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GOMA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO ? Six months since the signing of a peace agreement, horrendous violence continues to plague the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a coalition of 64 aid agencies and human rights groups said today. The new Congo Advocacy Coalition was created in July 2008 to focus attention on the protection of civilians as part of the peace process in eastern Congo. It called on the international community to put further pressure on armed groups and the Congolese government to make real their promises to protect civilians.
The first report from the Congo Advocacy Coalition reveals that at least 150,000 people have been forced to flee from their homes since the Goma peace agreement was signed on 23 January, 2008, due to ongoing fighting. United Nations officials reported at least 200 ceasefire violations in under 180 days between January and July. Those newly displaced add to the 1 million people displaced from earlier waves of violence in North and South Kivu. The number of people displaced from their homes in the most affected territories of Rutshuru and Masisi in North Kivu is the highest ever registered.
?The peace agreement has failed to silence the guns, and the people of eastern Congo continue to suffer and to run for their lives,? said Juliette Prodhan, head of Oxfam Great Britain in DRC. ?The parties to the agreement must urgently redouble their efforts to act on the commitments they made to protect civilians.?
Women and girls have been particularly affected by the continued violence. More than 2,200 cases of rape were recorded in June 2008 in North Kivu province alone, representing only a small proportion of the total. At least 200 civilians have been killed in the violence.
The Congo Advocacy Coalition called on the parties to the peace agreement, as well as international facilitators from the United States, the European Union, the African Union and the UN who helped to broker the agreement, and international donors, to redouble their efforts to ensure the signatories adhere to their commitments. Specifically, the coalition called on these actors to:
- Publicly urge all armed groups and the Congolese army to adhere to their obligations under the Goma agreement and send a clear message that ongoing abuses against civilians will not be tolerated and those responsible will be held to account;
- Appoint a special adviser on human rights for eastern Congo to help ensure that human rights concerns, including sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers, are central to the peace discussions; and
- Back mediation efforts with funding for programs that help consolidate the peace and ensure protection of civilians, such as disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs that help combatants find sustainable alternatives to violence, as well as programs that help address the root causes of the conflict through a focus on peace building, reconciliation and land-tenure issues.
In North Kivu, many displaced people found shelter with host families, receiving minimal food and assistance, while others sought safety in displacement camps. Acute malnutrition rates have reached an alarming 17 percent in some areas, well above emergency levels.
Humanitarian agencies have tried to expand their programs since the signing of the peace agreement, but have suffered increased attacks by armed groups and unidentified bandits. At least 36 attacks were recorded since January 2008, the majority ambushes at gunpoint as humanitarian staff attempted to reach vulnerable populations. In the past few weeks, attacks against humanitarian staff on the main road to Masisi town have severely hampered assistance to over 186,000 people.
UN peacekeepers have deployed some 10,000 troops between fighting parties in North and South Kivu, but they are thinly spread and have been unable to stop a number of attacks. Civilians seeking safety often set up camps around the edges of UN deployment sites seeking protection.
An elderly man forced to run for his life and now living in a displacement camp said to the Congo Advocacy Coalition: ?The leaders of the government and the armed groups met in Goma and said they would bring us peace, but instead they kept fighting. We are losing hope. We just want peace so we can go home.?
The Goma agreement, signed by 22 armed groups and the Congolese government, followed a November 2007 agreement between the governments of Congo and Rwanda, known as the Nairobi Communiquï¿½. This agreement sought to address the issue of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Rwandan armed group based in eastern Congo. Under Article III of the Goma agreement (?Acte d?Engagement?), all the signatories committed to strictly respecting international humanitarian and human rights law, including ending all acts of violence and abuse against the civilian population.
The two agreements, together with recommendations from the Conference on Peace, Security and Development organized by the government in early 2008, form the basis of the government?s peace program for eastern Congo, known as the Amani Program.
?The Amani Program hasn?t yet made life better for the citizens of eastern Congo,? said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. ?The international community and the Congolese government should do what it takes to make the peace program a reality, not just a nice idea. They need to ensure it?s funded properly so it reaches those most in need.?