(BBC) – The head of police in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been suspended following the death of a human rights activist, officials say.
Three police officers have also been arrested and the president is determined to resolve the case, the interior minister said.
Floribert Chebeya, head of the group Voix des Sans Voix, was found dead in his car near Kinshasa on Wednesday.
He had reportedly been due to meet the police chief that evening.
Both the police and Voix des Sans Voix have said the meeting never took place.
The police chief, John Numbi, is seen as a close ally of President Joseph Kabila, the BBC’s Thomas Fessy reports from the Congolese capital, Kinshasa.
Activists say Mr Chebeya had received regular threats over the last 20 years.
(Ekklesia) – The Congolese government must immediately launch a thorough, impartial and independent investigation into the death of one of the country’s leading human rights activists, Amnesty International said yesterday (2 June 2010).
Floribert Chebeya Bahizire was found dead early on Wednesday after being summoned by the police in Kinshasa on Tuesday. He was the executive director of one of Congo’s largest human rights organisations, Voix des Sans Voix (VSV) and of the national network of human rights groups.
“We are stunned and appalled by the suspicious death of such a prominent and respected human rights defender,” said Veronique Aubert, deputy director of Amnesty’s Africa Programme.
She declared: “Floribert has been arrested and harassed by the authorities in the past. It seems he may have paid the ultimate price for his valuable work.”
Mr Chebeya told Amnesty International on several occasions that he felt he had been followed and that he was under surveillance by the security services.
On the morning of 1 June, Mr Chebeya received a telephone call requesting his presence at the office of General John Numbi, the General Inspectorate of Police in Ligwala, Kinshasa. He left his offices at 5pm to go to the Inspectorate.
Mr Chebeya was in phone contact with his family until just after 9pm on Tuesday night. Just before 8pm he sent a text message to relatives saying he had not yet met with Numbi but was still waiting at the Inspectorate.
His last message said he was leaving the Inspectorate and stopping briefly at the University on the way home. Since then his phone has been unreachable.
His body was found by passers by early on Wednesday in a suburb close to his home.
“The government must urgently investigate this cold blooded murder and prosecute those responsible,” said Veronique Aubert. “Those who defend the rights of others must be allowed to continue their work free of harassment and persecution.”
Amnesty International says it has observed in the past year increased oppression of human rights defenders in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including by illegal arrest, prosecution, phone threats, repeated summoning to the offices of the intelligence services.
“Floribert’s death is a great loss for the human rights community,” said Veronique Aubert.
More than 70,000 people have been displaced by inter-communal clashes in northwest Democratic Republic of Congo’s Equateur province, according to the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
About half of the displaced have remained inside DRC, taking temporary shelter in locations such as Kungu, Bokonzi, Bomboma and Bonzene, according to the Belgian branch of MSF, which conducted an assessment mission to the province.
The team found “people who had walked for up to four days to save their lives. At the end of their journey, these people are destitute, they have nothing. They live in the open, or in makeshift shelters, or schools or churches, or with host families. The injured cannot get treatment because it’s too expensive and they fled with nothing,” MSF said in a statement.
The rest of the displaced crossed the Ubangi river into neighbouring Republic of Congo (ROC) where many are spread along the shore of the river and can only be reached by pirogue.
These refugees number more than 44,000 according to Samba Ndalla, the field coordinator of Médecins d’Afrique, an NGO that is working with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in ROC.
“This is the figure from Sunday [29 November]. But there is another wave of refugees who have arrived in Impfondo zone and have yet to be registered,” he said.
“The situation is catastrophic… most people only have shelters to protect themselves against the rain and sun,” said Ndalla.
“The needs are enormous. While we have not yet seen an epidemic as such, there has been an increase in cases of malaria, some cases of diarrhoea, respiratory infections and dermatitis among children,” he said.
Ndalla said the latest influx was the result of an attack on the DRC village of Buburu on Saturday night.
About 100 people are thought to have died in clashes over fishing rights in DRC’s South Ubangi district, which lies in Equateur province. Others are believed to have drowned while crossing the Ubangi river, which separates the two Congos.
“Today we have 30,600 displaced persons. We have had a massive influx since yesterday [19 November] because of a resumption in fighting,” Rufin Mafouta, head of the NGO Médecins d’Afrique in Impfondo, the main town in the Republic of Congo’s (ROC) northern Likouala department, told IRIN.
Likouala is located about 800km north of the capital, Brazzaville.
