15 July, GOMA – Unmanned drones being used by the UN peacekeeping force MONUSCO in the DRC are blurring the lines between help and harm, and it could affect aid agencies, says a new paper released today (Tuesday).
“We’re concerned about how the UN wants to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs),” said Frances Charles, Advocacy Manager for World Vision’s work in eastern DRC. “Currently they are used by MONUSCO’s military components in DRC, which means they should not be used at the same time for any humanitarian response.”
It is vital for aid agencies to be impartial and distant from military and armed actors in order to maintain trust with those we serve.
“Communities we work with are unaware or unclear about when and why these surveillance vehicles are being used. Without better clarity, they are easily perceived as purely tools of fighting forces. Anecdotal evidence gathered by us and other aid agencies working in DRC indicates that communities are likely to associate the UAVs with the military.”
“As aid agencies, our impartiality and distance from military and armed actors is vital in order to get people to trust us and trust our motives. Any blurring of those lines makes our work harder. When that happens, ultimately people suffer. We are here to help, and none of us – aid agencies, governments or UN agencies – can afford for that message to be muddied.”
The humanitarian situation for children across eastern DRC remains precarious, with thousands of people displaced and unable to access basic services.
“We are all working hard to reach people, every day, in the middle of an ongoing crisis. But the urgency to do this cannot override the need to ensure that aid, when it’s delivered, must be in line with humanitarian principles, in particular neutrality, impartiality and operational independence.”
The North Kivu Chef de Mission forum represents international aid agencies operating in DRC, and in its paper released today, it says it does not believe that unmanned aerial vehicles are an appropriate or suitable channel for enabling humanitarian assistance. Specifically, the forum says additional use of the UAVs for humanitarian purposes whilst they are currently used for military objectives risks losing humanitarian access and acceptance, and jeopardises the core principles of neutrality and operational independence.
MONUSCO, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the DRC, is setting a significant precedent as the first in the world to use UAVs as part of its aid outreach, says Charles.
“We’re not saying that UAV technology doesn’t represent a valuable step forward in information gathering, data collection and imagery capacity. We are saying that we have strong concerns about any intention to use this technology for military and humanitarian purposes simultaneously.”
“Regardless of whether a UAV flight is undertaken for the purpose of information gathering for military intelligence or the humanitarian response, neither communities nor armed groups would be able to distinguish when its use is related to a military objective and when it’s not.”
“We strongly recommend that UN humanitarian agencies also distance themselves from the use of UAVs at this moment in DRC to ensure that no confusion remains.”