July 01, 2013

Early Warning System Helps to Thwart Attacks on Remote Villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo

July 2013

In April, a community observer reported to the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) that the Mai Mai Raiya Mutoboki group—a rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—was preparing to raid the village of Borobo, causing residents to flee to surrounding forests and villages. Within 24 hours of the alert, ABA ROLI coordinated with the Congolese armed forces,  Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), which deployed a protection team to secure the village, preventing the rebel group from carrying out its offensive.

“The Mai Mai Raiya Mutomboki wanted to attack this village. I immediately sent an alert to the early warning system. In less than 24 hours I saw the FARDC deployed to the area to secure the people and their property,” said the community observer who reported the threat. “The members of the community returned to their homes, and peace was gradually restored.”

In August 2012, another community observer reported that the Nyatura rebel group was preparing to attack the village of Buabo in Masisi. ABA ROLI disseminated this information to local government partners, the United Nations mission in the DRC, la Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation au Congo (MONUSCO), and the FARDC, which deployed forces to protect the village. Within a few hours, ABA ROLI was told that because of this timely security response, the armed group cancelled its attack on the village and withdrew its forces from the region.

These and several other attacks on Congolese civilians were thwarted thanks to ABA ROLI’s early warning system. While ABA ROLI has been working to fight the rape crisis in the DRC since 2008, the early warning system, which is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and implemented in partnership with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, was launched in mid-2012. The system focuses on prevention and helps to improve emergency communication between assistance providers and vulnerable populations in remote areas. Since June 2012, the system has received more than 540 reports from remote eastern DRC villages and has worked with the United Nations and FARDC to coordinate more than 125 responses—25 of which have helped to foil rebel attacks on villages that are home to approximately 140,000 people.

The early warning system is SMS-based and allows the trained community observers and police to send coded text messages to a cell phone that feeds the information to a database at the central hub in Goma. ABA ROLI operators organize incoming data and prepare and disseminate messages to partners, including MONUSCO, the FARDC, and local and international non-governmental organizations. When a case is identified, community and police observers can either directly alert the closest protection force for immediate security assistance or report the case to ABA ROLI’s operators, who in turn coordinate a more comprehensive response with MONUSCO, Congolese military forces and other key government offices, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Additionally, ABA ROLI alerts a network of community observers of reported cases of nearby rebel activity and, if necessary, helps to coordinate an evacuation. When outbreaks of sexual violence and other human rights abuses do occur, ABA ROLI works with local and international NGOs to deploy mobile aid clinics that deliver comprehensive legal, psychological and medical assistance to victims, and provide longer-term assistance in securing justice against perpetrators.

The community observer who reported the April threat is happy to be a part of the effort that is helping mitigate the endemic rape and violence against civilians. “Before this alert mechanism, many incidents and cases of violence occurred in my community without the authorities being informed in time,” he said. “But now, thanks to this system, they are informed and we benefit from their assistance.”

To facilitate integration of the technology into DRC’s security sector, ABA ROLI has consulted extensively with justice sector officials in both North and South Kivu provinces, including the chief judges of the Tribunal de Grande Instance (high courts) and the prosecutor’s offices of Goma and Bukavu, the president of the Military Tribunal of North Kivu and the chiefs of the special police units protecting women and children in North and South Kivu. The agencies and officials have expressed strong support for the use of technology to mount a more effective campaign against rape and violence. The chief judge in Goma said that communications technology has the potential to “revolutionize the Congolese justice sector.”

With a long-term goal of transferring ownership of the early warning system to local partners, ABA ROLI will continue to operate the system in Walikale, Masisi and Fizi, and explore the potential for expanding it to other high-priority regions, such as the Walikale-Bukavu axis and the eastern section of North Kivu Province.

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