“There was a week we had just 24,000 refugees. The number has quickly risen because of a resumption in fighting in towns and villages in the DRC,” Mafouta said.
Photo: Laudes Martial Mbon/IRIN
|A group of Impfondo residents in nothern Republic of Congo (file photo): Thousands of DRC citizens who have fled violence and settled in Impfondo and Betou districts are reluctant to return home|
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has urged its citizens who recently fled inter-ethnic clashes in the western DRC province of Equateur and sought refuge in the Republic of Congo, to return home, saying calm has been restored in their villages.
“People must be able to [return] because we have arrested more than 100 insurgents who were spreading terror and killing people in Dongo,” government spokesman Lambert Mende said.
The government, he told IRIN, had stabilized the situation by deploying police in Dongo and surrounding villages where clashes between the Munzaya and Enyele ethnic groups recently left 47 people dead.
Seventy percent of the civilians who crossed the Ubangi river to enter ROC were women and children, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said. They fled clashes over farming and fishing rights in an area 300km north of Mbandaka, the capital of Equateur Province.
Their number has risen from an estimated 16,000 people, a week ago, to about 21,800, according to UHNCR and ROC government officials.
“The refugees have mostly stopped crossing the border amid reports that the DRC military had intervened in Dongo to stop attacks by armed Enyele, who appear to have organized into a militia,” UNHCR said in a statement.
Despite this, UNHCR staff in ROC could still see smoke from burning houses across the river on 9 November.
Most of the refugees were Munzaya and sheltering in villages between the districts of Betou and Impfondo in northern ROC. They said Enyele men had gone from house to house in Dongo, pillaging, raping and killing civilians.
“The refugees… have expressed their wish not to be repatriated to the DRC for the moment, although their government said it had restored security,” Francesca Fontanini, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR, said.
Clashes in Dongo started in March.
“We are talking of [about] 22,000 refugees in ROC today, but there are nearly 30,000 villagers who are internally displaced [IDPs] in other villages in the DRC,” Fontanini told IRIN.
“Most live in public buildings which are like transit centres, where we have started the distribution of non-food items, tents and emergency medical care with the aid of a mobile clinic,” she added.
More than 20 of the refugees arrived in ROC with gunshot wounds. Nine of the severely injured were taken by UNHCR to Impfondo hospital. These included an 11- year-old girl whose right leg was amputated.
Mende said the government was doing everything to ensure the resumption of smooth, profitable fishing activities in Dongo. Earlier, officials in Equateur had said dialogue between the communities had been initiated.
More than 200 houses were burned in the March attack on the Munzaya, forcing at least 1,200 people to flee across the Ubangi River into ROC.
A year after the UK Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, visited the Democratic Republic of Congo, Christian Aid has warned that military action will not solve the conflict and may worsen it.
Since January 2009 the UN-backed military operations against Rwandan Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis and have not solved the long-standing problem of foreign armed groups operating in DRC.
The operations have dispersed rather than contained the FDLR, increasing the risk of reprisal attacks on civilians.
At least 1,000 civilians have been killed and upwards of 900,000 people forced to flee from their homes as a consequence of the ongoing military operations. Thousands of women have been raped and entire villages burnt to the ground. Both the FDLR and the Congolese army have committed serious human rights violations against civilians.
Shuna Keen, Christian Aid’s Great Lakes analyst, has just returned from North and South Kivu, where the military operation, Kimya II is taking place with logistical support from the UN.
She said: “The people I met described how they fled their villages on foot when the military operations began. Some had walked hundreds of kilometres to find safety. Others didn’t make it and died of starvation along the way.”
Keen continued: “When they reach the relative safety of Goma and Bukavu provincial towns, they are helped by local families who are already desperately poor themselves. One woman, who has a small business, supported by a micro-credit loan from Christian Aid’s local partner, told me how she has taken in nine people who had fled the fighting and now has 17 people living in her home. Her teenage son has had to give up his studies as there was no money left for school fees with nine extra mouths to feed,’ added Ms Keen. ‘This is a clear example of development-in-reverse. The efforts of local communities to pull themselves out of poverty are being undermined by ill-conceived military action.”
The long-standing crisis in the Great Lakes is a political crisis and requires appropriate regional political solutions and genuine political will for peace.
Christian Aid has called on the UK to support the suspension of the Kimiya II military operations and work with the Congolese government and the UN to conduct a proper evaluation of the security and humanitarian situation, with participation from local communities.
