United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today expressed deep concern that instability and abuses have worsened in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), while the UN refugee agency investigated reports that new waves of refugees fled to Burundi yesterday.
“There have been reports of human rights violations, including violence against women and children, population displacements and massive looting,” Mr. Annan said in a statement released by his spokesman in New York.
Personnel of United Nations humanitarian agencies and their NGO partners have been attacked and their equipment damaged, forcing the suspension of most aid programmes for some 3 million people in the region.
The Secretary-General appealed to the rebel groups involved in fighting in May and June to protect civilians caught in armed conflict and to provide humanitarian workers with “the safe and unhindered access they need to deliver life-sustaining aid.”
He also called on neighbouring States to allow access to the troubled city of Bukavu by humanitarian workers, as well as by the UN Organization Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has sent a four-member team to investigate reports that thousands of people had fled fighting in the Uvira area, south of Bukavu, and arrived in the Burundian border areas of Gatumba, Rugombo and Cibitoke.
Meanwhile, nearly 2,700 Congolese refugees in Rwanda had registered for aid since the fighting erupted in the region, starting in Bukavu on 26 May, the agency said. Of these 1,191 were staying at Nyagatare transit centre, while the rest were being sheltered by families and friends.
Just back from a fact-finding mission from the DRC, Ambassador Luis Gallegos of Ecuador, who led some members of the Executive Board of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), today called for an end to bloodshed and immediate access to civilians – especially women and children, caught in “the quagmire of violence.”
He told a press briefing that the team is recommending immediate legal action against the perpetrators of sexual violence as well as the disarmament, demobilization and social reintegration of children associated with the DRC’s armed groups.
“When you are sitting in New York and talking about these problems you talk about them in terms of numbers and as if they were statistics,” he observed. “When you give them a human face and see the problem a 14-year old ex-combatant has to be reintegrated into society, when you find a pregnant girl – a former militia chief – trying to reintegrate into her home village, when you see that the war is not about attacks between militia or armed groups, but that the militias and the armed groups go into villages and ravage and rape and kill and sequester children and then leave, and then other armed groups go into the same village, it is an attack against civil society, against people, against women and against children.”