UNHCR alarmed over reported atrocities in DR Congo's Tanganyika province
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, warned today that a humanitarian disaster of extraordinary proportions was about to hit the southeastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), as the province of Tanganyika plunges further into violence, triggering spiraling displacement and human rights abuses.
Several areas of the province have seen atrocities and mass displacement, due to entrenched intercommunal conflicts between the Twa, the Luba and other ethnic groups. Moreover, fierce clashes between the Congolese armed forces and militias have continued since the end of January, while new armed groups threaten to wreak more havoc in the province.
People fleeing for their lives near the provincial capital Kalemie have shared stories of horrific violence during attacks against their villages, including killings, abductions and rape. UNHCR partners documented some 800 protection incidents in the first two weeks of February in Tanganyika, marking an upwards trend.
Throughout 2017, UNHCR partners documented over 12,000 reports of human rights violations in Tanganyika and the nearby area of Pweto in the Haut Katanga province, to where the conflict has spread. However, UNHCR fears that the number of the people affected by the violence could be much higher since many areas were too dangerous to reach.
While the majority of the incidents concerned violations of property rights including extortions, plundering and destruction, some 4,700 of these incidents referred to physical abuse, torture, murders, arbitrary arrests, forced labor, rape and forced marriages.
Sexual violence is of particular concern. Despite access challenges and the prevailing stigma for those affected, UNHCR’s partners managed to record 523 cases of sexual and gender based violence in Tanganyika and in Pweto, referring survivors to medical services, judicial assistance and psychosocial support. About half of them were children.
Overall, already vulnerable displaced populations most often fell victim to the latest atrocities. These were not only committed in the context of the ethnic conflict, but also by the soldiers deployed to fight the renegade militias.
UNHCR calls on the Congolese authorities to ensure the protection of the civilian population, to effectively follow-up any reports of crimes attributed to the armed forces and to put an end to the perception of impunity related to human rights abuses.
The violence spreading across Tanganyika, which is three times the size of Switzerland with a population of some three million, has now internally displaced over 630,000 people. This number is almost double the 370,000 who were displaced within Tanganyika in December 2016. UNHCR is working with partners to redress this calamitous situation, but is appealing for increased assistance to help the population cope.
Last year, UNHCR received less than US$1 per person in donor contributions for its programmes for the internally displaced in the DRC. This has left many displaced in Tanganyika receiving hardly any humanitarian aid. In Kalemie, thousands of families lack the plastic sheeting which could protect them from the rain. People often suffer from hunger and lack of medical support. Single women and widows without appropriate shelter run an even higher risk of sexual abuse and violence in the displacement areas.
For 2018, UNHCR is appealing for US$368.7 million for the Congolese situation. A total of US$80 million is required to support the internally displaced populations inside the DRC.
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