DR Congo: MSF Vaccination Used as Bait in Unacceptable Attack on Civilians

For Immediate Release


Tim Shenk
Press Officer
Direct: 212-763-5764
E-mail: tim.shenk@newyork.msf.org

DR Congo: MSF Vaccination Used as Bait in Unacceptable Attack on Civilians

KINSHASA, DRC - Last month, seven vaccination sites operated by the international
medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans
Frontières (MSF) came under fire during attacks by the Congolese army
against the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) in
North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Thousands of civilians
had gathered at the sites. MSF denounces this clearly unacceptable
abuse of humanitarian aid for military purposes.

MSF launched a mass vaccination campaign in Masisi district to
support the Congolese ministry of health in its response to a measles
epidemic. On October 17, MSF medical teams were vaccinating thousands
of children in seven different sites in Ngomashi and Kimua Zones,
controlled at the time by the FDLR.

All parties to the conflict had given security guarantees to MSF to
vaccinate at these locations at those times. However, the Congolese
national army launched attacks on each of the vaccination sites. All
the people who had come to get their children vaccinated were forced to
flee the heavy fighting. Scattering everywhere, they are now in unknown
locations and thus cannot be vaccinated. MSF had to stop its activities
in the zones and evacuate its teams to Goma, the regional capital of
North Kivu.

"We feel we were used as bait," said Luis Encinas, head of MSF
programs in Central Africa. "The attacks coincided with the beginning
of our vaccination and put the lives of civilians in extreme risk.
Thousands of people, and the MSF teams, were trapped in the gunfire.
The attack was an unacceptable abuse of humanitarian action to fulfil
military objectives. How will MSF be perceived by the population now?
Will our patients still feel safe enough to access medical care? We are
compelled to strongly denounce this situation as such actions seriously
compromise our neutrality."

MSF is an independent medical, humanitarian organisation that
delivers impartial medical aid according to the strictest principles of
neutrality. It is this neutrality that makes it possible for MSF teams
to vaccinate in such FDLR-controlled zones, which, until that point,
had been inaccessible to Ministry of Health staff.

In addition, the last few months have seen a worrying increase in
attacks against humanitarian organisations by various armed groups in
North and South Kivu.

"MSF demands that all parties to a conflict respect the work of
humanitarian organisations," added Meinie Nicolai, MSF director of
operations. "If not, it is the populations who pay the price. Those
already overwhelmed by extreme violence and endless displacement are
the ones who may end up cut off from humanitarian assistance."

A total of 165,000 children, aged from six months to 15 years,
were vaccinated against measles during the campaign in the Masisi
region before and following the attacks. In Masisi town, MSF supports a
hospital, a health center, runs mobile clinics, and provides
vaccinations. The organization operates clinics and supports hospitals
in other parts of Masisi District. MSF also brings medical care to
people in Walikale, Rutshuru, and Lubero Districts, as well as in South
Kivu Province. MSF has worked in North Kivu since 1992.


Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists in France in 1971. MSF's work is based on the humanitarian principles of medical ethics and impartiality. The organization is committed to bringing quality medical care to people caught in crisis regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation.
MSF operates independently of any political, military, or religious agendas.

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