ALEXIS HUGUET/AFP

Democratic Republic of Congo

Thousands of people are at risk of displacement following increase in armed violence against civilians in Ituri, DR Congo

The eastern province of Ituri, DR Congo, has seen a dramatic increase in armed violence against civilians over the past 18 months. As the recorded numbers of human rights violations and deadly attacks perpetrated by armed groups continue to rise, thousands of people are forced into displacement. Yet, the levels of insecurity are such that the delivery of humanitarian assistance to people of concern is compromised.

The recent surge in inter-community violence and new dynamics between armed groups – against the backdrop of the stand-still of the government’s negotiations – is extremely concerning in Djugu and Irumu in DR Congo’s Ituri province, where eight armed groups are particularly active.

Since October 2020, attacks against civilians have evolved from economic predation to targeting of civilians. This includes attacks from several sub-groups of the so-called Cooperative for Development of the Congo, CODECO, against the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, FARDC, and villages, provoking the emergence of self-defence groups.

The violence and cruelty of the attacks – some of which were recorded to include mutilation, torture and rape – is such that rumours are enough to trigger displacement, deter returns and cause tensions between ethnic communities. 385 security incidents were recorded between January and April 2021, and 115 civilians killed between the end of March and the beginning of May. During the night of 30 May 2021, over 60 civilians – including 30 displaced – were killed and 25 abducted in southern Irumu. What turned out to be one of the deadliest attacks in recent years also triggered the displacement of 5,800 people from displacement sites. The area hosts large numbers of IDPs, many of whom have been attacked and forced to flee multiple times. 1.7 million people are currently displaced in Ituri.

“We are deeply concerned about the deterioration of the security situation in Ituri and its impact on civilian populations. Without appropriate measures, the situation has the potential to worsen,” warns Martine Villeneuve, DRC’s Country Director for DR Congo.

“We need the international community to step up to support the response and to call on all parties to protect civilians and to respect international humanitarian law and human rights.”

We call for the respect of the humanitarian space by all parties.

Martine Villeneuve, Country Director for DR Congo.

As the geographical reach of armed groups is expanding, insecurity also prevents humanitarian actors from accessing people of concern. This includes the lack of access due to the presence of armed groups as well as targeted attacks. NGO’s offices and a hospital in Boga supported by MSF have been directly targeted, leaving thousands of people without access to healthcare and other essential services.

“We call for the respect of the humanitarian space by all parties,” says Martine Villeneuve,

“Especially as the current level of violence negatively impacts food security by preventing people from accessing their crops. We fear that the level of food insecurity may continue to increase due to the violence.”

Supporting communities in their effort to rebuild themselves and become more resilient will be essential to curb violence in the future. DRC will continue to implement its protection, education and shelter response in Ituri to enhance the protective environment around people affected by displacement and respond to emergencies. In North Kivu and Haut Uélé, DRC also implements early-recovery response and peacebuilding programmes.

DRC is present in the North Kivu, Ituri and Haut-Uele provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo.