Small Arms Survey ‘Armed Actors Issues Brief’ – ‘Demobilization in the DRC: Armed Groups and the Role of Organizational Control’

About the author(s):

Katharine Fortin is an Associate Professor at Utrecht University where she teaches IHL and IHRL. Before joining Utrecht University, she worked at the ICTY, ICC and Norton Rose Fulbright. She is the author of The Accountability of Armed Groups under Human Rights Law (Oxford University Press, 2017) which won the 2018 Lieber Prize. She has written widely about the framework of law that applies to armed groups in non-international armed conflicts and is one of the editors of the Armed Groups and International Law blog.

In April 2013, the Small Arms Survey published the first edition of its new series ‘Armed Actors Issues Brief’ entitled  ‘Demobilization in the DRC: Armed Groups and the Role of Organizational Control’. The briefing provides exactly the kind of real-life insight into the internal organization of armed groups which we like to share with the practitioners and academics who read our blog. It gives a fascinating account of the dynamics which are at play within the armed groups in the DRC and shows how they are affecting the DDR process.

Joanne Richards, the author of the report, has kindly provided an introduction to the report in a guest post below. Her post shortly summarizes the report’s aims and reproduces its keys findings. 


In April 2012, the emergence of the M23 rebel movement in North Kivu Province placed yet another obstacle on the road to disarmament and demobilization in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Kinshasa’s approach to neutralizing the myriad armed groups involved in Congo’s wars has been one of demobilization paired with the integration of non-state armed groups into the Congolese national army (Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo, FARDC). M23 is a remnant of this approach, and was forged by dissident Tutsi soldiers within FARDC who were formerly members of the rebel group National Congress for the Defence of the People (Congrès national pour la défense du people, CNDP). 

To better understand the issues which may arise in the future disarmament and demobilization of the M23 rebellion, it is helpful to examine past experiences of Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR). A new Issue Brief produced by the Small Arms Survey takes a retrospective look at the DDR process implemented in eastern DRC between 2004 and 2011, and focuses on two rebel groups (RCD-Goma and CNDP) and four local defense militias (PARECO, APCLS, Mai-Mai Kifuafua and Mai-Mai Simba). Drawing on interviews with 57 ex-combatants, the Brief illustrates how military commanders across these six armed groups used similar mechanisms of organizational control to prevent the unauthorized demobilization of their lower-level troops. In particular, senior military commanders used supporting ‘staff officers’ and ‘intelligence security agents’ to help them monitor low-level foot soldiers, detect escape attempts, and to locate and recapture escapees. Military parades were also held each morning and at regular intervals throughout the day to check for unauthorized absences. 

Key findings from the Issue Brief are as follows: 

  • The rebel and militia groups studied were highly organized in terms of military intelligence. Low-level troops were closely monitored and would be severely punished if caught trying to escape to an official DDR program.
  • Grading DDR packages by rank could prevent military commanders from becoming recalcitrant and tightening their grip over the rank-and-file.
  • Better protective measures for escapees, such as safe havens introduced prior to peace agreements, may have helped to prevent re-recruitment and may have also limited reprisal attacks against the family members of escapees.
  • Military commanders often kept lists of members and weapons stocks. DDR practitioners could use these records to guard against misinformation concerning troop sizes and weapons inventories. 


Joanne Richards is a PhD candidate at the Geneva Graduate Institute and a visiting scholar at Columbia University. Her main research interests are the micro-dynamics of civil war onset, duration, and termination. She has conducted substantial fieldwork in eastern DRC and has also spent time working with the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration section of UNDP in North Kivu. 

For more publications on armed actors published by the Small Arms Survey see here. For more on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration see here.

(Visited 36 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: