Illusion of protection can do more harm than good
Geneva, Nairobi, Paris, July 25, 2003 - In a report entitled "Ituri : Unkept Promises? A Pretense of Protection and Inadequate Assistance" released today, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) denounced the lack of effective protection of civilians in the Ituri area (north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo). MSF also protested against continued insecurity in and around Bunia, and the poor level of assistance.
The MSF report comes on the eve of a UN Security Council decision on the future role of the UN mission in the DRC.
MD Vincenzo Polese during a surgical intervention in MSF's field hospital next to Bunia airport.
Photo © Juan Carlos Tomasi
"From what we see here in Bunia, it is crystal clear that the current levels of protection and assistance to the people are far from enough. Violence and insecurity continue to shape the reality for people in town. Every single measure taken till now has been insufficient. It has been an illusion on paper without guarantees for real protection in the field," said Rafael Vila Sanjuan, MSF international secretary, as he returned from Bunia.
"If the lack of political will to push for real ways of protection continues, the UN should not be surprised to see other massacres. It is irresponsible on their part and their actions will only serve to make an enclave from Bunia, which - we know from recent history - have more than once given a false sense of protection to a population subsequently massacred".
Scene in the MSF hospital in Bunia.
Photo © Juan Carlos Tomasi
The ongoing killing and violence on civilians have clearly not been stopped by the international interventions so far. Since the end of May, 20% of patients admitted to the MSF hospital in Bunia were victims of war injuries - half of those patients are children under five years old. During this time period, MSF has performed 519 surgical operations, 23% of which were war related injuries. Nearly a quarter of those injuries were inflicted on children under 15 year of age, and one third of the patients over 15 years with war wounds requiring surgery were women.
"This is not a war between ethnic militias or between groups, this is more like a war against civilians," commented Thomas Nierle, director of operations in Geneva.
In the past weeks, more than 12,000 people have returned to Bunia after fleeing terror in the town in mid-May, but few are willing to return to their homes because they fear for their lives. They instead remain in the camp near Bunia airport, which remains vulnerable to the violence. Only some areas of the city are secure, and throughout the night there are killings, rapes, reprisals, and looting despite the presence of MONUC and the IEMF.
The situation is even more dire outside town. There is no protection for the nearly 150,000 people who fled Bunia to seek refuge in the surrounding forests. Villagers continue to flee fighting and killings in the surrounding countryside. No one knows the extent of violence outside of Bunia because access to these areas has been impossible for months.
Humanitarian organizations cannot assess the situation or extend the reach of their assistance beyond Bunia.