|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by United Nations Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator
on Recent Mission to Democratic Republic of the Congo
Rape and other forms of brutal sexual violence were on the rise in the Democratic Republic of the Congo due to an increase in fighting and militia uprisings, said the Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, during a Headquarters press conference today.
Kyung-wha Kang, who had recently returned from a mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, from 26 to 31 May, said she had visited refugee camps and hospitals, and met with various Government officials and humanitarian workers in hopes of shedding the “global spotlight” on a complex and protracted humanitarian emergency.
In the South Kivu region, she recalled her visit to Panzi hospital, where the medical director had informed her that the number of women and girls who had come to the hospital seeking treatment for rape had increased. In a reversal in 2012 that followed the promising decreasing trend at the end of 2011, the hospital now received some 300 rape survivors each month. For such victims, Panzi hospital was “like a haven”, for it provided the women and girls with the necessary medical and psychological support, as well as legal advice, she said.
Yet, she feared that the hundreds of women and girls who sought help at the Panzi hospital every month were just the “tip of the iceberg”. It was also difficult to investigate the perpetrators, as victims “fall prey” to sexual violence from a number of different armed groups. In some cases, the perpetrators had served in village self-protection vigilante groups, but had morphed into very brutal militia with control over large swaths of territory.
In fact, the overall humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had worsened. There were currently 2.6 million internally displaced people across the country, compared to 1.8 million at the beginning of 2012. The ongoing conflict and attacks in North and South Kivu were worsening the already deteriorated situation of food insecurity and malnutrition, she said.
On her visit to Kinshasa, she said she had met with Government officials and humanitarian partners with whom she had discussed the challenges of protecting civilians, the need for a more enabling environment for humanitarian actors and for a continued large-scale humanitarian response, particularly in the east.
On another leg of her trip, Ms. Kyung-wha travelled to Goma in North Kivu, visiting a newly established transition site temporarily hosting 3,000 people recently displaced by last month’s fighting between Congolese Armed Forces and the 23 March Movement, or “M23” group. Those newly displaced people were a small fraction of the estimated 973,000 internally displaced people in North Kivu alone.
She also travelled to Walungu where she visited the village of Mulungu, the site of thousands of displaced people seeking refuge since the start of the year. Representatives of the displaced and of the host communities in North and South Kivu “all appealed very earnestly” for peace and a resumption of normalcy. There was a dire need to end the immense suffering of the people of the Kivu regions and other parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the violence had gone on for “too long”.
She called on all parties engaged in the conflict to fully respect international and humanitarian law and to spare civilians. She was impressed by humanitarian efforts in providing urgent assistance to people in need, however, many internally displaced people were beyond the reach of humanitarian workers, especially in remote corners of the eastern portion of the country. A combination of factors, from insecurity to lack of resources and limited access, prevented humanitarian relief from reaching those most in need.
In Kampala, Uganda, she had met with Government officials and humanitarian officials working in neighbouring countries to discuss the regional ramifications of the persisting humanitarian crisis, she said. During those meetings, great emphasis was placed on the Peace Security and Cooperation Framework, which had been designed to address the root causes of the prolonged conflict and to bring about lasting peace to the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Asked about World Bank commitment to offset the funding deficit, particularly aimed at assisting the 2.6 million internally displaced people, she informed correspondents that the funding appeal for 2013 stood at $892 million and, so far, 37 per cent, or $333 million, had been received. Funding was a big concern, she said, noting that the displaced persons near the Walungu territory were receiving half their daily ration. At that pace, and with the current funds available, even that would last only five or six months. There was a great need for the remainder of the appeal to be met, she urged.
To a question about what the people in the villages, particularly in Goma, thought the potential impact of the United Nations Intervention Brigade might be, she said that the “longingness” for peace was great among the people she talked to. When she met survivors of “terrible, brutal” sexual violence, beyond immediate medical and psychosocial needs, their real call was for peace. They placed a great deal of hope on the Peace Security and Cooperation framework as the “last chance” to bring about peace in Eastern Congo. The Intervention Brigade was certainly “one part of the puzzle, which had many pieces to it”; it was hoped that would bring about catalytic intervention in the fight against armed groups.
At the end of the day, she added, it was up to the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to “beef up” security and protect the civilians.
When asked whether she believed the “UN had taken seriously enough” the rapes committed by two battalions of the Congolese army in Minova, she said that colleagues were following up on the suspensions of the three commanders and were pushing for a thorough investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators.
As for putting an end to the fighting, especially as multinational corporations had a “mineral interest” in the region, she said that the United Nations system as a whole was making a concerted effort to bring about peace through the Peace Security and Cooperation Framework, noting it had been signed by the leaders of 11 countries and four senior officials of key organizations, including the African Union. The agreement dealt with the very root of the challenge and not just the surface manifestations of the conflict. A lot was riding on the Framework, and there was a sense of “neutral accountability” among its partners.
* *** *For information media • not an official record