Rebel takeover worsens humanitarian situation in eastern Congo

Congolese cross to Uganda to flee the fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Humanitarian activities in the North Kivu province have been impeded as rebels take over the city of Goma. Photo by: M. Sibiloni / UNHCR

Humanitarian needs and aid access — as well as the mandate of U.N. peacekeepers — have come under the spotlight as rebels entered Nov. 20 the city of Goma, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s strife-torn North Kivu province.

Internally displaced people living in camps near Goma are among those most affected and in need of assistance, according to Médecins Sans Frontières. A temporary settlement in Kanyaruchinya village, for instance, was left practically empty after some 60,000 people living there fled due to the rebel advance. Most headed to other IDP camps in the area, complicating the already precarious situation there and putting additional strain on diminishing food supplies, MSF said.

The international organization added that it is already present in several camps and is prepared to respond with additional medical supplies and personnel should the need arise.

The United Nations, meanwhile, has expressed concern over aid distribution and humanitarian access to the area. Assistance to IDP camps has slowed down over the past few days as most aid agencies are based in Goma, the global body said. It is still unclear how the takeover would further affect the flow of assistance to the city and to nearby IDP camps.

The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has noted that “many humanitarian activities have been suspended because of the security situation.”

“The humanitarian community calls for unhindered access to people in need and urge the Congolese authorities — which have the primary responsibility for the protection of civilians — to engage more effectively in the protection of civilians and humanitarian workers,” said Jens Laerke, spokesman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The United Nations, however, is also facing criticism over how its peacekeeping forces in North Kivu handled the rebel advance, and subsequent takeover of Goma. France has asked a review of the peacekeepers’ mandate, arguing that it was “absurd” a 17,000-strong peacekeeping force “was not in a position to prevent what happened,” Reuters says.

A senior U.N. source, whom Reuters did not name, said the peacekeepers decided to give up their defense of Goma after Congolese soldiers retreated under pressure from the M23 rebels.

Fears of more abuses

On top of concerns over needs and access, the most recent development in the Congolese conflict has prompted fears of more human rights abuses.

Rupert Colville, spokesman of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, has called for “all parties to the conflict” to ensure the protection of all “civilian population and civilian objects under their control against the effects of attacks.”

A report released Nov. 20 by Oxfam International argues people in Goma have been subjected to increased killing, rape and extortion since April, as well as “an unprecedented level of financial exploitation” by militias, rebels and even government troops who loot and extort illegal taxes.

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About the author

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributes to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.