Thousands of civilians were attacked by the Congolese army when it targeted seven Doctors Without Borders vaccination sites last week, the organization said in a press release. The attacks were carried out in spite of assurances by both the army and its target, the Hutu rebel group FDLR, that the work could be carried out in safety.
Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym as MSF, said:
“We feel we were used as bait. The attacks coincided with the beginning of our vaccination and put the lives of civilians in extreme risk. Thousands of people, and the MSF teams, were trapped in the gunfire. The attack was an unacceptable abuse of humanitarian action to fulfill military objectives. How will MSF be perceived by the population now? Will our patients still feel safe enough to access medical care? We are compelled to strongly denounce this situation as such actions seriously compromise our neutrality.”
MSF set up the vaccination sites, scattered throughout the rebel-controlled Masisi District in North Kivu province, to help the Congolese Ministry of Health respond to a measles epidemic. Earlier the same week, the U.N. mission in Congo announced that it was suspending support for Congolese army units responsible for targeting civilians.
Governed by the strictest rules of neutrality, MSF noted that it chose to go public with this information because of the very egregious nature of the attack, in which humanitarian activities were manipulated for military purposes.
Photo: Convoy of Congo army trucks. (AP)