The humanitarian crisis in eastern DRC may have been out of the news for a while, but it has not gone away – and in parts of the region there are many reports that it is getting worse. So credit to The Guardian for giving it extensive coverage this weekend in a series of features from the Kivus.
A long list of armed groups continue to prey on villagers with impunity. 12,000 people were displaced by clashes in North Kivu last week alone, cases of sexual violence are increasing, and farmers have been attacked and killed while planting in their fields to try and feed their families. The headline of one article sums up how armed men can terrorise communities without any fear of being stopped: “Many people have been killed. No one is ever punished.”
International action in eastern DRC has often focused on military offensives against the many armed groups. But, particularly with a poorly trained army whose soldiers often go unpaid for months, such offensives have in the past had devastating consequences for civilians, causing massive displacement and terrible reprisal attacks. The new so-called “Perfect Peace” offensive – which is being backed by the United Nations – looks no different. Analysts are warning that it could force 100,000 people from their homes.
But it is not all bad news.
Some areas are becoming safer and more stable, and often this is down to the efforts of Congolese villagers themselves. The Guardian reports how people are taking their protection into their own hands, through a network of “protection committees” – supported by Oxfam – through which citizens campaign for their rights. The committees help support victims of abuse and sexual violence; negotiate some of the illegal taxes that cripple people’s livelihoods; ease tensions between displaced people and the host communities; and boost women’s rights.
I’ve met some of the committees a couple of times now, and the bravery and dedication of some of the members to changing their communities for the better is truly inspiring. You can read a bit more about their incredible work here.