Protection gaps exposing eastern Congo communities to continued abuse

By Oxfam

Local authorities must be empowered to tackle systemic insecurity experienced by communities at the hands of both armed groups and the state, finds Oxfam report

Two years after the signing of a major peace accord designed to build sustainable peace in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a report by Oxfam reveals that citizens still receive little or no protection from the state as armed groups and security forces continue to exploit and abuse communities. State power must urgently be consolidated in a way that better protects the people it is designed to serve, and ensures lasting peace, says Oxfam.

Oxfam’s report, Secure Insecurity, reveals that many living in this region are so disconnected from authorities that they cannot access – or are forced to pay for – basic services, including protection against crimes and abuses inflicted upon them. Those surveyed cited armed groups, and local security forces, as perpetrators of crimes, particularly against women.

One woman told Oxfam that she tried to report a rape but was told that justice did not extend to women; a husband went to report the rape of his wife and was himself arrested as the perpetrator.

Oxfam is calling for urgent progress on the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework (PSCF) agreement signed 2 years ago by DRC and neighboring countries. The agreement committed to progress on reform of the security sector, to consolidate state authority, alongside economic development.

Jose Barahona, Oxfam DRC Country Director, said: “The report is a call to those who signed up to support peace in eastern Congo and the Great Lakes. We cannot be complacent about grand agreements that have resulted in little progress for Congolese communities.”

“Security is the responsibility of the DRC government – and reform of services to protect citizens is urgently needed, as these accounts testify. Communities in eastern Congo deserve better foundations for peace, to finally break the cycles of conflict for good. We firmly believe that the country can turn the corner towards sustainable peace, but our report signals that we need to pull together to ensure that the way peace is built in eastern DR Congo allows everyone access to free and equitable services from the state.”

The report details accounts of soldiers setting up roadblocks to extort local people, of illegal taxes being claimed by both security forces and armed groups and of exploitation which depletes the earnings of already poverty-stricken families. Yet to have these cases investigated, people had to pay local authorities either in cash or in kind to even have them considered.

However, the report also quotes state officials who were committed to upholding peace and stability in their communities, but who felt their jobs were hampered by not being paid regularly and not having appropriate support to carry out their jobs. One official told Oxfam that there were places he did not dare to go.

Oxfam found that the restoration of government control and institutions has been limited and piecemeal. This has resulted in ‘areas being deemed by the state to be secure, while insecurity continues there for communities – described by one local official interviewed as ‘secure insecurity.’ Violence by armed groups was mentioned in all 16 villages where Oxfam conducted research.

Among the recommendations included in the report, Oxfam is calling for the effective channeling of sufficient financial and logistical resources to reform the security services, provide salaries for soldiers and state officials and to provide training and monitoring for those in local government.

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