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DR Congo : Women and children first: on the frontline of war in the Kivus

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Oxfam briefing on the protection of civilians in the Kivus, DRC

In 2009, the government of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with international backing, launched military offensives against the FDLR (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda) and other militias in eastern DRC, with devastating humanitarian consequences: an estimated 900,000 people displaced and over 1,400 documented civilian deaths attributed to militia and government forces. In 2010 a new offensive, Amani Leo ('peace today'), continues efforts to disarm the militias, with some additional safeguards for civilian safety linked to UN peacekeeping support for the operations. However, while some areas have become safer as a result, ongoing population displacement (over 164,000 January- April 2010) and protection cluster monitoring of human rights violations (up 246% January-February in South Kivu after the launch of Amani Leo) are indications of continuing fallout for civilians. A survey conducted by Oxfam and partners in North and South Kivu in April 2010 enquired into the experiences of people in areas affected by the military operations. It found that, for 60% of respondents this year, things are worse than in 2009.

Amani Leo was very widely blamed for much of the insecurity: three-quarters of communities surveyed were against continuing the military action, calling instead for a political resolution to the conflict. While 46% of communities consulted gave examples of ways in which the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) provided much-needed protection, sections of the security services were themselves cited as a major cause of insecurity. Human rights abuses were reported everywhere: committed by the FDLR and other militias in almost 80% of the communities surveyed, and by undisciplined soldiers in 96%. Residents in every single community were subject to looting, and women and girls were subject to rape in all but one; sexual violence was reported to be on the increase in 20 out of the 24 communities consulted. The big losers are women (75% of those consulted said they were less safe than last year) and boys and young men (65%); but everyone loses: humiliation, pain and penury are the dividends of war for whole communities, and the lack of adequate provision for many of the soldiers sent to fight on their behalf compounds the insecurity for civilians.