This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 19 December 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR is greatly concerned by the ongoing killings and other human rights violations against civilians in the Beni area of DR Congo’s North Kivu Province. Multiple attacks over the last three months have caused widespread fear and displacement. We are appealing for humanitarian access to help people in distress.
There are credible reports of at least 256 people, including children, have been killed in machete and axe attacks since October. New massacres by armed groups are reported every week. At least 52 people were slaughtered in villages (Ahili, Manzanzaba and Mulobya Kuisikivi) near Oicha to the west of Beni on 7 and 8 December, and a week later 19 more people were killed nearby. Violence has also spread northwards into Orientale Province, where seven people were killed and their villages (Iziro, Mapasana and Meliota, some 25 kilometers from the border with North Kivu) burnt during the night of 16 to 17 December.
The violence has caused spikes in displacement, both to the city and within Beni territory. In all, around 88,000 people have been displaced. People have to live in schools and churches, or with host families. Leaflets threatening new attacks are terrifying the population and triggering further movements towards larger towns and cities (namely Luna, Eringeti, Oicha, Mbau, Mavivi and Beni City).
The survivors and the displaced live in a desperate situation and in constant fear. They remain at risk of new attacks and have had no respite for the past three months. They have little protection against violence and have received hardly any assistance. People need shelter, basic aid items (blankets, sanitary material, kitchen utensils and clean water), as well as access to health services and schools. Many of the villages that people have fled to do not have potable water and aid projects have been suspended because of the deteriorating security situation. This is of particular concern in an area with a high prevalence of malaria, typhoid, anemia, malnutrition and diarrhea.
We need safe access to these areas to establish a humanitarian presence and to help the traumatized population. Till now, it has been very challenging for humanitarian actors to reach Beni and the surroundings affected by the violence, with the Congolese army restricting movements in these areas. In addition, people are unable to go to their farms and food prices are rising. We are concerned that this situation could result in rising levels of malnutrition and eventually in famine if the situation is not immediately addressed.
UNHCR calls on the Government of Democratic Republic of the Congo to protect the civilian population in Beni and the surrounding areas and to allow humanitarian organizations into the affected areas. We also urge the United Nations peacekeeping mission MONUSCO to increase their capacity and presence to protect civilians in Beni and nearby villages and urge all parties to seek peaceful resolution of conflicts and respect for fundamental human rights.