“With two million displaced people across the two Kivu provinces, strategies must be urgently redefined to prioritise civilian protection and increase humanitarian access”, the agency says.
It adds that it does not believe that peace can be achieved in the region through more war and violence.
“More can and should be done by the UN and Member States to accelerate the voluntary repatriation of FDLR rebels and Rwandan refugees through inclusive non-military engagement and confidence-building measures. Furthermore European governments have so far taken disappointingly little concrete action to address the problem of illegal militarised mining and trade in the Kivus, a major driver of conflict in the region. The EU should agree and implement measures requiring companies to carry out strict due diligence to ensure that they are not buying, selling or processing minerals which benefit any of the warring parties in eastern DRC.”
The churches’ international development agency says the UK – a major diplomatic actor in the region and number one bilateral donor to both DRC and Rwanda – must use its influence in favour of the peaceful resolution of this crisis, the promotion of civil and human rights and the correct exercise of justice mechanisms.
The GO has welcomed Glenys Kinnock’s appointment as Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister of State with responsibilities for Africa, United Nations and Human Rights.
“We hope this will provide a new opportunity to for the UK to contribute to addressing the underlying causes of conflict in the African Great Lakes region,” a media statement says.
By Eddie Isango – AP
A top human rights group is accusing the Congolese military of killing more than 500 civilians in eastern Congo and says the U.N. peacekeeping force in the area did nothing to stop the soldiers from decapitating men and raping young girls.
The Human Rights Watch report came a day after the U.N. peacekeeping force, known by its French acronym MONUC, said it was suspending military aid to an army unit implicated in the deaths of 62 civilians between May and September.
Human Rights Watch said the U.N. peacekeeping force should immediately suspend its aid to the entire operation.
“Some Congolese army soldiers are committing war crimes by viciously targeting the very people they should be protecting,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “MONUC’s continued willingness to provide support for such abusive military operations implicates them in violations of the laws of war.”
The report, released Monday, was based on HRW fact-finding missions to the region and said that soldiers in eastern Congo had deliberately killed at least 505 civilians between March and September. It said another 198 civilians were killed earlier this year during a joint Congolese-Rwandan military operation.
“If it’s true that people were killed, the investigation will determine that,” government spokesman Lambert Mende said Tuesday. “One has seen in the past how Human Rights Watch exaggerated.”
In New York, United Nations spokeswoman Michele Montas told reporters at U.N. headquarters on Tuesday that the Congolese Armed Forces command and MONUC are launching an immediate investigation to determine who is responsible and to take the necessary action. “We condemn these killings and all killing and abuse of civilians, whether by the Congolese Armed Forces or by armed groups,” Montas said.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission started backing the Congolese army earlier this year in its effort to oust Rwandan Hutu militiamen, many of whom fled to Congo after participating in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide that killed more than 500,000 people.
The U.N. supports the Congolese army with transport, food, and fuel. U.N. officials have repeatedly told Human Rights Watch that they joined the military operation because they believed their participation could help minimize harm to civilians, the report said.
“What we are trying to do in the logistic support that we’ve given to the national army is instill this policy of zero tolerance in order to help minimize violent acts against the population,” Ross Mountain, the U.N.’s deputy mission chief in Congo, said Tuesday.
Mountain said that MONUC and the Congolese government were trying to identify the units and areas where the killings were committed and which measures should be taken.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said Sunday that the U.N. would immediately cease support to the Congolese army’s 213th Brigade. Le Roy said the U.N. believed the unit had killed at least 62 civilians in the Lukweti area, some 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of the regional capital of Goma.
The Human Rights Watch report describes an August attack in the remote hamlet of Katanda in which it said soldiers decapitated four men and cut off their arms. They then raped 16 women and girls, including a 12-year-old girl, later killing four of them, the report said.
Researchers also found that many of the more than 500 victims were women, children and the elderly. Some were hacked to death with machetes or clubbed to death, the report said.
Congo’s army is a ragtag, poorly paid collection of the defeated army of ousted dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and several of the rebel groups that helped overthrow him.
Looking at herself in the mirror, nine-year-old Helena squealed with delight at her reflection, standing upright with just the slightest support of her therapist. A year before, Helena was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and identified for therapy in Mugunga II IDP camp in Goma, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Helena, able only to crawl, had been confined to very specific spaces due to the lava in the IDP camp.
