UNHCR calls for protection of civilian population amid continued fighting in eastern DRC

Briefing Notes, 27 July 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 27 July 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is shocked by the reports of rampant abuse of civilian population in eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) a result of four months of fighting between the government troops and armed rebel groups.

Tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes in North Kivu province, many of whom sought safety in neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda.

Our staff and partners in Uganda, Rwanda and eastern DRC have been receiving regular and extensive reports of widespread human rights violations and abuses.

These include indiscriminate and summary killings of civilians, rape and other sexual abuse, torture, arbitrary arrests, assaults, looting, extortion of food and money, destruction of property, forced labour, forced military recruitment, including children, and ethnically motivated violence. All this is fuelling massive displacement within the province and into neighbouring countries. We estimate more than 470,000 Congolese have been displaced in eastern DRC since April some 220,000 in North Kivu, another 200,000 in South Kivu while more than 51,000 fled to neighbouring Uganda (31,600) and Rwanda (19,400).

The fighting in eastern DRC is conducted without any respect for the safety of civilians and in clear violation of international humanitarian and human rights principles. UNHCR again urges parties to the conflict to avoid targeting civilian population and populated areas. We call on all parties to the conflict to take all steps to protect the civilian population and to prevent indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks.

The fighting between the government troops and M23 militia left large areas of the province without an adequate security presence. In the Masisi and Walikale territories, several armed groups have taken advantage of the power vacuum to attack villages and IDP settlements, destroying and looting houses, killing people belonging to ethnic groups seen as hostile and subjecting the entire communities to extortion.

From April to July 15, aid agencies recorded more than 7,000 protection incidents in the North Kivu territories of Masisi, Walikale, Rutshuru and Beni. We fear there may be more cases, where people were unable to speak out or too scared or ashamed and fear, especially in rape cases. Most of the victims are villagers and internally displaced people (IDP).

In Uganda, some of the young Congolese refugees arriving at the Nyakabande transit centre near the border told our staff they were fleeing a recruitment campaign. In the first two weeks of July, at a time of heightened military activity across the border there was unusually high numbers of young male arrivals aged 14 to 20. Also of concern were reports that armed men were blocking the escape routes for many of those fleeing to Uganda. Many report seeing young males and minors being forced to join the rebels to carry ammunition.

We have heard similar tales from arrivals in Rwanda since April, including reports of looting and verbal and physical harassment of people speaking Kinyarwanda particularly in North Kivu's Masisi territory but also in Rutshuru and Kalehe in South Kivu.

In addition to protection and shelter, our teams and partners in the settlements and camps in Uganda and Rwanda provide health and medical services as well as psycho-social counselling for the victims of violence. The situation in the DRC is far more challenging where worsening security is severely limiting our capacity to deliver assistance outside the established IDP camps north and west of the provincial capital Goma.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Goma, Simplice Kpandji on mobile +243 81 833 132
  • In Kinshasa, Simon Lubuku on mobile +243 81 950 0202
  • In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic on mobile +41 79 200 7617
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People in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Katanga province have long referred to the region between the towns of Manono, Mitwaba and Pweto as the "triangle of death." Despite the presence of UN peace-keepers and government military successes in other parts of the country, the situation in the resources-rich Katanga has been getting worse over the past two years. Conflict between a secessionist militia group and the government and between the Luba (Bantu) and Twa (Pygmy) ethnic groups has left thousands dead and forcibly displaced more than 400,000 people since 2012, including over 70,000 in the last three months. UNHCR has expressed its "deep concern" about the "catastrophic" humanitarian situation in northern Katanga. The violence includes widescale looting and burning of entire villages and human rights' violations such as murder, mass rape and other sexual violence, and the forced military recruitment of children.

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Statelessness Around the World

At least 10 million people in the world today are stateless. They are told that they don't belong anywhere. They are denied a nationality. And without one, they are denied their basic rights. From the moment they are born they are deprived of not only citizenship but, in many cases, even documentation of their birth. Many struggle throughout their lives with limited or no access to education, health care, employment, freedom of movement or sense of security. Many are unable to marry, while some people choose not to have children just to avoid passing on the stigma of statelessness. Even at the end of their lives, many stateless people are denied the dignity of a death certificate and proper burial.

The human impact of statelessness is tremendous. Generations and entire communities can be affected. But, with political will, statelessness is relatively easy to resolve. Thanks to government action, more than 4 million stateless people acquired a nationality between 2003 and 2013 or had their nationality confirmed. Between 2004 and 2014, twelve countries took steps to remove gender discrimination from their nationality laws - action that is vital to ensuring children are not left stateless if their fathers are stateless or unable to confer their nationality. Between 2011 and 2014, there were 42 accessions to the two statelessness conventions - indication of a growing consensus on the need to tackle statelessness. UNHCR's 10-year Campaign to End Statelessness seeks to give impetus to this. The campaign calls on states to take 10 actions that would bring a definitive end to this problem and the suffering it causes.

These images are available for use only to illustrate articles related to UNHCR statelessness campaign. They are not available for archiving, resale, redistribution, syndication or third party licensing, but only for one-time print/online usage. All images must be properly credited UNHCR/photographer's name

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Edwige Kpomako is a woman in a hurry; but her energy also helps the refugee from Central African Republic (CAR) to cope with the tragedy that forced her to flee to northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) last year. Before violence returned to her country in 2012, the 25-year-old was studying for a Masters in American literature in Bangui, and looking forward to the future. "I started my thesis on the works of Arthur Miller, but because of the situation in CAR . . . ," she said, her voice trailing off. Instead, she had to rush to the DRC with a younger brother, but her fiancée and 10-year old son were killed in the inter-communal violence in CAR.

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American photojournalist Brian Sokol took these photos.

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