable because of lack of access to education and health, the Indigenous Pygmy communities are suffering even more from displacement, as their livelihoods are bound to their traditional territories, indicates Diel Mochire, Regional Director of PIDP, a CSO advocating for the rights and sovereignty of Pygmies.  

Among the many consequences of the conflict is the deplorable weaponization of gender-based and sexual violence. This has long been a war tactic in DRC, and it sadly appears that it is still happening today. Conflicts have been shown to exacerbate domestic violence, sexual violence, trafficking as well as child marriage. Furthermore, the advance of M23 in Eastern Congo has resulted in the forced displacement of tens of thousands of people, along with numerous deaths, including arbitrary executions of men, women and children by the M23 forces. Our partners report that many men have left their families behind, fearing forced enrollment in the M23 forces. As a result, women, children and elders are left more vulnerable than ever. The consequences are disproportionately felt by women who must “search for food and water, fetch wood and make shelters” all the while keeping an eye on children in the disorderly and sometimes hazardous conditions of the camps. 

In Kanyaruchinya camp, Mr. Mochire says that four people are reported to have died because of lack of medical help and harsh living conditions. He evokes famine, malnutrition, and sanitation. “Hygiene is almost non-existent. It poses a threat to women’s bodies and health” adds Patrick Mukanga, Director of CTA. The communities CTA works with are in Nyiragongo territory where a lot of refugees have fled to. 

Beyond the impact on the communities, which have been disrupted by the influx of refugees, the activities of many CSOs have been disrupted by demonstrations and threats of invasion of Goma, as civilians were ordered to not leave their homes.   

And besides the obvious concern for human lives, it is important to note the detrimental impacts of war and conflict on fauna and flora. […] this war directly affects the Virunga National Park, because the populations enter it to cut down trees to make shelters, look for food and thus trap certain animals, etc.”, says Mr. Mukanga. Many animals can be hurt, directly or indirectly, and there is significant worry about the endangered mountain gorillas from the Virunga National Park, as rangers cannot access the area anymore. This highlights the high risk of a roll-back of the progress achieved by our partners. Despite the conflict, they bravely continue to support communities to develop alternative livelihoods which have less impact on forest landscapes, and further encourage meaningful community – particularly women’s – participation in biodiversity conservation and governance.  

According to the latest news, M23 has agreed to withdraw from occupied zones. That said, many suspect that this pledge might not be respected and have little hope that peace will return soon.  

We stand in solidarity with our partners in the region. 

We call on all parties to take immediate steps to de-escalate and demilitarize the conflict and to engage in cooperation. 

Violence is never a solution – not in DR Congo nor anywhere in the world. Sustainable social, environmental and economic development and peace can only be achieved by dialogue and cooperation. There is a need for substantial investments in education, health care, social infrastructure, and rights-based environmental solutions which center local communities. We support the incredible work of our partners, who are daily exemplifiers of gender-just transformative solutions which promote sustainable environmental protection, encourage women to exercise their rights, and show that a world beyond militarism and extractivism is possible.  We call on you to choose peace, sustainable development and cooperation.