A violent attack by men armed with hammers, and the burning of a village of internally displaced people are two in a series of recent violent events suffered by people living in the Kivu provinces of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition, the numbers of gunshot and rape victims treated by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in its hospital in Mweso, North Kivu, rose in August, leading to heightened concern about the levels of violence suffered by people living in the conflict-affected areas.
On August 26, MSF was alerted to a brutal attack in a small village 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Mweso.
“At 22:30, the 25th of August, eight men entered the village armed with hammers, and attacked more than 20 people,” said MSF medical coordinator Martins Dada. “As soon as we heard the next morning, we immediately drove to the village to provide emergency medical care. Once there, the seriousness of the situation became clear. We quickly took care of the wounded, putting in IVs. One of the victims died on the scene. Another person had passed away before we arrived.”
Fifteen people were admitted to the MSF hospital in Mweso, seven of who were in comas, having suffered severe skull fractures, and eight who were severely wounded. The first patient died on the evening of August 27, a 15-year-old boy. Since then, another patient has also passed away, while the rest remain in a serious condition, including a pregnant woman. All patients are extremely traumatized.
“We were stitching head injuries all day,” Dada said. “Everyone is in shock. The villagers are too shattered to speak. One man is totally confused and is constantly terrified; he calls and cries and kicks and beats until we calm him down and he returns to his coma. Then he wakes and relives the entire story again.”
Just days before the attack, MSF tended to patients wounded during the burning and looting of a camp for internally displaced persons. “One hundred and seventy shacks burned to the ground, and another 80 homes were looted,” said MSF mental health worker Joelle Depeyrot.
MSF does not know who the perpetrators of these horrific attacks are, but is shocked by the brutality of the incidents and the ongoing level of violence suffered by the people caught up in the conflict in eastern Congo. Since May 2010, the number of rape victims being treated at MSF’s hospital in Mweso has gone up nearly two-fold, with more than 40 patients being provided with treatment in August. Likewise, the average case load of victims of physical violence has doubled in August compared to previous months, to more than 20 cases.
“Since these incidents, other patients have come to us in a state of agitation and fear,” Depeyrot said. “They were not there. But they have lived through other horrific events. And they have heard the stories. They report being scared, scared all the time. They spend their time wondering when they will be tortured and killed.”
MSF continues to provide much needed emergency healthcare to people in the places most affected by the conflict in eastern Congo, including emergency assistance, healthcare, treating victims of sexual violence, providing psychosocial care, running vaccination campaigns, and responding to disease outbreaks.