UNHCR is alarmed about ignored humanitarian catastrophe in DRC's Katanga province

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Karin De Gruijl to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 18 November 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is deeply concerned about the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Katanga, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Violence has forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes since the end of 2012, bringing the total number of internally displaced people in the province to nearly 600,000. During the last three months alone, more than 71,000 people have been newly displaced.

In October, we registered 1,737 incidents in the territories of Kalemie and the so called "triangle of death" comprised of Manono, Mitwaba and Pweto in northern Katanga. These included the looting and burning of houses, extortion, torture, forced labour and recruitment into armed groups, as well as sexual violence. However, we fear that this number of incidents could be significantly higher as insecurity and logistical challenges prevent our protection monitors from going to some areas. During the first ten months of 2014, a total of 15,873 incidents have been reported, of which over 88 per cent (or 14,057) took place in these four territories

Sexual violence remains a serious concern. Between January and October, our protection monitors have helped 1,564 people who survived sexual violence and referred them to medical partners for treatment. However, as a result of the lack of access to the areas where survivors live and the fear of many of them to report sexual violence, we understand that many more cases are unreported. Due to a lack of funding and the limited capacity of organizations assisting rape survivors in Katanga, only a limited number of them have access to health care, psycho-social support and legal assistance.

In general, the limited presence of humanitarian and development organizations is a serious problem, leading to insufficient assistance to displaced people who struggle to have access to basic services. There are 28 sites hosting IDPs in northern Katanga and many more displaced people live in host communities. While UNHCR has built some 1,500 emergency shelters since January, but clearly more is needed, including access to health care, potable water, food and education.

The elders in Mukondo site have told us that 19 young children have died since their arrival in March, mainly because of diarrhea, anemia and malaria. The site hosts some 1,300 IDPs, more than half of them children under the age of 12. During that same period, nine women died while giving birth. The nearest health centre is 22 kilometers away, while the closest source of potable water and school are at a distance of 11 kilometers.

The conflicts are taking place in the northern part of Katanga Province, one of the Congo's richest in natural resources. While there have been long-lasting tensions between the two communities, violence between the Luba and the Twa suddenly flared up earlier this year. Attacks by the Mai Mai Bataka Katanga militia and fighting with the army reignited after the Mai Mai leader escaped from prison in the provincial capital Lubumbashi in 2011. This has subjected the civilian population to extreme violence, including mass rape.

To stem the violence, there is a need to increase the presence of Congolese civil authorities in the affected areas and to look into peaceful solutions to resolve the conflict between the Luba and the Twa. UNHCR is working with its partner, Search For Common Ground on reconciliation and peaceful coexistence between the two communities through participatory theatre and mobile cinema, but more such activities are needed. The rights of minorities and indigenous groups, in particular of the Twa community, should be recognized and protected. At the same time it is important to end impunity and to promote a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme that assists former combatants to return to civilian life.

UNHCR is calling on the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO to reinforce its presence and technical capacity in northern Katanga to better protect the civilian population and prevent further human rights violations.

Nearly 2.6 million people are internally displaced in the DRC. With 600,000 IDPs Katanga is the third most affected province by internal displacement, after North and South Kivu in the eastern part of the country.

For photos and more details, please see: http://tracks.unhcr.org/2014/11/inside-the-triangle-of-death/

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Kinshasa, Celine Schmitt on mobile +243 81 700 94 84
  • In Geneva, Karin de Gruijl on mobile +41 79 255 92 13