May 12, 2016

Early Warning System Thwarts Attacks on Civilians

The Early Warning and Response System (EWRS) in Beni, North Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is supported by the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), received 47 reports of violence and security threats—coordinating responses to 33 of them—in its first three months.


ABA ROLI worked with local civil protection units to train 38 community and police observers in villages throughout Beni territory on how to send and receive coded SMS messages on the security situation in their areas. 


The EWRS, which enables trained community observers to report to authorities outbreaks of violence, tensions and any threats to community security, was expanded to Beni in August. In late 2014, more than 250 civilians—including men, women and children—were killed in Beni while more than 88,000 others were displaced from the area following alleged attacks by the armed militia group made up of Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU), and ensuing confrontations with the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). In response to the insecurity and frequent violent rebel attacks, which are often characterized by burning of property, forced labor and civilian deaths, ABA ROLI worked with local civil protection units to empower community members to report threats and facilitate government response.

In August and September, ABA ROLI worked with local civil protection units—groups within the Ministry of the Interior that are charged with civilian protection and atrocity prevention—to train 38 community and police observers in villages throughout Beni territory on how to send and receive coded SMS messages on the security situation in their areas. Since July 2012, ABA ROLI has been supporting early warning and response systems in other parts of North Kivu and South Kivu provinces. Through ABA ROLI’s program, community observers—whose identities are kept anonymous—receive mobile phones and solar battery chargers, allowing them to communicate with authorities even from remote parts of the provinces.

Once reports of an attack are received, they are directed to the Congolese national army, the Congolese national police, the United Nations mission in the country or local government authorities for appropriate response. In one recent incident, on September 9, fighters from the ADF-NALU militia groups moved towards the village of Bamane, raising concerns of an imminent attack on Bamane and two nearby villages—Mangoloma and Nzuma—that are home to roughly 2,500 inhabitants. The community observer in the area learned of the activities from village residents and immediately alerted the civil protection unit in Beni via the EWRS. The unit shared the alert with the commander of the FARDC section charged with tracking the movements of the ADF-NALU. The FARDC quickly deployed to the area, stopping the ADF-NALU fighters from advancing into the villages and forcing them to withdraw from the area. Members of the civil protection unit who received the alert said that if it hadn’t been detected early, the attack would have led to the death of many civilians.

To learn more about our work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org