Africa: Humanitarian Visa d’Or – Hugh Kinsella Cunningham Wins for Documenting the Plight of Civilians in the DRC

On 18 June 2024, for its 14th edition, the ICRC’s Humanitarian Visa d’Or was awarded to freelance photographer Hugh Kinsella Cunningham for his remarkable reporting on civilians caught up in the armed conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“That’s five years of my life!” Cunningham said, brimming with emotion, upon learning he had received the ICRC’s Humanitarian Visa d’Or award in a near-unanimous decision by the jury. He has been reporting for years on the impacts of armed conflict between government forces and the March 23 Movement (M23) in the DRC.

This conflict stops civilians from having any control over their own storyand now with the use of heavy artillery against civilians… It’s such an important issue, a really neglected conflict. So, it’s amazing to think that more people will learn about something they might not necessarily be exposed to in the news.

Hugh Kinsella Cunningham

Isabelle de Lagasnerie, chief photo editor for the French newspaper La Croix, was emphatic: “The quality of the photographs – composition, angle, editing – is undeniable. They tell a story, complement one another and take us on a journey. Each photo raises questions, commands attention and has subtext that enriches the story.”

The theme for the 14th Humanitarian Visa d’Or was “Civilians, the primary victims of armed conflicts” in honour of the 75th anniversary of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which protects civilians in wartime. It was hard for the jury to pick a winner among projects that also included work about Ukraine, Gaza, Israel, Myanmar and Sudan.

“I was moved by the work of a photographer in Gaza and this one about the DRC,” said Jean-François Corty, president of Médecins du Monde. “A consensus formed around the photographer working in the DRC, as civilians there have been suffering terribly for many years, and humanitarian workers are also struggling to meet their needs. This is a photographer who has put his back into it and been right in the thick of things alongside civilians and humanitarian organizations.”

Over 5.6 million people have been displaced by conflict in eastern DRC, with 2.5 million displaced in North Kivu province alone. The humanitarian crisis in the region has been devastating. “Over a million people are wandering the outskirts of Goma. The displacement camps are overflowing, just completely saturated. It’s an absolutely horrendous situation,” said Claude Guibal, international correspondent for Radio France, who recently reported in Goma region. “Even accessing the area is extremely complicated. The choice of subject – and the incredible strength of the work – is a reminder of what life is like for civilians in East Congo.”