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DRC-Uganda: Civilians must be protected during joint military operations

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DRC-Uganda: Civilians must be protected during joint military operations

Military commanders in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo must take all measures required by international humanitarian law to protect and prevent harm to civilians during this operation.

LONDON, UK, December 3, 2021 / APO Group / –

As the governments of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) launch a joint military operation against the rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), following the recent attacks in Uganda attributed to this group, Amnesty International calls on all parties to guarantee the protection of the civilian population and adherence to international humanitarian law.

The Ugandan army announced on November 30 that it, together with its “Congolese allies”, had launched air and artillery strikes against ADF camps in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The information was later confirmed by the Congolese government. Residents of Nobili, a small town on the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda in North Kivu, have witnessed columns of Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) soldiers with heavy weapons and armored vehicles crossing the border since Tuesday night.

“The situation remains volatile in eastern DRC, as Congolese and Ugandan forces continue to fight armed groups. Past foreign military interventions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including Uganda, have resulted in attacks or damage to civilians, ”said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes.

“Military commanders in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo must take all measures required by international humanitarian law to protect and prevent harm to civilians during this operation. They should also avoid locating military installations and soldiers near civilian homes and, when they have to, they should give adequate warning and evacuate people if necessary. “

Both the Congolese and the Ugandan army have a history of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in the area and have rarely been held accountable. In 2005, the International Court of Justice ruled that the Ugandan army violated international humanitarian and human rights law during its military intervention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 1998 and 2003, including by failing to protect the civilian population, by committing assassinations. and torturing civilians and destroying villages.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has an obligation to investigate any allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights on its territory, including by its own forces, while Uganda must investigate all allegations of violations committed by its forces. The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda must ensure that there is a mechanism accessible to civilians in the area to safely report violations, should they occur.

Amnesty International is also concerned about the risk of retaliation against civilians by ADF fighters, which may arise as in the past if nothing is done to prevent such actions.

“The protection of the civilian population and respect for human rights must be at the center of their actions. Children, the elderly, people with disabilities and the internally displaced must be particularly protected from harm, ”said Sarah Jackson.

“The authorities must also allow access for humanitarian actors, journalists and human rights defenders to continue to do their work without hindrance, even in areas where joint operations are taking place.”

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The ADF, a rebel group formed in Uganda in the 1990s that later fled to the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, has carried out attacks against civilians in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces, which border Uganda. According to local civil society groups, at least 6,000 people have been killed by the ADF in this area since 2013.

Since May 2021, the state of siege proclaimed by the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tshisekedi, in North Kivu and Ituri, has given special powers to the army and police to help stop attacks against civilians and “neutralize” armed groups, including the ADF. However, these attacks have intensified in recent months, with more than 1,200 civilians killed according to the Kivu Security Tracker, and tens of thousands more displaced according to the UN.

In recent years, the ADF has pledged allegiance to a group calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS). ISIS has claimed responsibility for several attacks carried out in Uganda in October and November 2021 that the Ugandan authorities have attributed to the ADF. These include attacks on November 16 near the central police station and parliament in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, in which four were killed and 37 others injured, according to a statement from the Uganda Police Force.

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