Helena was one of the lucky few to have received regular treatment. Robert Golden, a doctor, states in the 2008 UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF) report, Monitoring Child Disability in Developing Countries, that it is an “important but largely unaddressed issue”. This is especially true in DRC where child disability receives little attention among the myriad crises befalling the country.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), two million people are displaced in the eastern DRC. Combine this figure with World Health Organization (WHO) data that 10 percent of the world’s population suffer some form of disability, and that would mean 200,000 disabled people among the displaced, many of them children.
“Attention and funding for programmes addressing disability are largely under-funded worldwide, and particularly in Congo,” says Heal Africa’s Laura Keyser.
“The international community might not see disability as an emergency worth focusing on now, but it will become a full emergency if nothing is done,” said Loran Hollander of Heal Africa’s hospital in Goma.
Increasing Risk Factors
While funding for treatment remains minimal for agencies specializing in treating disabilities, the number of disabled children and those at risk continues to grow due to the increased risk factors brought on by the breakdown of the health infrastructure, ongoing violence and displacement in the eastern DRC.
Minimal access to healthcare, clean water, and overall poor nutrition during pregnancy lead to common congenital disabilities in children such as spina-bifida and limb deformities, and young children predisposed to early childhood diseases such as meningitis and polio, explained Keyser.
Access routes to health centres are often blocked for patients and medical teams. This lack of access leads frequently to birthing complications, child developmental delays and maternal mortality.
Furthermore, the prevalence of rape in the DRC is also linked to a probable increase in child disability. “Frequently women pregnant from rape do not seek pre- or peri-natal care, which can lead to the problems aforementioned, as well as birth trauma – either to the baby (ie lack of oxygen leading to cerebral palsy or some type of developmental delay) or to the woman (ie a fistula, which may or may not leave them incontinent),” said Keyser.
Photo: Aubrey Graham/IRIN
|Laura Keyser helps Jusbeen to walk in the Heal Africa Clinic in Goma|
“Unfortunately, disabled children are more vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, neglect and discrimination. They face reduced social participation and have less access to education and other social services than children without disabilities,” states Golden.
In addition, according to Handicap International and Heal Africa, inside the camps as well as outside, children with a disability struggle daily with social stigma and discrimination.
Proper treatment, according to UNICEF, Handicap International and Heal Africa, provides the children with the physical ability to function more fully in society while also educating the community to break down stigma and social restrictions.
UNICEF notes that “early detection and intervention might confer benefits to children at risk for disability and prevent long-term functional limitations”.
Jusbeen, 4, came to the Heal Africa’s clinic with a serious infection, a noma, which had “scarred down” his mouth, making it difficult to eat or drink. Therapists discovered that Jusbeen also suffered from developmental delays. However, since his disability was caught early, he has undergone a significant transformation. With ongoing therapy and constant encouragement from his mother, Keyser notes, “he is now able to walk with hand-held assistance, smiles, laughs and engages in play activities which were impossible before”.
Due to minimal international attention to child disability amid the numerous crises afflicting the DRC, children like Jusbeen and Helena, who received treatment, remain among the minority. “These children need all the help they can get,” says UNICEF. At present, that help is limited.
By Louise Redvers
More than 30,000 Angolans are stranded in transit camps after being abruptly deported from the Democratic Republic of Congo and there are growing fears of a cholera outbreak as the rainy season begins.
The families – around two thirds of whom had official refugee status in DRC – were booted out earlier this month in retaliation for Angola expelling thousands of Congolese migrants in recent years.
As of October, the U.N. reported 160,000 Congolese ehad been expelled and there are accounts from aid agencies of many women being raped, often in the process of body searches for smuggled diamonds.
An eye for an eye…
Angola began expelling Congolese migrants from its territory in 2003, mainly from the diamond-rich province of Lunda Norte where they were reported to be mining illegally.
As many as 160,000 had been expelled by October this year, amid allegations of mass rape and brutality committed by Angolan border guards.
Those who are deported to DRC, often return just days or weeks later in search of work. While the UN has been monitoring the situation, the welfare of the returnees has been left largely to Catholic aid agencies.
In July, in response to growing concerns about the alleged ill-treatment of the Congolese by border guards, U.N. staff in Kinshasha contacted its counterparts in Angola who relayed their concerns to Angola’s foreign minister Assuncao dos Anjos.
