Armed Aid Convoys an Inadequate Bandage for Congo's Deep Wounds

Goma, DRC - November 6, 2008 – Relief convoys under armed escort by MONUC, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, are creating confusion between independent humanitarian assistance and military action in the North Kivu region of the country. Keeping the two separate is crucial, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

The widely publicized armed convoys escorted by MONUC to Goma and Rutshuru are an inadequate response to the humanitarian crisis facing the Democratic Republic of Congo’s troubled North Kivu region.

“Armed aid convoys may aim to improve access for humanitarian aid groups, but they actually risk reducing access to the populations,” said Anne Taylor, MSF head of mission in Goma. “There is a risk of aid being manipulated by political or military actors and of humanitarian actors being seen as parties to the conflict.”

Military-escorted aid convoys also risk blurring the line between humanitarian assistance and political-military action. MSF stresses the need to maintain this crucial distinction in the volatile Kivu region.

“MSF provides healthcare to all patients without discrimination,” said Taylor. “Thanks to our neutrality, MSF teams can go where people need our assistance and not where we are instructed to go. MSF provides assistance without armed escorts.”

Not only are the armed convoys risky, but their limited assistance is failing to reach large areas affected by conflict and displacement. Ample and widespread aid is urgently needed.

The recent escalation of violence in North Kivu has brought DRC back to the world’s attention, but the suffering there is not new. For years, MSF teams have witnessed widespread and repeated displacements of people throughout North Kivu.

The ceasefire agreement signed in January did not end their suffering. Hostilities that broke out at the end of August only exacerbated a conflict that had been going on for some time.

The conflict in the Kivu region goes far beyond Goma and Rutshuru. Over the past weeks, hundreds of thousands of people have fled in different directions. MSF is particularly worried about the people in the areas around Rutshuru, Kayna, Nyanzale, and Masisi, who are in urgent need of water, food, healthcare, and basic supplies.

Both a political solution and an adequate humanitarian response are needed. One cannot be substituted for the other, nor should politics and humanitarian action be mixed. Doing so jeopardizes the neutrality of aid organizations and compromises their ability to operate in locations controlled by parties to the conflict.

Despite ongoing insecurity, MSF continues to work in towns affected by fighting, like Rutshuru, Kayna, Masisi, Kitchanga, and Mweso. Throughout the region, the organization is treating war wounded and cholera patients, and providing other healthcare as well as clean water and basic relief items to displaced people and local residents.