Lack of Protection for Civilians Under Attack in Northeast Congo

Dungu/Kinshasa, DRC/Geneva/Nairobi, February 4, 2009 – As the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) continues to unleash violence against the people of Haut-Uélé in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the intensity of the targeted violence has prompted the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to denounce MONUC—the United Nations peacekeeping force in eastern DRC—for its inaction in protecting the population. Tens of villages have been burned, hundreds of civilians have been stabbed or clubbed to death, and men, women, and children have been abducted.

More than 50 villages and towns across north-eastern region of the DRC have been subjected to the LRA’s murderous attacks since December 25, 2008, including Tora on January 21, Taduru on January 24, Awo on January 28, Mangba on January 30, and Ngilima on February 1. Many inhabitants have had no choice but to flee to the bush to escape further massacres. There is no one to protect them; they wait in vain for humanitarian assistance that fails to arrive because of insecurity.

Rare eyewitness accounts confirm the horror of the massacres. One survivor of the attack on Batandé near Doruma on Christmas Day described his sense of powerlessness against the butchering of his loved ones. “They quickly took them out to the grasslands and systematically executed them. No one was spared -- children, infants, pregnant women, the elderly, all killed. More than 60 people.”
“The conclusion we’ve reached day in and day out on the ground is that the LRA is continuing its unspeakable violence against civilians,” said Marc Poncin, MSF operations manager for DRC. “Further massacres are likely. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1856 from December 22, 2008, makes protection of civilians the priority for the United Nations peacekeepers in DRC. MONUC must therefore take up its responsibilities, and can no longer continue to be so absent among the inhabitants of Haut-Uélé when they are being systematically attacked.”

"That day should have been a holiday. It became a day of horror."

Read full testimony recorded at Doruma

Shocked by the extreme violence of the LRA, MSF teams do not comprehend the inaction of MONUC forces regarding the protection of civilians. During a November 1, 2008 attack on Dungu, the “Blue Helmets” remained holed up in their base. Furthermore, the MONUC contingent has never intervened to protect people in towns under attack, even as attacks multiplied. The number of UN troops has remained virtually unchanged since their deployment in July 2008, despite the dramatic deterioration of the situation.

MONUC activities do not include the evacuation of wounded civilians from recently attacked areas that can be reached by helicopter – areas that are inaccessible to humanitarian aid organizations. An example of this includes a case in Duru on January 14, when a one-year-old child suffering gunshot wounds was not transported by MONUC to the Dungu hospital for medical treatment, according to journalists aboard the helicopter.

The insecurity that reigns across Haut-Uélé renders humanitarian assistance virtually impossible outside the town of Dungu. The risk of surprise attack is too great. MSF’s mobile medical teams have nonetheless on several occasions travelled by airplane to Faradje, Doruma, and Bangadi to bring emergency care to the wounded. Each time, they stayed on the ground for only a few hours, just enough time to treat the wounded -- if they didn’t arrive too late.

While the death toll from these attacks has reached 900, the number of survivors MSF has been able to treat is merely 17 – all suffering from wounds sustained by clubbing or stabbing.

“In Faradje, when we arrived two days after the attack, we found only four wounded people,” said Mathieu Bichet, an MSF doctor. “They were so gravely hurt that they had certainly been left for dead.” More than 140 people were murdered in the attack.

MSF’s Haut-Uélé provides emergency care and evacuations of severely wounded people to the Dungu hospital. It also supports health centers in Doruma, Bangadi, Faradje, Ngilima, and Li-May. Mobile clinics offer care to displaced populations in the regions around Dungu. The MSF team is made up of six international and 25 Congolese staff. MSF also runs projects throughout North and South Kivu Provinces, providing emergency medical assistance, HIV/AIDS care, primary and secondary health care, and water and sanitation assistance. MSF also provides HIV/AIDS care in Kinshasa, primary and secondary healthcare in Katanga and Maniema Provinces and treatment for sexually transmitted infections in Kisangani.