UN must stop failing civilians under threat from the LRA

By llucas

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New York—Tens of thousands of people will remain without life-saving aid unless the UN mission in Congo steps up its presence in areas brutalized by the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), Oxfam warned today. Insecurity has continually put humanitarian plans on hold and forced an estimated 43% of people displaced by LRA violence in the remote Bas-Uélé territory to survive without any assistance at all. The call comes as the UN Security Council meets to discuss its peacekeeping force’s operations in a country terrorized by multiple rebel groups.

In recent weeks LRA attacks have caused hundreds of families to flee their homes in the Haut-Uélé territory of north-eastern the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), adding to the almost 260,000 people already displaced in Haut- and Bas-Uélé and vulnerable to disease, exploitation and destitution. 

Marcel Stoessel, head of Oxfam in DRC, said, “MONUSCO is failing tens of thousands of people in urgent need of protection and assistance. The LRA has killed and abducted more people than any other armed group in Congo, yet the resources the UN allocates to protecting civilians in the affected areas remain wholly inadequate. The UN Security Council should insist on immediate redeployment of peacekeepers, transport equipment and senior civilian protection personnel to the area. Needs are great across eastern Congo, but the exceptional levels of violence from the LRA mean MONUSCO need to start giving the problem priority in their allocation of resources. 

“Once they are there, they must move fast to listen to communities and respond effectively to protect them as well as working to improve security so that humanitarian assistance can get through.

“Protecting civilians is the primary responsibility of the Congolese government, but further attacks in recent weeks demonstrate that national efforts are currently inadequate to keep people safe. While strengthening the Congolese security services is clearly the long-term solution, in the immediate MONUSCO must step up.”

The UN peacekeeping force (MONUSCO) is the largest in the world with more than 18,000 troops across the country. However, fewer than 1,000 peacekeepers are estimated to be deployed in the LRA-affected areas, despite extreme and unremitting attacks on civilians there in the last two years.

Since September 2008, the LRA has killed more than 2,000 people, abducted more than 2,500 and displaced over 400,000 others in DRC, Sudan and the Central African Republic. 

“Communities interviewed by Oxfam in July of this year felt the UN mission was doing more to protect its own bases than it was to keep the population safe. The mission has shown in other parts of Congo that it can do far better than this," said Stoessel.

“Oxfam is working with people living in fear and in dire need of help. To reach more of those affected we need the UN to fulfill its responsibilities and help secure the most volatile areas," he added.

Earlier this month, Oxfam called for urgent action by the UN and international community to address the threat the LRA poses to civilians and to regional peace and stability, arguing that it has been allowed to slide off the international agenda, and that the UN must provide a forum for regular discussion and coordination of non-military responses.

“The Security Council should be seeking regular briefings and reports on the LRA’s activities and on what is being done to address the threat to civilians. It should use its influence to ensure non-military responses are not neglected, for instance by reviving the role of Special Envoy to the affected areas,” said Stoessel.