(Goma) – The new Kivu Security Tracker will map violence by armed groups and Congolese security forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern Kivu provinces, Human Rights Watch and the New York University-based Congo Research Group said today. The joint project will monitor the worst violence in North and South Kivu provinces through maps, graphs, and analytical reports.
According to initial results from the Tracker, from June to November 2017, at least 526 civilians were killed in the Kivus, at least 1,087 people were abducted or kidnapped for ransom, and there were at least 7 incidents of mass rape.
“As civilians suffer alarming attacks in eastern Congo, the Kivu Security Tracker will provide policy makers, journalists, activists, and others with an innovative new tool to better understand the violence,” said Ida Sawyer, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “We hope the Tracker will be used to more effectively address the root causes of Congo’s conflict, support communities affected, and hold those responsible to account.”
Since the Tracker began documenting incidents in June, a team of 14 Congolese researchers based across North and South Kivu have spoken daily with victims of abuses and their families, witnesses, customary chiefs, clergy, activists, and government officials to document abuses and seek to identify the armed actors responsible. Project staff in Congo and abroad then verify their reports with reliable sources before publishing incidents on the website, providing comprehensive and timely accounts that are updated as additional information becomes available.
The Tracker records violent incidents by armed groups and members of the Congolese security forces, both in armed conflict and political violence. The data set includes violent deaths, clashes between armed groups, abductions, kidnappings, mass rapes (with at least five victims in a single attack), property destruction, and the repression of peaceful political demonstrations. Nearly 800 incidents were logged during the first six months of reporting.
The Tracker is intended to promote greater understanding of events in a country facing increased violence. Last year, 922,000 people were displaced in Congo, more than anywhere else in the world. In October, the United Nations declared a “Level 3 emergency” in Congo, a category only given to three other countries: Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. The Congolese conflict, however, is marked by enormous complexity – the Tracker maps areas of control for 120 armed groups in just two of the country’s 26 provinces. This has made it difficult for policymakers to devise solutions and for media to tell the story behind the violence, the organizations said.
The Tracker helps address this challenge. By highlighting patterns and trends, and through a graphic representation of the violence, it aims to make the conflict more comprehensible. The initial findings indicate that much of the violence in the Kivus goes unreported. Ninety percent of the incidents documented on the Tracker, amounting to 70 percent of violent deaths, were not mentioned at all in international media. More than half are absent from the best available academic trackers of violence.
While many factors contribute to the violence, some trends stand out. Congolese security forces were responsible for over 100 violent deaths over the past six months, more than any single armed group and roughly one fifth of total killings documented. One of the worst single incidents documented was a massacre of at least 39 Burundian refugees by Congolese security forces in Kamanyola, South Kivu, on September 15.
The Tracker’s findings also suggest that the conflict in eastern Congo has been exacerbated by the country’s general political crisis, as President Joseph Kabila has delayed elections and used violence, repression, and corruption to entrench his hold on power beyond the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit, which ended on December 19, 2016. Armed groups have formed coalitions to challenge Kabila’s extended presidency, while the government has cracked down violently on peaceful protesters.
“Levels of displacement in Congo today are higher than ever recorded,” said Jason Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group. “The current political crisis is not just a question of elections, but it’s about the millions affected by persistent and deadly violence. Solving the crisis will require nuanced engagement in the conflict, but also the political will to challenge those responsible.”