A UN tank makes it way through the streets of Bukavu in South Kivu. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Mufariji Assy.
Recent months have seen an increase in fighting between different militia groups and the national army in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North and South Kivu provinces. The situation is now so bad that it seriously affects civil society organisations ability to carry out their work.
”We are deeply worried, both for the safety of our partner organisations and for all civilians who are subjected to this violence” says Ylwa Renström, Coordinator for DR Congo at the Swedish women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
In February this year, 11 African countries signed an agreement called the Framework of Hope for peace and security in DR Congo and the region.
The following month the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2098, in which it for the first time gave a brigade within a UN peace keeping mission (MONUSCO, DR Congo) the task of carrying out offensive operations – on its own or together with the Congolese army. The resolution also gave the newly appointed Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, Mary Robinson, the task of helping the parties in the framework to deliver on their commitments. Within her mission is a special mandate to focus on women’s empowerment and regional economic integration.
Framework without women
Mary Robinson has highlighted the crucial importance of women and women’s rights organisations being a big part of the peace work. However, the framework itself hardly mentions women – apart from stating that it’s important that ”women’s groups” know the details of the agreement. And so far, neither the framework nor the resolution have lead to any big improvements in the situation for people living in the conflict-ridden North and South Kivu.
Besides from fights constantly flaring up, UNHCR in the end of July reported an alarming rise in sexual violence in North Kivu, with a registered 705 cases January-July, compared to 108 cases during the same period last year. At the same time tens of thousands of civilians have been forced to leave their homes, fleeing the armed violence. There are several militia groups that are active in the provinces and they are fighting amongst each other as well as with the Congolese army.
Severe threats against activists
Civil society organisations operating in the Kivu regions, are used to working under difficult conditions security-wise. However, it has gone from difficult, to worse, to really dangerous.
”Earlier our partner organisations talked about, for example, getting stopped in road blocks but being able to talk their way through. Now there are times when they don’t even dare to go out. There have been several severe threats against human rights activists and many are very afraid” says Katarina Carlberg, Kvinna till Kvinna’s Field Representative in DR Congo.
”It’s crucial that the Congolese government, as well as the international community, focus on the protection of civilians and to achieve a stable security situation. This is also in MONUSCO’s mandate.”
Villagers fleeing their homes in Sake, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)’s North Kivu province, after fighting erupted between FARDC Government forces and rebel groups. UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti.
In November last year, the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) and the militia group M23 were responsible for nearly 200 cases of rape and arbitrary executions, during their fighting in the North and South Kivu provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, states a new report from the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO).
More than 350 victims and witnesses were interviewed for the report and their testimonies speak of gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, like mass rape and the rape of girls as young as six years old, executions and violations resulting from widespread looting. Particularly systematic and violent was the abuse committed by FARDC elements as they retreated from the towns of Goma and Sake in North Kivu and regrouped in and around the town of Minova in South Kivu.
“Those responsible for such crimes must know that they will be prosecuted,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a comment.
BackgroundIn April 2012, a mutiny of the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) in North Kivu, initiated by General Bosco Ntaganda, led to the creation of the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23) rebellion.
After occupying part of Rutshuru territory from July 2012, the M23 rebellion seized the towns of Goma and Sake on 20 and 22 November 2012 respectively, while troops from the FARDC retreated towards Minova, South Kivu province.
In partial compliance with a communiqué issued on 24 November 2012 by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), M23 combatants began to withdraw from Goma and Sake on 1 December 2012.
Source: UN Joint Human Rights Office
In December 2012, a judicial investigation was launched, supported by MONUSCO, the UN mission in the DR Congo, and other partners. As of the end of March 2013, 12 senior officers had been suspended in relation to the Minova incidents while the investigation by Congolese justice authorities is ongoing.
According to UN News, the joint investigation puts poor discipline among soldiers and officers, as well as improper training and inadequate vetting mechanisms as causes behind the violations.
“I welcome the measures taken so far by the Congolese authorities, including the decision to suspend senior officers allegedly connected to the mass rapes,” said Special Representative of the Secretary General in the DRC, Roger Meece. “The UN continues to offer its support to both the judicial investigation and the Congolese armed forces. However, for this support to be continued, the ongoing investigation should be pursued in an independent and credible fashion, and justice should be delivered to the victims. Future efforts to reform the security sector must include a systematic verification of the human rights records of combatants and their commanders in order for the Congolese army to fully ensure the protection of civilians.”
10 May, Tanzanian soldiers arrived in Goma as part of an intervention brigade of 3 069 peacekeepers, authorized by the UN for the area. The brigade is part of MONUSCO and is tasked with ”neutralizing armed groups, reducing the threat posed to State authority and civilian security and make space for stabilization activities”, reports UN News.