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.

Recent publications related to the Great Lakes region:

DR Congo: UN Should Investigate Kasai Violence, English, French, 1 June 2017.

Call to renew the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, 23 February 2017.

Open letter to African Union leaders in support of a national dialogue in South Sudan, 26 January 2017.

Civil society statement to the UN Human Rights Council regarding South Sudan, 14 December 2016.

I Know the Consequences of War: Understanding the dynamics of displacement in Burundi, 7 December 2016.

A Way Forward for the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, Joint NGO letter, English, French, 1 November 2016.

Democratic Republic of Congo: Preventing an escalation of violence and abuse, English & French, 6 September 2016.

Lucy Hovil, "Refugees, Conflict and the Search for Belonging," September 2016
Read the announcement
Read the Introduction
Buy the book

Ensuring the Independence, Neutrality and Impartiality of the AU PSC Field Mission to Burundi, 17 June 2016, in French.

Report of the ICGLR Civil Society Reflection Meeting on the Situation in Burundi, 24 May 2016

Burundi: A country on the edge, 4 April 2016.

Protecting some of the people some of the time: Civilian perspectives on peacekeeping forces in South Sudan, 15 December 2015.

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. (En francais)

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

Civil Society Statement to the UN Human Rights Council regarding South Sudan

(14 December 2016)  Tomorrow marks a terrible anniversary for South Sudan. On December 15, 2013, fighting in Juba ignited a brutal conflict that has torn the country apart, leaving millions of South Sudanese in dire need. Today the country stands on a precipice. On behalf of the undersigned organizations we urge the UN Human Rights Council to use its full powers to help end three years of appalling atrocities against civilians, including journalists and humanitarian workers and as well as human rights activists, before the situation deteriorates even further.

Despite the August 2015 peace agreement, the warring parties continue to kill, rape and displace communities with impunity. Many of these acts constitute war crimes. They may amount to crimes against humanity. These crimes have generated a humanitarian and human rights crisis of appalling proportions.

Read the full open letter.

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

(1 July 2015)  While Europe squabbles over the acceptance of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers arriving over the Mediterranean, over the past year 154,134 refugees of South Sudanese origin alone have been assisted in Uganda, with Adjumani District receiving around 87 new arrivals every day. Despite the fact that Adjumani is itself recovering from decades of conflict, national and local officials and the host population are finding ways to accommodate refugees both inside and out of the camps.

Almost a year since the launch of UNHCR’s Policy on Alternatives to Camps, research undertaken by IRRI, “South Sudanese refugees in Adjumani District, Uganda: Telling a new story?” explores both the factors that compel refugees to remain within a camp structure, and those that enable them to move outside.

Read the full press release.
Read the full report.

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.