Renewed Fighting Displaces 100,000 More Civilians in Eastern Congo

For Immediate Release

Oxfam International
Contact: 

In Washington, DC, for Enough, Colin Thomas-Jensen (English): +1-202-682-6136

Renewed Fighting Displaces 100,000 More Civilians in Eastern Congo

WASHINGTON - Renewed combat in eastern
Democratic Republic of Congo has caused a drastic deterioration in the
humanitarian situation and immense suffering for civilians, the Congo
Advocacy Coalition, a group of 83 aid agencies and human rights groups,
said today. The coalition called for urgent action to improve
protection of civilians and an immediate increase in assistance to
vulnerable populations.

Since August 28, 2008, fighting has
resumed between the Congolese army and the forces of a renegade
general, Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for the Defense of the
People (CNDP), as well as other armed groups, breaking a fragile
ceasefire that had been in place since the Goma peace agreement was
signed on January 23.

100,000 civilians forced to flee

An
estimated 100,000 civilians were forced to flee in the most recent
violence, including many who had been displaced by earlier waves of
fighting. According to witnesses, some civilians were trapped in combat
zones and were killed, wounded, raped or illegally detained by soldiers
of the Congolese army and combatants of other armed groups.

The
situation for civilians is desperate, and it threatens to deteriorate
further if fighting continues," said Rebecca Feeley of the ENOUGH
Project. "All the parties who signed the Goma peace agreement should
adhere strictly to their obligations, including to protect civilians
and respect international humanitarian and human rights law."

Hundreds of ceasefire violations

The
heavy fighting, the worst since the ceasefire was signed, started in
Rutshuru territory in North Kivu province before spreading to Masisi
territory and then to Kalehe territory in South Kivu. Since January 23,
the UN peacekeeping mission, MONUC, has recorded more than 250
ceasefire violations in both North and South Kivu. Each round of
fighting resulted in fresh displacement of civilians. The exact numbers
are difficult to estimate as those returning home are frequently forced
to flee again, but the UN believes that more than 1.2 million people
are now displaced in North and South Kivu.

During the recent
fighting, many civilians were wounded or killed in the crossfire while
there are reports that others, including children, were abducted and
forcibly recruited into armed service. In Kirotshe, a female worker at
the local health center was shot in the stomach on September 11 while
the CNDP and soldiers from the Congolese army fought for control of the
town. Another woman who fled from Nyamubingwa village said she left
behind three women who had been raped by armed combatants. Much of her
village was looted.

"Again and again, we are attacked, we flee,
our houses are pillaged, and then we are displaced with nothing," said
one man, whose house was looted by two different militia groups after
he fled from Nyamubingwa on September 10.

Civilians' rights ignored

Roadblocks
erected by the Congolese army and militia groups prevented many
civilians from escaping to safety. In some cases, civilians fleeing
combat were only permitted to pass if they paid fines or handed over
their electoral cards (which serve as identification in Congo) and
other goods which they managed to carry from their homes.

Even
outside of combat zones, Congolese army soldiers, sent to the region in
increasing numbers, killed or injured civilians, often in the process
of pillaging their property. In Minova and neighboring villages of
South Kivu, for example, four civilians were killed by indiscriminate
fire from soldiers who were looting the area. In some areas, Congolese
army soldiers, as well as members of armed groups, are also involved in
illicit mining activities in the rich gold and tin mines across the
Kivu provinces, systematically extorting from civilians, in particular
through the imposition of illegal "taxes."

"Congolese army
officers and leaders of armed groups must take urgent steps to control
and discipline their troops," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior
researcher at Human Rights Watch. "They are responsible for keeping
their soldiers and combatants from killing, harassing and abusing the
population."

Aid workers attacked

Aid workers have
suffered attacks that have forced them to suspend activities in North
Kivu and parts of South Kivu, leaving many displaced persons without
assistance. Soldiers and combatants from armed groups have looted
health centers and hijacked trucks delivering humanitarian assistance,
diverting them for military purposes. Crowds have stoned aid workers
and refused to allow them to pass roadblocks, confusing their role with
that of the UN peacekeeping force, MONUC. The crowds said they were
angry about what they saw as MONUC's failure to end the conflict and
protect the population.

"The signatories to the Goma peace
agreement agreed to protect civilians, remove roadblocks and allow
humanitarian access to populations in need, yet communities have
witnessed them doing precisely the opposite," said Juliette Prodhan,
country director for Oxfam GB in DRC. "All parties must live up to
their commitments and cease such attacks immediately."

Ten years
ago this month, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal
Displacement were first presented to the Human Rights Commission,
officially recognizing the basic rights of all internally displaced
persons, including protection against arbitrary displacement, the right
to protection and assistance while displaced, and guarantees for safe
return.

"In eastern Congo many of the basic rights of displaced
people have been flagrantly violated," said Ulrika Blom Mondlane from
the Norwegian Refugee Council. "The UN's Guiding Principles should be
more than just lofty aspirations. The people of eastern Congo
desperately need the protection and basic standards of assistance
detailed in this groundbreaking document to become a reality."

The
Congo Advocacy Coalition calls on the parties to the Goma peace
agreement, international donors, and international facilitators to the
peace process (United States, European Union, African Union, and the
UN) to redouble efforts to implement the Goma peace agreement and to
ensure that the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement are
respected in one of the world's worst humanitarian emergencies.

Specifically, the coalition calls on these actors to:

  • Uphold the commitments to civilian protection and respect for human rights
    set out in the Goma peace agreement and the Nairobi communiqué. Appoint
    a special adviser on human rights for eastern Congo to help ensure that
    human rights concerns are central to peace discussions.
  • Significantly and urgently increase and improve assistance for those displaced from their homes and for the families and communities who host them.
  • Sanction those who incite violence against humanitarian and UN workers. Inform the population about the different roles and mandates of MONUC and humanitarian agencies.
  • Ensure that MONUC's protection mandate is given priority in the resourcing and management of operations.
  • Ensure
    that the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the economic
    interests of the parties to the conflict are addressed
    explicitly in bilateral and international dialogues.

 

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