13 June 2014

Africa: Democratic Republic of the Congo - Renewed Violence in South Kivu

press release

For several days, outbreaks of inter-community violence and the presence of armed groups have been prompting civilians in South Kivu to flee their homes. The humanitarian consequences for women and children in particular have been very serious.

In the night from 6 to 7 June, dozens of people were killed or injured in an attack on the village of Mutarule, in the Ruzizi Plain, in South Kivu. The terrified villagers, almost all of whom fled, took refuge in neighbouring villages.

"Many women and children, who of course are particularly vulnerable, were among the victims," said Martin Schüepp, head of the ICRC sub-delegation in South Kivu. "They should have been protected. It's a basic principle of humanity."

On the morning of 7 June, ICRC staff based in Uvira, some 40 kilometres from Mutarule, set off for the village. Despite the very tense atmosphere, they managed to reach the town of Sange, where some of the villagers had gone. The ICRC provided bandages and other dressing materials, disinfectant, sutures and medicines to enable the hospitals in Sange and Uvira to treat patients or stabilize them prior to evacuation. In addition, it delivered 30 body bags to the health authorities in Sange.

Because the ICRC has well-established relationships with the authorities and with local associations, its vehicles were able to move about without interference even though extremely violent demonstrations were taking place.

An ICRC surgical team and the staff of Bukavu's general referral hospital treated 10 people suffering from gunshot wounds. Most were in critical condition. Each casualty had to undergo three separate operations.

"One of the most serious cases was that of a little boy who had been shot in the head," said Laetitia Nemouche, in charge of the ICRC's surgical activities in Bukavu. "He had lost an eye, and the bullet had damaged his brain. As he was being transferred to hospital, I could hardly feel his pulse. I didn't think he would make it there alive. He was operated on immediately. When I went to see him the next day, I said 'jambo' - 'hello' in Swahili - and he replied with a soft but clear 'jambo.' I was really moved, and relieved."

Inter-community tension is not new in the village. Mutarule was already the scene of an attack in August 2013 which resulted in eight deaths and in most people fleeing. When they returned, in February of this year, the ICRC provided over 5,000 people with seed so that they could start up their farming activities again.

Riots in Bukavu Central Prison

According to a number of sources, almost 300 detainees escaped from the central prison in Bukavu early in the morning of 5 June. In an exchange of gunfire three people lost their lives and six were injured. Three of the casualties were immediately taken to the city's general referral hospital. Shortly afterward, the ICRC removed the three remaining injured persons, all in a critical condition, who were trapped in the buildings. They received immediate surgical treatment, but one of them unfortunately died of his injuries.

Since the beginning of the year, the ICRC surgical team working in the hospital has provided treatment for 113 patients and performed 365 operations.

ICRC activities between January and May in the DRC:

With no let-up in the number of alleged violations of international humanitarian law reported, the ICRC made around 50 representations to weapon bearers to remind them of the protection afforded civilians under international humanitarian law.

A total of 240 unaccompanied children, including 84 formerly associated with armed forces or groups, were reunited with their families, in some cases in other countries.

Seven ICRC-supported hospitals provided 640 weapon-wounded patients, civilians and weapon bearers alike, with surgical and other medical care. Fourteen other health-care facilities were provided with supplies as needed.

Nearly 84,000 people had access to primary health care, and 1,860 victims of sexual violence or trauma linked to conflict in the Kivus or to violent attacks in Eastern province were given psychosocial support.

104,000 displaced people and returnees were given household essentials, and 14,500 people were given food in conflict-affected areas.

Over 17,000 detainees were visited or otherwise helped by the ICRC, which provided them with medical and nutritional support, distributed hygiene items, and carried out renovation work in some facilities that helped improve living conditions.

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