Violence Against Civilians in Eastern DRC Reaching New Heights, UN Says

GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency is calling for more effective measures to protect millions of civilians in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo subjected to killings, kidnappings and savage abuse by armed groups.

Dozens of armed groups have been committing violence against civilians in eastern DRC for more than two decades, but the U.N. refugee agency says the viciousness and magnitude of the attacks have reached a level not seen before.

The UNHCR and its partners have recorded more than 1,200 civilian deaths and 1,100 rapes in 2021 in the two most affected provinces of North Kivu and Ituri. The agency says ferocious attacks have driven more than one million Congolese in the eastern part of the country from their homes this year alone.

UNHCR spokesman Boris Cheshirkov says most assaults have been perpetrated by the Allied Democratic Forces, a rebel group with Ugandan roots operating in eastern DRC. He says the group's attacks have been increasing in brutality and frequency since late 2020.

"These reports are coming in again and again. Twenty-five-thousand human rights violations for this year, including extortion, including looting, certainly sexual violence. Horrific reports that our staff and our partners are receiving and the extreme violence against civilians. So, our call is very clear. This is a call that we are constantly making. We need more measures to protect civilians," Cheshirkov said.

Violence and abuse have displaced more than five million people inside the DRC, the second highest number of internally displaced after Syria. Cheshirkov says repeated displacement is putting enormous financial pressure on impoverished host communities, and risking wearing out those communities' welcome mat.

"Harsh living conditions and a lack of food often trigger premature return by displaced people to their place of origin, further exposing them to abuse and violence," Cheshirkov said. "In fact, returnees account for 65 percent of the serious human rights abuses that we and our partners have recorded."

Cheshirkov notes that the lifesaving needs of this ever-growing displaced population are increasing. But his agency, he says, can only respond to a fraction of them because it is out of money.

With less than four months left in 2021, he says the UNHCR has received only 51 percent of the $205 million required to carry out humanitarian operations in the DRC this year.

Source: Voice of America