Working in Gety reminds me of Ridley Scott’s movie Kingdom of Heaven. The film was unfortunate, and badly directed, and the central point of the story was not well done. This central point was the relationship which existed between two enemies: the tolerance, the respect, the peace and – incredibly – the honour; a value which no longer seems to exist between enemies.
Honour – that utopic and fragile concept – was threatened all the time by intolerance, violence and war.
I have found that such a space, such a kingdom, is real. It’s not fiction, it’s not a film; it’s the reality in a community that the world has forgotten.
But it’s not forgotten by the people who live here, the Ministry of Health, the churches of different denominations, the NGOs (such as MSF, who has been working here in the Ituri for more than 10 years), and of course by the parties who are still negotiating peace: the FARDC [Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo], the state army, and an armed group in Ituri called FRPI.
Such a space exists in the regional hospital of Gety (Hopital Général de Référence), where, most of the time, the military shows respect and enters the hospital without weapons (a policy that MSF upholds strongly in all of our projects).
This incredible humanitarian space exists in the hospital ward where the war-wounded of FRPI are being treated and cured with the respect of their counterparts from the FARDC, who are being treated in the very same hospital after fighting each other. All of the patients are being treated equally for their wounds.
In the first weeks of my mission in Gety, I admired and marvelled at the respect for the presence and treatment of these patients in the hospital, which reminded me of the film. I marvelled at the respect for a classic humanitarian space that can seem unreal at times with the current news stories, at the respect shown for the Geneva Conventions that too often today seems fictional, utopic, legendary or just plain old.
All of the principles at the heart of our Medical Care Under Fire campaign – the respect for patients in the context of war, the respect for a humanitarian space, the respect for aid organisations – are happening right here.
On 3 June 2015, the conflict started up again after peace negotiations failed, starting with bomb attacks against the FRPI by the joint forces of the FARDC and MONUSCO [UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo]. On 3 June, MSF deployed its mass casualty plan in partnership with Gety regional hospital, and we prepared to receive the wounded.
In the event, we only received four wounded FARDC soldiers, who were triaged and treated in the hospital, with some patients requiring surgery.
The next day we shifted from the mass casualty plan and moved into the next phase of our plan for emergency care response: going out to find the wounded, in the communities and on the battlefield.
Side by side with the Congolese (DRC) Red Cross, we searched for the wounded in the bush and in the communities. We found nine wounded from the FRPI and one from the FARDC, and we transferred them to the hospital, where they were triaged and treated, after which some of them were referred elsewhere for specialised treatment.
Searching for patients in the bush with the Congolese Red Cross ©Armando/MSF
The experience of being allowed through checkpoints by soldiers of FARDC/MONUSCO so that we could do our humanitarian work – searching for patients – was incredible. I reflected at the time that this probably was the only space in the world where such respect exists between enemies – respect for the wounded, for the patient, as well as for humanitarians.
Such a space was put in danger when the MONUSCO forces, which hours before had bombed the FARPI, arrived at the hospital to search for the patients and transport them to another hospital – acts that of course MSF and the hospital authorities did not agreed to.
In fact MSF and the hospital authorities demanded respect for our patients and for the humanitarian space that costs so much to maintain, and the MONUSCO soldiers left the hospital. The patients continue to receive their care in the hospital today, though negotiations for the patients continue between MSF, the hospital and the MONUSCO.
Nonetheless, all the parties involved – and in particular the armed ones – should value, preserve and treasure the realm that all of the people in Gety have helped to create, a realm and kingdom that is at the same time a path which leads to that real and definitive kingdom: Peace.
La Paix, Peace ©Armando/MSF