AOAV: all our reportsUK arms exports to countries of concern

UK arms export to DRC (2012-2022)

Country overview

The DRC has an estimated population of 89 million and is the second-largest country in Africa. Despite its vast amounts of natural resources, a large majority of the population lives in extreme poverty, faced with constant political instability. Furthermore, conflict, displacement, food insecurity and various public health crisis have led to an ongoing humanitarian crisis. In essence, armed clashes and human rights violations have characterised the DRC for decades. 

As of 2022, the DRC has neither ratified nor signed the Arms Trade Treaty.

How many licences for the sale of arms to DRC did the UK government issue between 2012 and 2022?

In total, 43 unlimited and limited export licences from the UK government were granted to the DRC between 2012 and 2022. Across this period the number of UK-approved military arms export licences remained relatively consistent, with only a slight increase in 2017 and 2018. 

What is the total value of those exports in GBP?

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2023

From 2012 to 2022, the UK approved £8.1m worth of military export licences to the DRC. The value of exports to DRC did not witness considerable fluctuations during the last decade, as no more than £1m worth licences for military arms exports were issued by the UK government, per year. This excludes 2018, in which the value of licences for £4.5m, more than half the total amount approved during the defined period. 2018 marked the year of the presidential elections which had been initially scheduled for 2016. The elections were contested by 21 candidates and the results were disputed by the oppositional candidates and international observers. Even the run-up to the elections was marked by protests and violence and demonstrators accused the former president of delaying and manipulating the election. Security forces responded with tear gas, water cannons, and live ammunition leading to several deaths and injuries. 

Simultaneously the humanitarian crisis in the country persisted leaving an estimated 13.1m people in need of humanitarian assistance due to conflict displacement and food insecurity, which in turn lead to more conflict during this year.

What are the top 10 types of arms export licences Britain is selling to the DRC?

The data provided regards single-use military export licenses from Britain to DRC. This excludes dual export licences, which could be implemented for civil purposes, such as humanitarian aid, or military as well. The top ten export items requiring single-use licences are listed below. At the top of this list stands components for military support aircraft, and countermeasure systems. During the defined period, the Bangladesh government focused their efforts towards enhancing their military and security capabilities, as terrorist attacks, including attacks on Bangladeshi security forces, increased the demand for better defence; this bid depleted after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Top 10 military items exported from the UK to DRC between 2012-2022Total number of licenses
Military Helmets15
Body Armour13
Components for body armour13
Military support vehicles6
Military aero-engines5
Equipment for the operation of military aircraft in confined areas4
Military equipment for initiating explosives3
Equipment for initiating explosives3
All-wheel drive vehicles with ballistic protection2
Components for military aero-engines2
Top three export licenses approved by ratingValue of export licenses in GBP
ML6 ‒ Armoured vehicles, tanks£5m
ML10 ‒ Aircraft, helicopters, drones£1.9m
ML13 ‒ Armoured plate, body armour, helmets£1.0m
Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2023

Why should British citizens be concerned about arms sales?

British citizens should be concerned about arms sales to the DRC since the country has been under a variety of arms embargoes due to its record of serious human rights violations. The DRC army continue to sell weapons to the FDLR (Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda, founded by the Rwandan genocidaires operating in the DRC), as they unite to exploit gold and tin mines.

Furthermore, armed groups frequently obtain weapons and ammunition left behind when Senior DRC Armed Forces (FARDC) units flee combat zones. The Small Arms Survey reported that the borders between the DRC and Sudan and Uganda “are porous and allow unchecked small arms proliferation,” of which, besides air transportation, are particularly important to DRC arms smuggling. 

In July 2003, the Security Council Resolution 1493, established an arms embargo in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) due to continued violence in the country, demanding “that all States […] ensure that no direct or indirect assistance, especially military or financial assistance, is given to the movements and armed groups present in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.’ In March 2008, UN Security Council Resolution 1807 lifted all restrictions on arms transfers to the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, although the requirement to notify the Sanctions Committee shipments of arms to the DRC and the embargo on non-governmental Forces remained in place. Since then, these requirements and restrictions have been extended annually and are currently in force until the 1st of July 2022.

From 2012 to 2021, government forces carried out unlawful killings, sexual violence, threats, torture, assassinations, arbitrary arrests, restrictions to press freedom, and recruitment of child soldiers, and the continued rise in human rights violations committed by the regime are deeply concerning. In the month of May 2016, the UN Joint Human Rights Office (JHRO) recorded that state agents were responsible for 67% of all human rights violations, while 33% were committed by armed groups.

It was mainly the Congolese National Police (PNC) who was committing the state-sponsored violations. However, some of them were also attributable to the DRC army (FARDC), who reportedly violated the right to liberty and security of the person.

Armed groups including combatants of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group operating in the DRC and Uganda, also carried out attacks targeting schools, health facilities, public markets, churches, UN peacekeepers, and humanitarian actors. Continuing armed conflict and violence claimed thousands of lives, large-scale displacement, and widespread sexual violence. According to Enloe’s work (2014), internal conflicts fuelled by the arms trade might become conflicts of gender, finding a link between armed violence and domestic violence at the expense of women, “the massive international exports of guns sustain gender-based violence as a pillar of international and national patriarchy.”

The continued easy availability of arms and ammunition has sustained constant and systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict, and the proliferation of arms in the DRC is according to Amnesty “the result of many years of irresponsible deliveries to government forces (…)”.

