During a three-week period of fieldwork, Hélène Flaam joined the team of local researchers in Faradje. APRu has been a research partner of the Conflict Research Group since 2012, and has developed an extensive knowledge on local socio-political and military dynamics and justice needs. For this fieldwork a survey was developed that aimed at getting a better understanding of justice issues and justice needs of IDPs, which have been displaced because of LRA activities. Once the survey was modified and tested on the ground and the researchers trained, 300 respondents were questioned in 12 different sites in the Faradje territory. Together with the support of local authorities and the perseverance of the APRu-team, the research turned out to be a huge success.
During this field trip, Hélène Flaam joined the local research team of SAIPED in the Dungu territory, Haut-Uele. A range of respondents, justice providers, promoters and beneficiaries were interviewed. Respondents included customary chiefs, representatives of civil society and humanitarian organizations, lawyers, police officers, state officials, camp chiefs, and of course IDPs themselves. Furthermore, almost 400 respondents participated in a survey that covered justice issues and experiences of litigants. IDPs as well as non-displaced people were questioned.
The situation here is quit different than around Faradje, which is a more remote area than Dungu. After the LRA attacks in 2008, known as the Christmas massacres, Dungu was overwhelmed with international NGOs and agencies. However, since last year, its number is decreasing rapidly.
The Haut-Uele district, located in Northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, in the Oriental Province, has known a turbulent history. In the 1960s already, it has been affected by the Simba rebellion against the Congolese government. More recently, the LRA moved into the area at the end of 2005, and installed its headquarters in the Garamba National Park. In September 2008 the group launched its brutal attacks and killings on civilians as a reaction on the joint offensive ‘Operation Lightning Thunder’ aiming to destroy the LRA camps in Garamba and to defeat the LRA movement. This attack has failed and the LRA turned to the Congolese civilians, split up in smaller groups and launched a series of attacks that culminated in the so-called Christmas massacres in December 2008 and January 2009. Hundreds of people were killed, children and adults captured and thousands of people were displaced. In 2011, OCHA estimates that over 348,000 people were internally displaced in the LRA-affected area of the DRC (OCHA 2011). Accordingly in September 2014 there would be 104.000 IDPs left in Haut-Uele (OCHA 2014). Others have fled to other districts or returned to their homes. Haut-Uele thus still counts more than 104.000 displaced people since the LRA attacks in 2008-2009. All over the LRA affected area, IDP camps suddenly appeared. The host communities had to re-organize and share their land with the IDPs. Conflicts arose between host and displaced communities when NGOs distributed food and non-food items with a particular attention to those displaced communities. With civil society organizations and authorities raising people’s awareness and the NGOs changing their policy, conflicts decreased. Social harmony more or less returned in most of Haut-Uele.
The return, however, of the IDPs is very difficult, due to the remaining insecurity, but also due to the desertation of abandonned areas. NGOs focussed on building schools, water sources and health centers in or near IDP camps, but not in the villages of origin, which means some areas in the Haut-Uele Province that had been completely abandonned due to the insecurity, are now deserted. Mondo Misa for example, in the Faradje district, lacks schools, houses, water sources, healthcare centers etc. Some IDPs in the area therefore walk for hours to work on their fields in their village of origin and go back to the camp to sleep.
Nevertheless IDPs are often relied on their own when it comes to access to justice and security. Therefore, IDP committees have been developed to ensure justice and security to the IDP population in the camps. In most of them, a camp chief has been elected who gives advice in times of daily conflicts. They sometimes face resistance, though, from the host chief due to power tensions. In some cases the camps are monitored by ‘camp security guards’, serving as watch guards. With this research we’d like to understand more on how IDPs organized themselves to access justice and how justice actors, authorities, military, civil society organizations and NGOs try to enhance access to justice and accompany litigants and accused in order to find justice. How do these actors collaborate or are they working as parallel structures?
The Haut-Uele reserach team is composed of: Koen Vlassenroot, director of the Conflict Research Group at Ghent University and coordinator of this Accommodation of Justice research program; Hélène Flaam, research fellow at Ghent University; Ernest Sugule, executive board director of the NGO SAIPED in Dungu and Jean-Claude Malitano, coordinator of the APRu NGO in the Faradje district.