Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Effective Community-Based Protection Programming: Lessons from the Democratic Republic of Congo

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Effective Community-Based Protection Programming: Lessons from the Democratic Republic of Congo

Article excerpt

The ways in which communities respond to risks vary widely, and their protection strategies can be positive or negative in the effects they have on people's lives. In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), positive community protection strategies include women moving to fields in groups or changing the times of their movements. In a number of areas in South Kivu, women use coded signs to alert others to areas which are not considered safe and should be avoided, for example by drawing a cross on a tree trunk. In Irumu, in Orientale Province, where armed group incursions, violence and looting were common in 2011, traditional early warning systems included banging pots or using whistles when people became aware that bandits were near.

In many cases community members work with local authorities to find responses to protection threats.1 In one South Kivu community, authorities banned the sale of alcohol before midday after women denounced the contribution of alcohol consumption to domestic violence and community conflicts. In another community, after cases of animal theft increased tension in the area, local authorities agreed to establish a commission (which included the local vet and a traditional leader) to ensure that documentation for livestock being sold in the local market and at abattoirs was checked. And in another, authorities supported the population in negotiating a reduction in fines demanded when community members failed to pay the 'security tax' imposed on the population by an armed group.

Other community protection strategies can create new threats, or have negative effects on some or all of the community. The absence of FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the national army) in many locations has led communities to establish local self-defence groups which conduct night patrols. The members of these groups, however, are often at risk of attack, and they in turn have also been implicated in abuses including arbitrary arrests and detention, exacting illegal fines and torturing detainees. Some leave their communities and form armed groups themselves, adding to a wider problem.

Individuals often pay a number of illegal taxes in order not to place themselves at further risk of abuse. This includes people who have been arrested having to pay for their own transport to the police station, and survivors of sexual violence being forced to pay to obtain a medical certificate.

In cases of sexual violence, a common response is the forced marriage of survivors to perpetrators. Although the predominant narrative in DRC is that of sexual violence perpetrated by armed groups or FARDC, survey data reveal that in most cases of sexual violence against women or girls, the perpetrator is known to the survivor. Although forced marriage is illegal, custom, lack of knowledge of the law and widespread impunity perpetuate this practice. Reasons cited by community members in South Kivu include parents fearing that after rape their daughter will have no marriage value, and poverty pushing families to accept a dowry from the perpetrator instead of starting a legal process (which has an uncertain outcome and can entail paying transport costs to court for both survivor and perpetrator).

Pragmatism in the face of threats

Some strategies cannot be simply defined as 'positive' or 'negative'; they may be positive for one group within a community and negative for another. In some communities, men going to market risk being tortured and killed as they pass through checkpoints; families have reported making a conscious choice that women would take produce to market instead of men, even though women in turn risk sexual abuse and assault, judging this a more acceptable risk. Some other communities have instigated formal dialogues with armed groups to find solutions to protection problems in the absence of FARDC; they might make agreements to supply these groups with food or money in order to stop abuses - but this does not fully address the threat as it often leads to accusations of complicity and abuse by FARDC. …

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