Congo’s “Triangle of Death” Smolders as Leaders Fail to Respond

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Washington, DC – Katanga, the richest and most politically-sensitive province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, faces a growing crisis that poses enormous risks to DRC’s political and economic future. Yet efforts to aid and protect civilians in Katanga are woefully inadequate and must be ramped up immediately. This is one finding from the latest report by Refugees International (RI), DR Congo: Katanga in Crisis. RI urges the United Nations and donor countries to engage quickly before the situation spins out of control.

“Violence and displacement in Katanga has been increasing for three years now, largely ignored by the international community,” said RI Senior Advocate and UN Representative Michelle Brown. “It’s time for the Security Council, donor countries, and humanitarians to wake up and mount a serious response.”

Two serious conflicts in Katanga’s northern territories – known as “Triangle of Death” – have displaced roughly 500,000 people and destabilized an area the size of South Korea. Members of a secessionist armed group, the Mai Mai Bakata Katanga, have burnt thousands of homes, terrorized villagers, and committed grave human rights violations – including the recruitment of child soldiers. Simultaneously, brutal fighting has broken out between Luba communities and Pygmy (or Batwa) tribes who have been marginalized for generations. The Congolese government’s attempts to neutralize and disarm fighters in northern Katanga have failed, and numerous Congolese officials are thought to be fanning the flames of conflict for their own purposes.

Humanitarian needs in northern Katanga are immense, with many internally displaced people (IDPs) receiving no aid whatsoever. IDPs live in remote areas that are difficult for humanitarians to access, and many are forced to flee multiple times when militants attack their places of refuge. An estimated 75,000 children in the conflict zone will face severe acute malnutrition this year, and shelter and basic healthcare are lacking. Help for survivors of rape and other forms of gender-based violence – especially common in the Luba-Batwa conflict – is virtually nonexistent.

“Donor countries like the U.S. and the European Union have grown tired of the DRC, and the support they do provide mostly goes to better-known crises in North and South Kivu,” Ms. Brown said. “But the needs in Katanga are severe, widespread, and demand a serious response. Donors must provide more funding – for the DRC in general, and Katanga specifically – and humanitarians must hit the ground quickly.”

The UN peacekeeping mission in DRC (MONUSCO) is extremely weak in Katanga, with just 450 of the mission’s 19,500 military personnel deployed across the province. The mission also lacks the civilian personnel and logistical support needed to protect civilians. While MONUSCO should be strengthened, it will be hard-pressed to mobilize enough resources to stabilize the region on its own.

“While peacekeepers have an important role to play in Katanga, what is really needed is a political solution,” Ms. Brown said. “Katanga’s conflicts are rooted in political and economic problems that only Congolese can resolve. If those problems are not addressed before Congolese go to the polls in 2016, violence in Katanga could lead to secession, with disastrous consequences for the whole country. The international community should press the DRC’s leaders to avoid that outcome.”

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Refugees International is a non-profit organization that advocates for life-saving protection for displaced and stateless people worldwide and accepts no government or UN funding. For more information, visit www.refugeesinternational.org

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