Democratic Republic of the Congo: Update on ICRC activities in the Kivus – January and February 2008
06-03-2008 Operational Update
The Conference for Peace, Security and Development , which brought together the main parties to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was held in Goma from 6 to 23 January 2008. It led to the signing of an agreement between the parties providing for an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of armed forces from specific areas and the establishment of a buffer zone controlled by the United Nations. The country's Parliament is expected to declare an amnesty for acts of war and insurrection – excluding war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide.
Although the beginning of the year was relatively calm, the number of clashes in North Kivu, mainly between the National Congress for the People's Defense and Mayi-Mayi armed groups, increased in the last two weeks of February. Numerous civilians were again forced to flee parts of the Rutshuru and Masisi territories.
Hundreds of thousands of displaced people sheltering in camps, at makeshift sites or with host families continue to live in very difficult conditions. The situation of civilians who have taken refuge in the Kibirizi, Kitchanga, Pinga and Buguri regions of North Kivu and in the Minova region of South Kivu, is a matter of particular concern. The number of civilians who have been the victims of abuse by weapon-bearers, including looting, rape, torture and forced recruitment, remains very high.
The violent earthquake that struck on 3 February and its severe aftershocks left many people in South Kivu in dire straits. The disaster claimed a number of lives, left hundreds injured and destroyed over one thousand homes. The toll was particularly heavy in the city of Bukavu and in some rural areas, especially in the Kabaré and Idwji territories.
Impact of the fighting in North and South Kivu
The ICRC continued to provide protection and assistance for conflict victims in the Kivus, in particular civilians, war wounded and people deprived of their freedom. Its delegates maintained bilateral contacts with all the warring parties with a view to reminding them of their obligations under international humanitarian law, including their duty to protect persons not or are no longer taking part in the hostilities.
In February 2008 the ICRC provided essential items for residents and displaced people in the Buguri region of North Kivu's Masisi territory. The items were distributed to 1,920 households, including 791 displaced families living with host families. The area, which has virtually no roads, is of very difficult access. This fact, coupled with the armed clashes that took place in December 2007, led to a drastic worsening of the situation for civilians. The distribution of clothing, blankets, mats, tarpaulins, soap, kitc hen sets and hoes was therefore crucial to their survival.
During the same period, the ICRC supplied basic medicines and medical equipment to several hospitals and health centres in areas where displaced people were living, such as Kibirizi, Kanyabayonga, Matchumbi, Nyabiondo and Pinga in North Kivu and Minova in South Kivu. This assistance included rape kits – medicines for the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and of sexually transmitted diseases – and vaccines. The ICRC also provided regular support for 34 psychosocial facilities in the two Kivus.
In January and February 2008 ICRC delegates documented many cases of sexual violence, looting, assault and other abuses committed by weapon-bearers against civilians. While protecting the identity of the victims, the ICRC used their testimonies during bilateral and confidential representations with the parties to the conflict. These representations, together with the ICRC's activities to promote international humanitarian law, are aimed at convincing the parties to take every possible measure to limit the impact of the fighting on civilians. Since January 2008, over 400 regular and irregular weapon-bearers have attended sessions on international humanitarian law held by the ICRC.
In order to restore contact between members of families dispersed by the conflict, the ICRC's tracing agency has collected and distributed over 3,000 Red Cross messages in Kivu since the beginning of 2008. This has enabled 19 minors, including four former child soldiers, to be reunited with their families.
The ICRC has continued to support the main medical facilities treating the war wounded. In addition to providing medicines and medical equipment, in February it completed two rehabilitation projects:
At the Katindo military hospital in Goma , in order to improve hygiene, the ICRC repaired the water-supply system and built an incinerator, a sterilization room and several pits for biological waste;
At the Kitchanga referral hospital in Rutchuru, the ICRC upgraded the sanitation facilities, installing latrines, water taps and a placenta pit.
People deprived of their freedom
In January and February 2008, ICRC delegates continued to visit places of detention and to register people held by the parties to the conflict. In some places of detention, ICRC medical teams also carried out a campaign to eliminate parasites and assessed the nutritional needs of the detainees.
Relief for earthquake victims in South Kivu
On 3 February, within hours of the earthquake, the ICRC and the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo sent emergency teams to evacuate the injured and assess the situation. Four medical facilities, including Bukavu's general hospital, received enough emergency medicines and medical equipment from the ICRC to treat 260 casualties.
Together with the country's Red Cross Society, the ICRC then distributed essential items to over 1,800 families in the areas closest to the epicentre – in Kabaré and Idwji territories. Each family received a tarpaulin, two blankets, two mats and 2.4 kg of soap. The ICRC's assistance came in addition to relief handed out by the authorities and other humanitarian agencies.
For further information, please contact:
Olga Miltcheva, ICRC Goma, tel. +243 81 036 68 12
Anna Schaaf, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 22 730 22 71 or +41 79 217 32 17