Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) mission chief says humanitarian disaster ‘unfolding before our very eyes’

Insecurity in the volatile eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has worsened since the end of recent elections, UN Special Representative Bintou Keita told the Security Council on Wednesday. 

Ms. Keita, who also heads the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, MONUSCO, sounded the alarm over the humanitarian disaster “unfolding before our very eyes”.

More than seven million people in the country are displaced, particularly due to the operations of armed groups such as the M23 and the Allied Defense Forces (ADF) across the eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri. 

“As this Council has regularly reiterated, echoed by a recent statement of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, all foreign forces illegally operating on DRC’s territory need to withdraw, and national and foreign armed groups, such as the ADF and FDLR, need to be disarmed,” she said.   

Security reform a priority 

Ms. Keita presented the latest MONUSCO report, which covers political, security, human rights and humanitarian developments in the DRC over the past three months.

She said the presidential, national, and provincial legislative elections held in December were largely peaceful, despite major logistical challenges.

President Félix Tshisekedi secured a second term in office and announced that reform of the security and defense sector would be one of his main priorities. Negotiations around the formation of a new government are underway.

Tensions and atrocities

However, the security situation in the east deteriorated further following December’s polls, she said, with the M23 making significant advances and expanding its territory to unprecedented levels. This has resulted in an even more disastrous humanitarian situation, with internal displacement reaching unparalleled numbers.

The reporting period also saw Angola mediating in the wake of regional tensions between the DRC and Rwanda, and the start of the deployment of the Southern Africa Mission to the DRC (SAMIDRC) to North Kivu.

Although the M23 crisis has drawn a great deal of attention, Ms. Keita highlighted atrocities committed by other groups, such as ADF, particularly on the border between North Kivu and Ituri.

Almost 200 people have been killed there since the beginning of the year, she said, noting that insecurity in Ituri is fueled by the actions of four militias – CODECO, Zaire, FRPI and FPIC – as well as the ADF.

South Kivu has also seen a resurgence of tensions, driven by armed groups and inter-community rivalry. Frequent rumours about the presence of M23 elements, and the extension of the conflict from North Kivu towards the south, have further compounded the situation.

An escalation of tensions between Rwanda and Burundi, which led to the closing of their border by the Burundian authorities, was another issue that could lead to destabilization of the province and the region as a whole, she added.

Protecting civilians

To protect civilians, MONUSCO and the Congolese army have continued joint operations in Ituri and North Kivu, and strengthened a defensive operation known as “Springbok” in efforts to protect areas in the vicinity of Goma, the North Kivu capital, and nearby Sake.

Ms. Keita said UN peacekeepers have come under direct and indirect fire “almost on a daily basis”. Recently, mortar fire from M23-occupied positions landed on MONUSCO bases in Sake, wounding eight peacekeepers and six civilian staff, which she condemned. 

The M23 also managed to occupy all former positions held by East African forces, which withdrew completely in January after more than a year in place, allowing the group to move further south to encircle Goma and Sake.

In the meantime, deployment of SAMIDRC continues and troops have begun providing assistance to the Congolese forces.

Waves of displacement

Turning to the humanitarian situation, Ms. Keita said the situation is in particular due to the escalation of the M23 crisis in North Kivu as well as the prolonged armed violence in Ituri and South Kivu.

Some 7.1 million people are internally displaced, according to the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, or 800,000 more since she last briefed the Council three months ago.

Furthermore, 23.4 million Congolese are facing hunger and malnutrition, one in four, making the DRC the country which is most affected by food insecurity.

Waves of internally displaced persons continue to arrive in Goma and the surrounding area. As of last month, more than 104 displacement sites were recorded around the city alone, hosting more than 630,000 people.

Record spike in gender-based violence 

“Cases of gender-based violence and sexual exploitation have also reached new records. In January 2024 alone, 10,400 cases of gender-based violence were reported across the country, a much higher increase than in previous years,” she added.

Ms. Keita urged the international community to address the humanitarian disaster.  However, she noted that the $2.6 billion humanitarian response plan for the DRC this year is only around 14 per cent funded.   

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UN News.

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