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Congo (DRC): ICRC active in various hotspots

04-07-2003 Operational Update

The ICRC’s Red Cross message network in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the largest in the world. It’s one of many activities carried out in the country’s conflict areas that extend well beyond Bunia, and include North and South Kivu, Maniema and northern Katanga.

Six months after a peace agreement was signed, and weeks after the warring factions reaffirmed their commitment to the accord, the situation in the area around the north-eastern town of Bunia remains volatile. Hundreds of people were reportedly killed in fighting between two rival militias after the Ugandan army withdrew in April.

 
 
DRC reaffirms commitment to humanitarian law

In December 2002, the DRC adhered to Protocol II additional to the Geneva Conventions and declared its acceptance of the competence of the International Fact-Finding Commission provided for by Article 90 of Additional Protocol I. DRC (formerly Zaire) became a party to Protocol I in 1982

 
 

A United Nations-mandated multinational force, led by France and the European Union, has now taken up position to reinforce the existing contingent of UN peacekeepers. Gunmen have been warned to stay out of the town, and weapons are being rounded up – a tentative first step towards restoring some degree of normal life.

The ICRC ended its operations in the Bunia region in April 2001, after six staff members were murdered. However, with more than 400 staff in the field, it remains very active in other areas of eastern DRC – places that have been affected by regional conflicts for most of the past decade, such as North and South Kivu, Maniema and northern Katanga.

Highlights of the ICRC's wor k in 2003:

 Protecting civilians from violence  

Civilians are hardest hit by the hostilities in the DRC. They are subjected to numerous violations of international humanitarian law by armed groups which see them as the main source of food, shelter and items of value. Some civilians have become targets on account of their ethnic origin.

On the basis of information it gathers in the field, the ICRC approaches the authorities concerned and seeks to have any abuses stopped.

 Visiting detainees  

The ICRC conducts regular visits to people deprived of their freedom (in 2002 it made 379 visits to 82 places of detention). During these visits the delegates register new security detainees, and talk to them in private. In confidential discussions with the detaining authorities, delegates recommend improvements, where necessary, and remind the detaining authorities of their obligations.

In terms of improving the detainees'living conditions, the ICRC's priorities are: renovating water and sanitation facilities, providing limited material aid for the detainees and insisting on access to medical care for every detainee.

 Putting families back in touch  

The conflict in the DRC has split up countless families, and many remain separated by front lines. Many other Congolese have fled to neighbouring countries such as Tanzania or Zambia; the problem is made worse because postal services and telephones are virtually inexistent.

The ICRC’s Red Cross message (RCM) network in the DRC is the largest in the world. Volunteers of the national Red Cross society collect and distribute message s from people desperate to contact relatives in the country or abroad.

In 2003, the ICRC is working on improving the efficiency of the RCM network. Some previously closed offices have re-opened and some new ones have been set up; more personnel are being trained and transport – in the form of bicycles – made available.

In the first five months of 2003 180,000 messages were passed between families – in 2002 the figure came to 338,000.

 Helping kids to go home  

Very often, children become separated from their families as a result of conflict. They may then face abuse, exploitation or recruitment into armed groups, and their lives are at severe risk. Eastern DRC is also host to many unaccompanied children from neighbouring Rwanda.

Volunteers from the DRC Red Cross register the children and trace their relatives. Coordination is maintained with other humanitarian organizations.

In the first five months of 2003, the ICRC re-united 528 children with their families – not far short of the figure for the whole of the previous year. A further 238 children were taken home to their families in Rwanda.

 Ensuring economic security  

 

  Tshuapa district (Equateur): distribution of food and other relief items to families affected by conflict  
ref. CD-E-00007
 
 

The ICRC assists vulnerable and destitute families affected by years of conflict. By the end of May 2003, it had provided:

  • food, seeds and tools to 10,000 families in Maniema province

  • seeds, tools, soap and cloth to 4,000 families in South Kivu

  • household items to 3,000 families in Equateur province

  • tools and household items to 4,700 families in North Kivu and 5,700 families in the north of Katanga province

  • training for income-generating projects (sewing and soap-making) for women in two areas of Equateur province

An emergency stock of 4,000 kits of essential household items is kept in eastern DRC; if necessary, food can be bought quickly on the local market. The ICRC coordinates with other agencies to avoid duplication of efforts. Aid distributions are carried out with the help of DRC Red Cross volunteers.

 Improving water supply and sanitation conditions  

The conflict has indirectly damaged water and electrical systems. In Kinshasa, work continues on renovating two water treatment plants, Ndjili and Ngaliema, and six booster stations; together, these serve four million people.

 

  Goma (North Kivu): temporary reservoir and standpipes
ref. CD-D-00032
 
 

Among various other projects in 2003, the ICRC has:

  • extended the water distribution network in the Sotraki district of Goma

  • completed engineering work for the water-treatment plants in Kisangani and Kalemie

  • protected drinking water sources in Bukavu

  • repaired and upgraded four springs in Djolu, Equateur province

  • repaired the only water capture in Kasansa (near Mbuji Mayi) and improved sanitation conditions in the village health centre

 Caring for the wounded and sick  

The ICRC's approach concentrates on ensuring access to care and quality of treatment. So far in 2003, 70,000 Congolese people have benefited from the ICRC's primary health care programme in 14 health centres, in the provinces of Equateur, Orientale, North Kivu and South Kivu.

Despite logistical difficulties and security concerns, the programme is set to be extended to include two more centres.

 

  Dissemination of international humanitarian law to a mixed military and civilian audience
ref. CD-E-00044
 
 

The ICRC assists three health facilities in Equateur province and four hospitals in the east of the DRC (Kisangani, Uvira, Kalemie, Panzi). This support benefits not only war-wounded but also general surgical patients; the Uvira , Kalemie and Kisangani surgical departments are totally dependent on ICRC support.

So far in 2003, 71 disabled combatants have been fitted with artificial limbs and joints at ICRC-assisted orthopaedic centres in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Mbuji Mayi.

 Promoting respect for humanitarian law  

The ICRC in the DRC seeks to promote respect for international humanitarian law (IHL) among the armed and security forces and civil society.

  • the DRC defence ministry has signed a directive to have IHL integrated in all military training courses;

  • more than 1,600 members of the armed forces and police have attended information sessions about IHL and the ICRC;

  • presentations are made to authorities at various levels;

  • cooperation with the media is a key element in promoting knowledge of the ICRC and IHL – local radio helps to spread the message across the country;

 

  DRC Red Cross first-aiders on a training exercise with members of the armed forces  
ref. CD-E-00059
 
 

 Cooperating with the DRC Red Cross  

The Red Cross Society of the DRC continues to demonstrate its operational strengths based on its volunteer network and first-aid services. Nevertheless, there are still areas requiring suppo rt and further development; vast distances and poor transport and communication make integrated management extremely difficult.

The ICRC backs the efforts of the International Federation in developing the operational capacity of the national society, and works directly with the society in three key areas: tracing, conflict-preparedness and -response and dissemination of IHL and Red Cross Principles. The ICRC's help takes the form of training, provision of equipment and transportation, and support for specific projects run by the Red Cross.