Democratic Republic of the Congo: In east of country, suffering such as rarely seen
GENEVA, Switzerland, April 25, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- "The violence and suffering inflicted on people in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo have reached a level rarely seen in two decades," declared Peter Maurer, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), at the end of a four-day visit to the country.
"Amid almost total indifference, people are enduring violent treatment every day. Civilians are directly targeted in attacks that do not even spare children or elderly people, and many people are subjected to sexual violence," said Mr Maurer in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.
In Goma, the ICRC president visited the Don Bosco centre, which accommodates over 3,000 children in difficulty, who are made even more vulnerable by the war and other violence. "Some have lost all trace of their families in the chaos of fighting and the ensuing displacement," said Mr Maurer. "I was deeply moved by all of these personal tragedies, like that of Kambale K., only 10 years old, who has had no news of his parents since last November."
Mr Maurer also went to the bedsides of dozens of people wounded in recent fighting who are being treated in Goma's Ndosho Hospital, where an ICRC surgical team has been working since November of last year alongside local personnel. He listened to the story of eight-year-old Éden K., seriously injured in a rocket attack, whose leg had to be amputated.
Many medical facilities in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo struggle to treat the wounded and the sick, as they lack supplies, which are often looted, or because there are armed men on the premises, or because medical staff cannot safely reach their workplace.
"Serious violations of international humanitarian law must stop. It is the responsibility of everyone in a position of influence to work urgently for greater respect for international humanitarian law," declared Mr Maurer, in the hope that the various talks and peace initiatives currently under way will help ease the suffering and improve the humanitarian situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"The resurgence of inter-community tension and the fragmentation of armed groups are driving the region every day a bit further into chaos and violence," he added. The security situation has deteriorated in the Kivu provinces, in Katanga and in the parts of Maniema that border North and South Kivu. The situation in Eastern Province, in Ituri especially, also remains tense.
"The unpredictability is causing strong concern within the communities and among those striving to bring aid to them," said Mr Maurer. "In this context, the presence and activities of volunteers of the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are crucial. The volunteers, who are often the first to help people, have to cope with the cruelty and horror of certain situations. Their commitment is boundless."
In view of the increase in humanitarian needs, the ICRC is preparing to mobilize its donors with the aim of boosting its activities in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly those relating to surgical and other medical care for people wounded in the violence, and those carried out to provide food, water and other basic necessities for displaced people. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the site of one of the ICRC's five largest operations in the world in budgetary terms.
In Kinshasa, Mr Maurer met with the prime minister, the justice minister, the presidents of the Senate and of the National Assembly, and the leadership of the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The discussions focused on the situation in the east of the country, and on that of people held in the country's prisons. "The living conditions in some places of detention are catastrophic: overcrowding sometimes reaches 700 per cent, and malnutrition is a persistent problem," said the ICRC president, who visited Kinshasa's central prison. He insisted on the necessity of making enough resources available to meet detainees' essential needs.
As part of his visit to the region, Mr Maurer also went to Kigali, in Rwanda, where he is set to meet with the prime minister and the foreign minister. In Rwanda, the ICRC is working to improve living conditions for detainees and to promote international humanitarian law. In addition, together with the Rwandan and Congolese Red Cross societies it is helping to restore contact between family members who find themselves on opposite sides of the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. During the past few weeks, it has also provided medical care for people injured in clashes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who are now on Rwandan soil.