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Escalating Displacement and Sexual Violence Amid Elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: PHR

As presidential elections begin in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) redoubles its call on all actors to prevent further escalation of violence and the humanitarian crisis in the country.  

“The stakes for the DRC’s elections couldn’t be higher. Conflict in eastern Congo has already left almost 7 million individuals displaced and set off waves of sexual violence that have impacted more than 90,000 individuals in 2023 alone. PHR calls on all stakeholders in the DRC to stop the violence, support people who have been displaced by the conflict, and ensure survivors of sexual violence receive the care and support they need,” said Sam Zarifi, JD, LLM, PHR executive director.  

Millions of people are at risk in an escalating armed conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, amid alarming levels of sexual and gender-based violence. 

Elections on December 20 and the weeks that follow could fan the fighting or plunge more communities into insecurity. 

MSF (Doctors Without Borders) reports that each day, an average of 70 women who are survivors of sexual assault visit MSF health facilities in Lushagala, Bulengo, Elohim, Shabindu, Rusayo, and Kanyaruchinya camps, with the aid group treating at least 18,000 survivors across the North Kivu region this year. The actual number of cases is likely far higher due to underreporting. Children’s lives have been particularly upended by the conflict in DRC. UNICEF estimates that grave violations against children, including sexual violence, have jumped 41 percent compared to a year ago. 

Physicians for Human Rights has been working with partners in the DRC for 12 years to support survivors of sexual violence and train medical, law enforcement, and legal professionals to collect and document forensic evidence to advance justice for these violations.  

Today PHR is continuing our work in North Kivu, DRC with medical and legal partners to understand the needs of internally displaced survivors of sexual violence, including children, and facilitate their care and referrals. 

In response to the unique needs of child survivors, PHR and our partner HEAL Africa created a child-friendly space in the Bulengo internally displaced people (IDP) camp in the DRC. The space will facilitate safe documentation of the traumatizing violence these children have suffered. 

“Survivors of sexual violence have a right to care and justice,” said Zarifi. “As conflicts flare globally, we must ensure that survivors in DRC are not forgotten. States must act swiftly to prevent sexual violence and support survivors in accessing trauma-informed medical care and treatment and legal support.” 

“PHR is committed to continuing to support our medical, law enforcement, and legal partners in DRC to provide essential care for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence,” said Zarifi.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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