What has the British government said about these concerns?

In 2022 in a statement at the UN Security Council Briefing on the situation concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ambassador James Roscoe said that the “UK is extremely concerned, as we’ve heard today around the Council table, by the violence facing civilians in eastern DRC, including the persistent attacks by armed groups…We urge the Governments of DRC and Uganda to increase their coordination with MONUSCO. Not only is this essential to ensuring the protection of civilians and the safety and security of UN personnel and humanitarian workers but could also support efforts to hold cleared areas and to prevent the ADF from spreading into new territory where they can re-establish their footholds.” 

The FCO has been outspoken in denouncing the role of state actors in human rights abuses, that could have been facilitated by arms sold by the UK. 

In 2016, the FCO wrote: “The human rights situation in the DRC worsened in the first 6 months of 2016 compared to the previous period. Abuses and violations of human rights continued at a higher rate throughout the reporting period, particularly by state agents. The issue of an arrest warrant for a Presidential candidate, Moise Katumbi, was deeply concerning and emblematic of the growing instrumentalization of justice in the DRC. The main state perpetrators of human rights violations were the PNC, the intelligence agency (ANR) and FARDC. The main non-state perpetrators of human rights abuse were armed groups, principally in the east of the country.”.

Nonetheless, the UK invited the DRC to the annual British arms fair in 2015.

What evidence is there of human rights abuses that the DRC government have committed since 2010?

Due to ongoing conflict and instability in the country, DRC has witnessed various human rights abuses including extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, torture and mistreatment, forced displacement, child labour and restrictions on freedom of expression.
Both state security forces and armed groups have been responsible for these

Examples include at least 57 opposition party supporters or suspected supporters being killed by security forces in 2012 as Human Rights Watch reported. Similarly, a year later forces deliberately killed civilians during operations against Mai Mai fighters in Katanga province. Further, as the army moved into territories previously controlled by the M23, soldiers were reported that they were systematically continuing to rape women and girls.

In 2016, following Kabila’s decision to delay elections, violent clashes in many parts of the DRC took place, and security forces were reported to be deployed heavily throughout major cities. In Kinshasa, 50 people were reportedly killed and hundreds more arrested. Rising political tensions in 2016 created an increase in human rights violations. In fact, between January and June 2017, the UN documented 2,822 violations in the DRC. This showed a remarkable increase compared to the same period in the previous year (2.343 between January and June 2016).
Regime forces were reported to continue to carry out hundreds of extrajudicial killings, rapes, arbitrary arrests and acts of extortion the following year. Videos circulated, showing Congolese soldiers executing alleged Kamuena Nsapu followers, including young children. After first denying the accusations, the government admitted that “excesses” had taken place.

2018, which corresponds which an extreme spike in military exports, was marked by a series of human rights violations. 

In March, a joint report by the UN human rights office in Kinshasa (JHRO) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated that the state security forces (SSF) used illegal, systematic, and disproportionate force against protesters, resulting in 47 civilian deaths. RMGs kidnapped numerous persons, generally for forced labour, military service, or sexual slavery. 

In July the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) confirmed that 66 people were previously kidnapped in Kasai Province by the Bana Mura, an RMG supported by the government, and used as sexual slaves. The victims included two women, 49 girls, and 15 boys who had been in captivity as early as April 2017. The government denied the findings, claiming the information was false. 

Whilst the law criminalizes torture, there were credible reports that the SSF continued to torture civilians, particularly detainees and prisoners. 

In November the British NGO Freedom from Torture reported that torture was widespread both inside and outside conflict zones in the DRC. It had collected witness testimonies related to almost 900 cases of torture from DRC.

In December, 30 elections were marred by widespread irregularities, voter suppression, and violence. More than a million Congolese were unable to vote because of the postponement of elections until March 2019 in three pro-opposition areas.

In 2019, according to the UN Joint Office of Human Rights (UNJHRO), security forces were responsible for at least 276 extrajudicial killings across the country as of July 31.  Illegal armed groups (IAGs) were responsible for at least 505 summary executions by the end of July. 

In March, the Security Council “unanimously adopted a resolution extending the mandate of MONUSCO for nine months and called for an independent strategic review of the mission.”

Since President Felix Tshisekedi took office in 2020, human rights in the country took a downturn, when Congolese authorities cracked down on peaceful protesters, journalists, and politicians, while taking advantage of the state of emergency measures temporarily imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The humanitarian situation in the country remained alarming, with 5.5 million people now reportedly internally displaced. Nearly 930,000 people from Congo were registered as refugees and asylum seekers in at least 20 countries as of November.

In North Kivu and Ituri areas, violations and abuses against civilians by armed groups and government forces increased by 10% between May and November 2020 according to the UN. The  Kivu Security Tracker, reported that at least 1,137 civilians were unlawfully killed in the two provinces between 6 May (when the state of siege was declared) and 15 November. 

In 2021, the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) documented nearly 7,000 cases of human rights violations and abuses throughout the country. 

In the last year, freedoms of expression and association have drastically deteriorated under martial law. Whilst initially, it was imposed to address insecurities, it recently has been used by military authorities  to squash peaceful demonstrations with lethal force, and arbitrarily detain activists and opposition members.

Despite this catalogue of abuse, the UK still deems it acceptable to sell weapons and arms to the Government of the DRC.  Human rights abuses continue.