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We cannot continue to allow millions of displaced Congolese people to suffer in the shadows
by Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Sep. 2021
5 million Congolese are currently internally displaced, reports the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.
Various armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to perpetrate crimes against humanity, resulting in the largest displacement crisis in Africa.
Attacks by armed groups and recurring inter-communal violence continue to threaten populations in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Despite military offensives conducted by the government’s armed forces (FARDC) with assistance from the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), violence continues to escalate. More than 120 militias and armed groups are currently active in the eastern DRC.
According to the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in the DRC, during 2020 an estimated 2,487 civilians were killed by armed groups in North Kivu, South Kivu, Tanganyika and Ituri provinces.
An additional 963 civilians, including 212 women and 58 children, were summarily executed by armed groups in the first half of 2021. The majority of victims were in Ituri and North Kivu, where inter-communal violence, as well as fighting between the FARDC and various militias, has escalated.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), over 5 million Congolese are currently internally displaced, including an estimated 3 million children, while more than 942,000 refugees have fled to neighboring countries, making this the largest displacement crisis in Africa.
The World Food Programme and UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimate that 27.3 million people are critically hungry.
In North Kivu attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) armed group, which has been perpetrating atrocities in the Beni region for more than six years, escalated after the FARDC launched an offensive in October 2019.
Since then, the ADF has carried out retaliatory violence against villages near Beni, as well as in Ituri province, killing nearly 850 civilians and kidnapping 534 during 2020.
UNJHRO reported that attacks by the ADF have been “systematic and brutal” and may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes. UNHCR and the UN Children’s Fund have warned that the ADF and other armed groups in North Kivu are putting internally displaced persons (IDPs) and children at particular risk, including by committing incursions into IDP camps.
In Ituri armed groups, particularly factions of the Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO), a predominantly ethnic Lendu armed group, have perpetrated numerous attacks on villages. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), during April at least 40 people were killed in attacks that also involved kidnappings, rape and burning of homes, especially in Djugu and northern Irumu territories. OCHA estimates that at least 70,000 people fled as a result of the violence.
On 30 April President Felix Tshisekedi announced a “state of siege” for North Kivu and Ituri provinces to increase FARDC presence and improve civilian security. Since that time, the ADF, CODECO and other armed groups have continued to perpetrate attacks.
During May UNJHRO recorded a 24 percent increase in human rights violations as compared to April, including armed groups summarily executing at least 130 people. On 27 June suspected ADF members detonated several bombs in Beni city, including at a Catholic church.
Meanwhile, rival armed groups and militias, who are competing for control of mining areas or retaliating against recent government offensives, have perpetrated violence in Tanganyika.
During the first two weeks of August UNHCR received reports of more than 243 incidents of rape across 12 villages as well as of extreme violence and the abduction of women and girls to be used as sex slaves. More than 300,000 people are currently displaced by insecurity in Tanganyika.
For more than 20 years various armed groups have exploited the weakness of state authority to perpetrate attacks against civilians. Widespread violence in eastern DRC is indicative of the enduring challenge of building effective governance and stability.
The volume of attacks by armed groups in Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, combined with inter-communal tensions, is straining the capacity of the FARDC and MONUSCO to provide adequate protection to civilians.
Rampant impunity and competition for control of profitable minerals have enabled the proliferation of armed groups.
While the FARDC has initiated offensives against various militias, groups like the ADF have a history of violent reprisals targeting civilians. The FARDC and police have also been implicated in widespread violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including sexual violence and arbitrarily killing civilians, while combatting armed groups.
Renewed attacks by CODECO elements could result in a recurrence of atrocities in Ituri. CODECO and its affiliates were implicated in the killing and rape of hundreds of civilians during the first half of 2020 prior to signing ceasefire agreements.
UNJHRO has previously accused CODECO of potential crimes against humanity for its role in inter-communal violence between ethnic Lendu and Hema communities between December 2017 and September 2019.
The DRC government has struggled to uphold its responsibility to protect, and government forces have at times been complicit in atrocity crimes.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) currently subjects 13 entities and 31 individuals in the DRC to sanctions. Since 2013 the government of the DRC and neighboring states have collectively addressed the threat of armed groups through the “Peace, Security and Cooperation [PSC] Framework for the DRC and the region.”
On 18 December 2020 the UNSC extended the mandate of MONUSCO for one year. The resolution emphasized that the government “bears the primary responsibility to protect civilians within its territory and subject to its jurisdictions, including protection from crimes against humanity and war crimes.”
On 31 March the UNSC issued a Press Statement expressing concern regarding rising inter-communal violence and armed group activity in the eastern DRC.
The DRC government and MONUSCO must ensure that protecting civilians remains their primary priority as they address the ongoing threat posed by various armed groups.
The government should cooperate with UNJHRO and ensure all state agents responsible for extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and other human rights violations and abuses are held accountable. Recent massacres must be independently investigated and the perpetrators punished.
The government, with the support of MONUSCO, should implement measures to mediate inter-communal tensions in eastern DRC and address structural issues of land access, resource allocation and poor governance.
The DRC government needs to implement a credible disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation program to encourage the ADF, CODECO and other armed groups to permanently lay down their arms.
Neighboring states should continue to uphold the PSC Framework and provide assistance in confronting armed groups.
May 2021
DR Congo tops list of world’s most neglected crises. (NRC)
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the world’s most neglected displacement crisis according to the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) annual list, due to overwhelming needs and an acute lack of funding, as well as media and diplomatic inattention.
