What's In Blue

Posted Mon 13 Mar 2023

Dispatches from the Field: Meeting with Women Civil Society Representatives and Visit to Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp near Goma

Yesterday (12 March), on the last day of the Council’s four-day visiting mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), members received first-hand accounts of the deleterious effects on civilians of the ongoing conflict in the country. They held a working breakfast with women civil society representatives, during which the discussion focused on conflict-related sexual violence, which has been rampant in eastern DRC. Council members sought the representatives’ views on what can be done to address the situation and build sustainable peace in the country with women’s full and effective participation. Members then visited the Bushangara camp on the outskirts of Goma, which hosts internally displaced persons (IDPs), and witnessed the difficult conditions faced by civilians displaced by fighting.

Meeting with Women Civil Society Representative

The women civil society representatives gave emotional and powerful testimony about the impact of the conflict in eastern DRC, noting that Congolese women had endured immense hardships over the past two decades. With the ongoing fighting in eastern DRC, women are being abused with impunity, the representatives said, pointing to the widespread rapes, including in IDP camps. They emphasised to Council members that violence is being used against women and girls as a weapon of war and that they have no protection.

With the resurgence of the M23 Movement, an armed group operating in the North Kivu province that was dormant over the past decade but became active again in 2022, women are living in a very difficult situation, the civil society representatives said. They added that the armed group has “strangled” Goma, the provincial capital, and referred to the Kishishe massacre in November 2022 allegedly perpetrated by the M23, which claimed the lives of at least 171 civilians, according to an investigation by the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) and the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).

The representatives described the daily atrocities that women witness in North Kivu. They showed Council members photographs of the aftermath of a recent attack in the village of Mukondi, which is located south of the city of Beni in North Kivu, perpetrated by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed rebel group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). The attack, which occurred on the night between 8 and 9 March as Council members were travelling to the DRC, reportedly claimed the lives of at least 36 people. Media reports citing witnesses indicated that ADF members indiscriminately attacked civilians, including with machetes, and set dwellings on fire.

The civil society representatives also described the economic insecurity that women in eastern DRC face: most of them are widows, they said, whose situation has forced them to use their bodies to make a living. The representatives explained how the conflict is destroying the futures of young people, who are being exploited to work in mining sites. The civil society representatives also spoke about the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the need to ensure the traceability of minerals. They drew attention to the impact of the conflict on education, noting that it prevents children from going to school; saying that minors are being recruited by armed groups, they requested the Security Council to verify the facts through an independent investigation.

Women want their voice to be heard and to have a seat at the negotiating table in order to contribute to the restoration of peace, the representatives said, noting that although women play a key role in supporting those affected by conflict, they are left out of peace processes. They also insisted on the importance of peace for allowing women to be voters and candidates in the upcoming elections in December, saying that the discussion about electoral processes is meaningless without peace.

The civil society representatives said that Congolese women have been waiting far too long for the international community to help in ending their suffering, to no avail. Referring to the case of Ukraine and the swift international reaction, including the imposition of sanctions on Russia, they criticised the Security Council for its “deafening silence” in the face of atrocities committed in the DRC and made an emotional appeal to Council members to take urgent action, including by imposing similar measures against Rwanda and all others involved in the conflict in eastern DRC in order to alleviate the suffering of women and children. They also called on them to prevent “the balkanization” (the division of a multinational state into smaller ethnically homogeneous entities) of the DRC, which they said is being “instigated from outside” to loot the country’s resources.

Council members appreciated the profound and painful testimonies shared by the women civil society representatives. They expressed solidarity with the representatives and noted their appeal for support to address the situation in eastern DRC. One Council member clarified that the DRC’s challenge is not “balkanization” but external intervention and the illegal exploitation of its resources. While noting that conflicts and crises around the world are different in nature, this Council member noted that rape is the same everywhere and must be condemned in the strongest terms. Council members acknowledged that they can and should do more to help Congolese women, who are bearing the brunt of the ongoing violence in eastern DRC, and assured the civil society representatives that their testimonies will be considered in future Council discussions and actions. They also emphasised that the Council can only support efforts by the Congolese themselves, however, and encouraged the civil society representatives to work towards finding local solutions by actively engaging with their government. Some members underlined the need to hold perpetrators of human rights abuses and crimes accountable and expressed full support for efforts in this regard.

Visit to IDP Camp

Council members visited the Bushangara IDP camp near Goma, where they heard testimonies from female IDPs who had been raped and tortured. These survivors described how they were targeted by criminals in IDP camps when they searched for food or collected firewood. The IDPs expressed frustration about the living conditions in the camps and called for the restoration of peace in order to allow them to return home and resume their regular lives. They appealed to Council members to listen to their grievances and provide urgent solutions.

Council members also saw the sanitary conditions in this camp; although the Bushangara camp is said to be better compared to other camps, members heard from the UN agencies operating in the camp about ongoing health problems, particularly the spread of measles, respiratory infections, and cholera. Council members expressed sympathy and solidarity with the IDPs and acknowledged their pain and frustrations. They recognised the need to improve the living conditions in all IDP camps and expressed commitment to support the setting up of additional camps. They also stressed the need to find a lasting solution to the humanitarian crisis in the region through actions in the political, security, and humanitarian spheres.

Members were also scheduled to visit a transit centre for children demobilised from armed groups yesterday, but this visit could not take place due to security reasons.

The visiting mission concluded with a media briefing by the co-leads—Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière (France) and Ambassador Michel Xavier Biang (Gabon)—who described the meetings that the Council had held with government officials, political parties, civil society representatives, MONUSCO and the UN Country Team, provincial authorities and regional actors in Goma, and the visit to the IDP camp.

Council members returned to New York this afternoon (13 March). In line with practice, the co-leads are expected to brief the Council about the visiting mission.

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