The UN Security Council met recently to discuss the situation in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the civilian population bears the brunt of the fighting between rebel groups including the FDLR, various Mai Mai militia, and the LRA and the Congolese army (FARDC) operating with the Rwandan and Ugandan armies. While joint operations were declared successful by the governments involved and the UN hailed the strides toward peace, the people of the region continue to suffer at the hands of all the combatants.
Human Rights Watch reports that the FLDR killed, raped, and kidnapped hundreds of civilians during and after the joint Congo-Rwanda military campaign in North Kivu earlier this year. Among the atrocities reported, the HRW report cites:
As Rwandan and Congolese coalition forces advanced toward the FDLR’s former headquarters at Kibua, in Ufamandu, North Kivu, the FDLR abducted scores of local residents from neighboring villages and took them to their camp, apparently intending to use them as human shields against the impending attack. Witnesses said that when coalition forces attacked Kibua on January 27, the trapped civilians tried to flee. The FDLR hacked many civilians to death and others died in the crossfire.
One witness at Kibua saw FDLR combatants kill at least seven people, including a pregnant woman, whose womb was slit open. Another saw an FDLR combatant batter a 10-year-old girl to death against a brick wall.
The FDLR warned in a letter to the governor of South Kivu that civilians who supported the government forces would be considered combatants and slaughtered. The Congolese army announced after the withdrawal of Rwandan forces from North Kivu that the campaign would now turn to South Kivu.
“The FDLR have a very ugly past, but we haven’t seen this level of violence in years,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher in the Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “We’ve documented many abuses by FDLR forces, but these are killings of ghastly proportions.”
But the FDLR isn’t the only group to commit atrocities. HRW said many rapes and assaults on civilians by Rwandan troops were reported by civilians fleeing the fighting as well.
The aid agency Oxfam, quotes UN figures that say that since mid-January, when Congolese and Rwandan troops attacked the FDLR, another 250,000 civilians have been newly displaced in the provinces of North and South Kivu. Rwandan troops withdrew from the DRC at the end of February, but the Congolese army continues to pursue the FDLR in South Kivu. Meanwhile, FDLR units have reoccupied the territories they fled during the joint campaign.
The situation in the north is no better, according to Oxfam. In Haut Uélé, the Ugandan rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army, has displaced nearly 200,000 people since December, in part out of retaliation for a Ugandan military offensive against the group. Ugandan troops withdrew last month, having accomplished little except to destroy the lives of thousands of Congolese.
Marcel Stoessel, Head of Oxfam in the DRC said:
“The war is far from over for ordinary Congolese. These terrible human tragedies are happening in remote areas far away from television cameras, but this does not make the suffering less real for those concerned.
“Homes and shops are being looted and ransacked, women and girls are being raped, and civilians are being forced to flee, many for the third or fourth time. We are helping them pick up the pieces by increasing our emergency work. It is tragic to see Congo’s civilians caught up in this awful violence yet again.”
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council meets today to talk about the situation. Last year, they promised an additional 3,000 troops to aid the 17,000 blue helmets already in the Congo protect the civilian population. Not only have none of those additional troops arrived, there have been no reports that they are even en route.
No one expects much from the additional troops anyway. The original Security Council mandate called for UN troops to protect UN relief operations and Congolese civilians, but their record has been dismal. Civilian casualties in the eastern provinces continue to mount and the epidemic of terror rape continues to destroy the lives of hundreds of women and their families.