The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (French: Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda, FDLR) is an armed rebel group active in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. An ethnic Hutu group that are professed adherents of the Hutu Power ideology, the FDLR was formed by surviving Interahamwe / Impuzamugambi fugitives of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
It was founded through an amalgamation of other Hutu groups in September 2000, including the former Army for the Liberation of Rwanda (ALiR), under the leadership of Paul Rwarakabije. It was active during the latter phases of the Second Congo War and the subsequent insurgencies in Kivu.
The FDLR have committed numerous human rights violations and crimes against humanity during its existence, including, but not limited to, mass murder, torture, kidnapping, use of child soldiers, and rape. Several high-ranking leaders of the FDLR have been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague (ICC) for war crimes, including former FDLR Chairman Ignace Murwanashyaka, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2015; he later died in prison while serving his sentence.
The FDLR counts among its number the original members of the Interahamwe that led the 1994 Rwandan genocide. It received extensive backing from, and cooperation from, the government of Congolese President Laurent-Désiré Kabila (who successfully overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko during the First Congo War.).
Kabila used the FDLR as a proxy force against the foreign Rwandan armies operating in the country, in particular the Rwandan Patriotic Front and the Rwanda-backed Rally for Congolese Democracy. In July 2002, FDLR units still in Kinshasa-held territory moved into North and South Kivu. At this time it was thought to have between 15,000 and 20,000 members. Even after the official end of the Second Congo War in 2002, FDLR units continued to attack Tutsi forces both in eastern DRC and across the border into Rwanda, vastly increasing tensions in the region and raising the possibility of another Rwandan offensive into the DRC – what would be their third since 1996. In mid-2004, a number of attacks forced 25,000 Congolese to flee their homes.
Following several days of talks with Congolese government representatives, the FDLR announced on 31 March 2005 that they were abandoning their armed struggle and returning to Rwanda as a political party. The talks held in Rome, Italy were mediated by Sant'Egidio. The Rwandan government stated that any returning genocidaires would face justice, most probably through the gacaca court system. It was stated that if all of the FDLR commanders, who are believed to control about 10,000 militants, disarmed and returned, a key source of cross-border tensions would be removed.
On October 4, 2005, the United Nations Security Council issued a statement demanding the FDLR disarm and leave the Democratic Republic of the Congo immediately. Under an agreement reached in August, the rebels had pledged to leave Congo by September 30.
In August 2007, the Congolese military announced that it was ending a seven-month offensive against the FDLR, prompting a sharp rebuke by the government of Rwanda. Prior to this, Gen. Laurent Nkunda had split from the government, taking Banyamulenge (ethnic Tutsis in the DRC) soldiers from the former Rally for Congolese Democracy and assaulting FDLR positions, displacing a further 160,000 people.
In October 2007 the International Crisis Group said that the group's military forces had dropped from an estimated 15,000 in 2001 to 6–7,000 then, organised into four battalions and a reserve brigade in North Kivu and four battalions in South Kivu. It named the political and military headquarters as Kibua and Kalonge respectively, both in the jungle covered Walikale region of North Kivu. It also said that 'about the same number' of Rwandan citizens, family members of combatants, and unrelated refugees remained behind FDLR lines in separate communities.
In December 2008 DR Congo and Rwanda agreed to attempt to disband the FDLR, though they will have to destroy the organization by force or otherwise shut it down. On January 20, 2009, the Rwandan Army, in concert with the Congolese government, entered the DR Congo to hunt down lingering FDLR fighters.
As of 2010, the FDLR remains active as part of the ongoing conflict in Kivu. In 2020, an FDLR commando unit ambushed DR Congo park rangers in Virunga National Park, killing 12 rangers, a driver, and 4 civilians. It is believed that the vehicles transporting these people were mistaken by the FDLR for a convoy escorting a Congolese general.