The Great Lakes region has been the site of more than a decade of unrest. The outflow of more than two million Rwandans in the wake of the 1994 genocide was an exodus of unprecedented size and swiftness. The failure of the international community to respond effectively set in motion further cycles of conflict in the region, including a devastating war in the Democratic Republic of Congo that has involved many other countries in Africa and has claimed the lives of more than three million people.

Elsewhere in the region, a decades-long conflict in northern Uganda has abated in intensity, but the rebel Lord's Resistance Army has increased its activities in DRC and the Central African Republic.

As a whole, the region continues to host more than a million refugees and ten million internally displaced persons.

One major source of these conflicts have been disputes over group and national membership: ethnic, racial, and religious populations have been identified as illegitimate members of local communities and nations, and their exclusion has been used to legitimise individual persecution, ethnic violence, civil war and genocide. Targeted populations have been forcibly displaced from their homes, social networks, and governmental protection, and have been forced to seek refuge within their own countries and across borders. In order to meet this challenge, a region-wide approach is needed to generate appropriate networks for sharing information and carrying out joint advocacy initiatives. IRRI's citizenship program seeks to address this challenge.

These series of crises have made the Great Lakes a key testing ground not only for humanitarian response but for efforts to tackle the root causes of these conflicts. In particular the region has been site of experiments in the pursuit of international justice, from the International Criminal Court's investigations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and the Central African Republic to experiments in internationalised justice for Burundi and Rwanda.

There are signs of hope: peace is taking a tenuous hold in Burundi and democratic elections were held in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006. At the regional level, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region is laying the framework for peace, stability and greater regional integration, having adopted a Pact on Security, Stability and Development in December 2006 which entered into force in June 2008.

December 2011

IRRI Primer on Sexual and Gender Based Violence and the Great Lakes Conference

(December 16, 2011) The International Refugee Rights Initiative today launched a primer “Using the Great Lakes Conference to Combat Sexual Violence: A Primer.” The launch coincides with the closure of the 4th Summit of Heads of State and Government of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) in Kampala on the theme “United to Prevent, End Impunity and Provide Support to the Victims of SGBV in the Great Lakes Region.”

The primer offers an overview of the content of various ICGLR instruments related to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). It also gives an overview of the institutional architecture which may be engaged in order to give effect to the commitments articulated in the instruments. An annex reproduces portions of the key ICGLR texts which are most relevant to SGBV. The primer is intended to serve as a resource for civil society organisations and others who may wish to engage with the ICGLR as part of their efforts to address SGBV in the region.   

Read the full primer here. (It is also available in French).

19 September, 2008

The Great Lakes Pact and the Rights of Displaced People: A Guide for Civil Society

Following the entry into force in June 2008 of the Pact on Security, Stability and Development in Africa’s Great Lakes region (the Great Lakes Pact), the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) released The Great Lakes Pact and the Rights of Displaced People: A Guide for Civil Society. The Guide aims to help organisations use the Great Lakes Pact to promote the rights of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in the region.

Read the Guide in English here.
En francais.

You may download and print our Great Lakes informational brochure here.

Recent publications related to the Great Lakes region:

Submission to the Secretariat of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) on the Implementation of the Kampala Declaration in Member States, 25 November 2015.

Joint NGO Letter Regarding UN Resolution on Human Rights Defenders, 24 November 2015.

The Burundi Crisis: The ICGLR Civil Society Call for Inclusive Dialogue and Commitment to Sustainable Peace in Burundi, 20 November 2015.

David Kigozi, What will the status of refugees in an East African Federation Be? EACSOF newsletter, October 2015.

NGO Letter regarding human rights situation at 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council, 3 September 2015.

“I was left with nothing”: “Voluntary” departures of asylum seekers from Israel to Rwanda and Uganda, September 8, 2015

Olivia Bueno, "Between Hope and Skepticism: Congolese Await the Trial of Ntaganda," 2 September 2015

South Sudanese refugees in Adjumani District, Uganda: Telling a new story?, July 1, 2015

#R2P10: The Burundi crisis and the risk of regionalisation, June 4, 2015

Burundi: no business as usual, May 19, 2015

“Suicidal for the nation”: an interview with a Burundian politician in hiding, May 12, 2015

Ongwen and the ICC: talking justice in Uganda, February 10, 2015

IRRI Submits Evidence on UK and International Engagement with South Sudan, July 3, 2014

Reactions to the Sentencing of Germain Katanga: Some Comfort, Some Frustration, June 11, 2014

Exile without End? The Struggle to Belong in Africa’s Great Lakes Region, April 26, 2014

Conflict in South Sudan: Refugees seek protection in Uganda and a way home, April 2, 2014

Olivia Bueno, "In Ituri, Katanga Verdict Viewed as a Limited Success," March 21, 2014

Olivia Bueno, "Waiting for Judgment: Communities in Ituri Await the Katanga Verdict with Impatience," March 6, 2014

Lucy Hovil, “Why do we continually misunderstand conflict in Africa?” February 10, 2014

Comparison of the Kampala Convention and the IDP Protocol of the Great Lakes Pact, December 2013 (En français)

From refugee to returnee to asylum seeker: Burundian refugees struggle to find protection in the Great Lakes region, November 2013

Citizenship Rights and the Prevention of Atrocity Crimes: Contributions to the General Assembly dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect: State Responsibility and Prevention, September 2013.

IRRI and other NGOs call on for an end to harrassment of civil society in Kenya, April 3, 2013.

Lucy Hovil, "Challenging International Justice: The Initial Years of the International Criminal Court’s Intervention in Uganda,"March 2013.

ICGLR regional stakeholders meet on the implementation of the Kampala Declaration on SGBV, March 2013

Press Review on responses to the Katanga Verdict, December 28, 2012.

Lucy Hovil and Theodore Mbazumutima, "Tanzania's Mtabila Camp Finally Closed," December 2012

Olivia Bueno, "In Ituri, A Quiet Wait for the Verdict on Ngudjolo," 17 December 2012.

Lucy Hovil, Preventing re-displacement through genuine reintegration in Burundi, Forced Migration Review, December 2012.

IRRI Conducts Civil Society Workshop on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and Displacement in Kinshasa, September 2012.

IRRI Organizes Workshop on Democracy, Governance and Youth, September 2012.

Lucy Hovil, "Gender, Transitional Justice, and Displacement: Challenges in Africa’s Great Lakes Region”, August 2012.

International Refugee Rights Initiative and Rema Ministries, "An urgent briefing on the situation of Burundian refugees in Mtabila camp in Tanzania," August 2012.

Olivia Bueno, "Issues of Reparations in the Lubanga Case: An Interview with a local activist," 24 July 2012.

Olivia Bueno, "14 Years: Too Much or Not Enough?" 16 July 2012.

Holding Ugandan Decision Makers Accountable, May 2012

A Poisoned Chalice? Local civil society and the International Criminal Court's engagement in Uganda, Just Justice: Civil Society, international justice and the search for accountability in Africa, January 2012.

Resisting Repatriation: Burundian Refugees Struggling to Stay in Tanzania, October 2011. (En francais)

Olivia Bueno, "Activists Question ICC’s Decision on Witness Protection," 23 September 2011

Lucy Hovil, The Return: Dilemmas for Congolese Refugees in Rwanda, September 9, 2011. Lisez la version française ici.

Lucy Hovil, Hoping for Peace, Afraid of War: the Dilemmas of Repatriation and Belonging on the Borders of Uganda and South Sudan, published as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Research Paper No. 196, November 2010.

Shadows of Return: the dilemma of Congolese Refugees in Rwanda, July 2011