This did not stop the widely-publicised “Operation Clean Up” exercise during which Angola deported more than 2,500 immigrants from the oil-rich enclave of Cabinda in less than three days.
Earlier this month – coincidentally just as DRC started to deport Angolans in retaliation – a team drawn from various agencies including UNICEF, Caritas, the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, the International Organisation for Migration and the U.N.’s mission to the Congo, MONUC, visited the Bas Congo region where most of the expelled Congoloses are deposited and are due to report back on their findings shortly.
Both governments have agreed to stop the deportation. The focus has now turned to the tens of thousands homeless in northern Angola.
“You have the compounding factors of not having latrines and people drinking possible contaminated water and with the rain coming, this is a recipe for disaster,” said Yolande Ditewig, a Luanda-based protection officer with the United Nations Commission for Refugees who returned from the border camps late Monday.
“There is a lack of everything you can imagine, especially food and many people say they’ve not eaten for days.”
The bulk of the displaced are sheltering at the a camp known as Mama Rosa, close to the border town of Luvo, which is 70 kilometres from Mbanza Congo, the capital of Zaire province in northern Angola, but there also are other camps and settlements along the border.
According to Angolan state media, the government is spending $15 million dollars assisting the returnees with shelter, medical care and processing their identity documents. Last Friday the Ministry of Welfare and Social Reinsertion made a direct appeal to the UNHCR in Angola for assistance, particularly for medical kits, cooking utensils and 10,000 tents for the families stuck in the transit camps.
Various agencies, including the International Federation for the Red Cross, the Angolan Red Cross, the International Organisation for Migration and U.N. agencies including UNHCR and the Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have or have had teams in area to assess the needs of the people.
Blankets, soap, mosquito nets, plastic sheeting and other non food items have already been dispatched by road up to the camps and more is expected to follow on specially-chartered aid planes.
While there is an urgent need to resettle people out of the crowded camps where conditions are bad, there is also concern about the social aspect of the reintegration. Two thirds of those rerturning have been away so long they no longer speak Portuguese.
“The family members that are receiving these people are themselves very poor or destitute.” Ditewig warned. “Many do not have the means to suddenly support an extra five or 10 people. The social impact of this process needs to be carefully monitored.”
A number of senior United Nations representatives were due to fly into Luanda on Wednesday to help co-ordinate the multi-agency response.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is grappling with rampant rape, which has become an every day practice and is used as a weapon of war, the UN has said.
It said almost 5,400 cases of rape against women were reported in the South Kivu province during the first six months of the year.
Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said South Kivu, near Rwanda, was an increasingly dangerous place for civilians, especially for women.
“Night-time attacks against civilians by unidentified armed elements, and rape against women, remain widespread,” Byrs said.
About 90 per cent of the rapes are allegedly committed by armed groups or regular forces.
Nabwemba Natabaro, a woman in South Kivo, told Al Jazeera that she was held in the bush for two months and repeatedly gang raped, after being abducted from her village.
“My family thought I had been killed and lost all hope of ever seeing me. Then I managed to escape. I was very sick,” she said.
Her family brought her to a hospital where she was diagnosed with HIV.
‘Tortured by attackers’
Rossette Kavira, a gynaecologist at a hospital in the town of Goma, said: “There isn’t a single day that we don’t get raped women coming to the hospital. This explains how widespread the problem is.
“Almost all victims require surgery due to bleeding or wounds inflicted through torture by their attackers.”
Due to the huge numbers of rape victims, some women have to wait for months for reconstructive surgery.
Dede Amanor-Wilks, Action Aid’s director for West and Central Africa, said many rape cases go unreported.
“Currently the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] is thought to have the highest incident of rape in the world, but statistics that come to surface are only a fraction probably of the rapes that actually occur,” she told Al Jazeera.
“Different statistics are coming up in different parts of the eastern DRC all the time. One commonly used statistic is that there are about 400 rapes a day.”
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting from Goma, said there were growing fears that the use of rape was turning into a norm in the DR Congo conflict.
“Rape has been used by all armed groups as a weapon that is more readily available than bullets and bombs.
“In many cases the social stigma associated with rape leaves the survivors shunned by husbands, parents and their communities,” he said.
The fighting in the eastern DRC between UN-backed Congolese government forces and Rwandan Hutu rebels have worsened in recent months.
The country hosts one of the biggest UN aid operations. Hundreds of thousands of people in the east of the country have been driven from their homes due to fighting, many of whom need protection from violent attacks.