ACF Denounces Human Rights Violations in D.R. Congo
The international aid organization Action Against Hunger / Action Contre la Faim (ACF) reports an increase in human rights violations associated with the return of FAC troops to the Territory of Malemba Nkulu on September 5th 2003.
- Over ten incidents of rape have been reported. Many more go unreported; ACF hears of rapes occurring nightly or daily at the barriers set up by the FAC.
- A regular pattern of extortion of the civilian population has been documented.
- Incidents of arrests, beatings and killings associated with assumed affiliations with the MayiMayi have been reported.
- Three health centers have been pillaged and vandalized with the loss of lifesaving tuberculosis and leprosy drugs among other items.
- Three nutritional centers have been pillaged and vandalized.
- A drinking water well has been contaminated with feces.
Malemba Nkulu Territory has been the center of a power struggle between the DR Congo Government troops (FAC) and the MayiMayi local militia since early 2002 attributing to a precarious humanitarian.
"Many women cannot go to feeding centers to receive the food that their children need to combat malnutrition because they cannot afford the fee to cross military check points.Without a change in the behavior of the military more people will die unnecessarily."-Cathy Skoula, Head of ACF Mission, D.R. Congo
The situation for much of the 230,000 civilians living in this area. Most incidents reported are associated with the returning FAC, but witness report that the MayiMayi are guilty of some of the abuses, notably part of the pillaging and vandalizing of nutritional and health centers in two sites.
"Soldiers threatened to take the 15-year-old daughter of a woman as their “wife” forcing her family to go into hiding, fishermen are forced to give the pick of their catch to the military, and people are fined if they burn lamps in their homes or are outside their homes after 6 pm. The same military also enter homes to take mattresses, shoes, flashlights, bicycles, goats, money, and even clothes, and people have been beaten when they cannot provide what is requested. These are just a few of the human rights violations that have been reported to us," said Cathy Skoula, country director for Action Against Hunger in DR Congo.
As a result of impunity and lack of protection of the civilian population, Action Against Hunger has seen a drastic drop-a 80% decrease-in the numbers of children in the nutrition center that treats deadly severe acute malnutrition and a 50% decrease in the centers treating moderate acute malnutrition. "Many women cannot go to feeding centers to receive the food that their children need to combat malnutrition because they cannot afford the fee charged by the military to cross military check points. Those that have made it to the feeding centers have had half their weekly ration taken from them on their return journey." said an Action Against Hunger nutrition center staff member in Malemba Nkulu. "Without a change in the behavior of the military more people will die unnecessarily."
The FAC have erected barriers on all roads into Malemba City. Most of the population are farmers who need to use these routes to get to the market to sell their harvest. To cross the barrier in either direction requires a payment equivalent to more than these people make in an average day. Additional barriers have been set up on the small paths used by women trying to reach their fields. This system is now so organized that at one barrier people are issued with tokens to show they have paid their "toll." When confronted on this practice by Action Against Hunger, an officer stated that the FAC were only collecting voluntary contributions, which were willingly donated by a local population in full support of the military's presence.
Using a MUAC in a Congolese Feeding Center
Similar schemes have been set up in three other major villages and groups of women have been specifically targeted at the barriers. In one case the soldiers selected a woman and separated her from the others under the false pretence of receiving a vaccination. Once isolated and sufficiently far from the barrier she was raped.
The Action Against Hunger head of project for Katanga, Fabienne Guillot, reports that the population of Malemba Nkulu have never felt so insecure, even during the war. "The fines and rules imposed are arbitrary and change without notice-this adds to the level of tension because people do not know what to expect," she said. "The abuses attack every facet of the lives of the people leaving them with little or no resources and because the abusers are military they can not be challenged."
In February 2002, some of the FAC group stationed in Malemba Nkulu Territory, known as the Sharks, were sent back to their headquarters base as part of a routine rotation. When replacements did not arrive, the MayiMayi decided to fill what they viewed as a security gap. When the FAC did return, fighting erupted between the Sharks and the MayiMayi until a more disciplined group of FAC, the PPU arrived in August 2002. During those few months, however, there was a lack of respect for basic human rights by both sides and a large percentage of the population was forced to displace. Several villages saw 50-75% of their houses burned and pillaged, many fields were burned ruining the cassava production, and civilians faced extortion demands, rape, and beatings. Malnutrition rose by 50% and cholera and measles epidemics raged.
The MayiMayi group controlled by Makabe were given the authority and the task to provide security for the territory by the government in February 2003. The PPU and the remaining FAC left the territory at the same time due to a general reorganization of the military. The population enjoyed relative peace until June 2003 when internal power struggles and lack of disarmament of the MayiMayi resulted in a FAC unit being posted back to the area in early September. Hopes that a return to normalcy would occur with the return of FAC troops have been dashed with the sharp rise in human rights abuses by the return of the same FAC unit, the Sharks, which was forced to leave a year ago for this very same reason. In the month that the FAC have been in the Territory of Malemba Nkulu, they have yet to enter into the zone controlled by the Makabe MayiMayi group located less than 100 km from Malemba City.
"Given the recent volatile history of this area it is important to intervene immediately or the situation could quickly go from bad to worse," said Cathy Skoula, country director for Action Against Hunger in DR Congo.
A 2003 IRC report concluded that 3.3 million excess deaths occurred as a result of the war in DR Congo, most not as a result of gunshot or other battle injuries but of lack of access to medical care or from malnutrition. Action Against Hunger asks the DRC government and others to intervene to ensure immediate and appropriate protection for the civilian population of Malemba Nkulu who live in a region of this war-torn country that is assumed to be free of these sorts of problems.