UN aid chief urges DR Congo authorities to enhance protection of civilians

A family waits to be registered in a previous wave of displacement caused by conflict in North Kivu

30 April 2010 – The top United Nations humanitarian official today visited the province of South Kivu in the troubled east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and stressed that protecting civilians and ensuring they have access to aid remains ultimately the responsibility of the national authorities.

Incidents of violence by armed groups in South Kivu and North Kivu provinces have often hindered the efforts of humanitarian agencies striving to provide assistance to hundreds of thousands of people affected by the protracted conflict there, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Since the beginning of this year, 76 incidents affecting humanitarian workers have been recorded in the two provinces, compared to 176 during the whole of 2009. More than 80 percent of the incidents affected non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which are crucial partners of the United Nations in the humanitarian response.

In the Fizi area on the western shore of Lake Tanganyika, most humanitarian activities have been suspended since March due to insecurity. Despite the difficulties, however, aid workers have been able to assist 70 percent of the needy people in the two provinces.

Mr. Holmes, on the second day of his trip to the DRC, visited internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mwenga, approximately 80 kilometres south-west of the city of Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu.

“Civilians continue to suffer enormously and disproportionately in this armed conflict,” he said in Mwenga, where he helped launch a new feeding programme of the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

The Kivu provinces have been ravaged by armed conflict mainly pitting DRC's national army against insurgents of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, better known as FDLR, the group's French acronym. Local armed militias and bandits also contribute to insecurity in the two Kivu provinces, where an estimated 1.4 million people are internally displaced, more than 70 per cent of whom live with host families, increasing the burden on a population with already-scarce resources.

Civilians face frequent human rights abuses, OCHA said, with villages routinely being looted and burnt down by armed groups.

Armed men from all combatant parties commit sexual violence. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said that last year alone, 8,300 rapes were committed against women in the Kivus, an average of 160 rapes every week.

While in Bukavu, Mr. Holmes also met with Provincial Vice-Governor Jean-Claude Kibala and with representatives of humanitarian agencies.

The UN official expressed his grave concern over the lack of protection of civilians and emphasized the continuing need for both humanitarian assistance and access.

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