“DR Congo is one of the worst humanitarian crises of the 21st century. A lethal combination of spiralling violence, record hunger levels and total neglect has ignited a mega-crisis that warrants a mega-response. But instead, millions of families on the brink of the abyss seem to be forgotten by the outside world and are left shut off from any support lifeline,” said Secretary General of NRC, Jan Egeland, who launched the report today from Goma, eastern DR Congo.
Multiple conflicts in eastern parts of the country have escalated, forcing 6,000 people to flee their homes every day last year, making it the crisis with the largest number of new displacements due to conflict in the world.
Last weekend nearly 4,500 homes were destroyed when a volcano erupted outside Goma, sparking some short-lived media interest. “The Congolese are struck by a crisis of volcanic dimensions every single day due to violence and conflict. Sadly, when there is no volcanic eruption, the thousands that flee their homes each day goes unnoticed,” Egeland said. “They do not make headlines, they seldom receive high-level donor visits and are never prioritized by international diplomacy,” he added.
The top ten most forgotten crises
Crises in Africa dominated this year’s neglected displacement crises list once again, with DR Congo followed by Cameroon, Burundi, Venezuela, Honduras, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Central African Republic and Mali.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has caused millions of people who were already struggling to survive in neglected crises to fall even further behind. The little income they had is often gone, needs are skyrocketing and funding continues to dry up,” Egeland warned.
For the first time this century, the global humanitarian appeals to support aid operations were less than 50 per cent funded last year. In some of the neglected crises only a third of what was needed was received, even for lifesaving relief. This year, the aid appeal for DR Congo is only 12 per cent funded by mid-May.
“We cannot continue to allow millions of displaced Congolese people to suffer in the shadows. A collective, shared responsibility must be revived to put an end to the misery of millions once and for all,” Egeland said.

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More must be done to protect humanitarians on the frontlines across the globe
by Martin Griffiths, Jan Egeland
NRC, UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Aug. 2021
As the world watches the crisis in Afghanistan, aid workers are staying to help while bracing for troubling times ahead. More must be done to protect humanitarians on the frontlines across the globe.
In June, two missiles hit one of the largest hospitals in northern Syria, killing 19 civilians, including three children and four humanitarian workers. An additional 11 hospital staff were injured.
Rockets hit the emergency room and delivery ward, reducing them to rubble. Parts of Al-Shifa’a hospital are still inoperable, and thousands of Syrians have been cut off from life-saving medical assistance.
Later that same month, three aid workers, clearly identified as working for an international aid organisation, were killed in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
Tragically, attacks like these have become commonplace. Every week, humanitarian workers across the world are killed, injured, sexually assaulted, kidnapped or detained as they work to help the world’s most vulnerable people.
Humanitarian needs today are at a record high. Some 235 million people need aid across 56 countries. This is due to the crippling combined effects of prolonged conflict, the climate crisis and Covid-19.
But reported attacks on aid workers have increased almost tenfold over the past 20 years, according to Humanitarian Outcomes.
Last year, 475 aid workers were attacked and 108 of them killed in 41 countries – the vast majority of them national aid workers working on the front lines of conflicts.
Humanitarian groups are often forced to temporarily suspend activities or relocate staff, depriving communities of life-saving aid deliveries and protection.
Robust international laws of war exist to protect relief operations and aid workers, and facilitate aid reaching the people who need it to survive.
But too often fighting parties – both states and non-state armed groups – brazenly flout them. And when they do, they face few consequences.
As humanitarian needs soar, we need urgent action to get aid workers and supplies out of the line of fire, and ensure relief gets to where it’s needed.
Four ways to protect aid workers in conflict zones
First, states and non-state armed groups participating in armed conflict must live up to their fundamental obligations under international humanitarian law.
Experience shows that incorporating the laws of war in training and the rules of engagement for armies and armed groups works. As does adopting strong military policy and practice to ensure civilians and humanitarian access are protected.
States have many means of influence to get conflict parties to respect international humanitarian and human rights laws, ranging from political dialogue to withholding arms transfers where there is a clear risk that the arms will be used to commit serious violations of those laws. They need to consistently apply them.
Second, allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law must be systematically and independently investigated, and perpetrators held to account. War crimes that go unpunished embolden perpetrators to commit further violations.
Third, governments must recognise the need for humanitarian organisations to neutrally engage with all parties, including non-state armed groups, to safely help people in need.
This means that humanitarian organisations must be able to speak to whoever controls territories where populations are in need, so families living in areas under their control can receive humanitarian assistance.
A 2016 study commissioned by the aid group Geneva Call found that non-state armed groups expressed greater acceptance of international humanitarian law when there had been active in long-term engagement with humanitarians.
These armed groups were more likely to deny access and even attack aid workers when humanitarian organisations were perceived to be supporting a political agenda.
One of us – Martin Griffiths – will soon appoint a special adviser on the preservation of humanitarian space and access. This is an opportunity to speed up progress on these critical areas. It will also need governments to take bold, practical steps to ensure respect for international law and facilitate humanitarian access.
And fourth, counter-terrorism measures must not impede humanitarian action, and should include clear exemptions to preserve the ability of humanitarian organisations to help people in need, wherever they are.
Counter-terrorism measures have often hindered humanitarian work in areas where armed groups are present, and at times have even criminalised legitimate aid activities, depriving civilians of life-saving aid precisely when international law entitles them to it.
National legislation in several countries, including recently in Chad and Switzerland, has excluded humanitarian activities from the application of counter-terrorism measures under criminal law. This is a step forward.
Today, World Humanitarian Day, is a moment to commemorate aid workers who have fallen. Taking meaningful and immediate action to protect each and every aid worker operating today is the best way we can honour their legacy.
* Martin Griffiths is the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland is the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

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