|ICRC Activities in Rwanda: 1993 - 6 April 2000 (International Committee of the Red Cross , 230 p.)|
In 1996, Rwanda remained deeply marked by the after-effects of the 1994 genocide. The government tried resolutely to get a grip on the situation, following a firm course of action already outlined in 1995. Nevertheless, many of the various problems besetting the country since 1994 persisted in 1996.
As UNAMIRs* mandate ended on 8 March, the government took several measures during the year to improve security in the country: new identity cards and passports - giving no indication of ethnic origin - were issued; confidence-building tours were organized in the prefectures to restore trust in the authorities; and checks were stepped up in parts of the country experiencing numerous armed incursions from Zaire. Most of the administrative systems and public services were also progressively restored. Judicial institutions were slowly re-established and several legislative reforms took place, in particular the promulgation on 1 September of the Organic Law on the Organization of Prosecutions for Offences constituting the Crime of Genocide or Climes against Humanity committed since 1 October 1990. The first trials by a Rwandan court of persons accused of having taken an active part in the genocide opened in late 1996 and verdicts were expected in early 1997, whilst the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, set up in November 1994, had indicted 21 people by the end of the year, seven of whom were held in its custody in Arusha (Tanzania). Lastly, a pledge of substantial financial support was given by the international community, at a round table organized by UNDP* in Geneva in June at the request of the Rwandan government, for the latters programme to rehabilitate the countrys social and economic structures and revive economic activity.
Serious problems persist
Despite these major developments, formidable humanitarian problems continued to plague Rwanda.
Over 1.5 million Rwandan refugees were still housed in camps in Zaire, Tanzania and Burundi, and the question of their future remained crucial for stability in the region. For most of the year, however, the large majority of refugees failed to heed appeals by the Rwandan government, UNHCR and the countries of asylum and did not return to Rwanda, partly because they feared retaliation by the Rwandan authorities and partly because they were seriously deterred from doing so by the Interahamwe militia leaders and the civilian and military authorities of the previous government. Then in July and August, the Rwandan refugees in Burundi finally did go back to Rwanda; the first of them were forcibly expelled by the Burundian army, whereas the others fled when the situation in northern Burundi deteriorated. From 15 November, in the wake of the offensive launched in late September by the ADFL,* over 500,000 Rwandan refugees who had been living in camps around Goma also returned to Rwanda after wandering for weeks in eastern Zaire in desperate conditions.
Finally, under pressure from the Tanzanian authorities, 460,000 Rwandan refugees living in the Lake Ngara region likewise went back to Rwanda in mid-December . These mass returns caused both short- and long-term problems. To begin with, emergency arrangements had to be made to receive hundreds of thousands of people - most of them exhausted by days of walking, sometimes without any clear destination. Later, some means of handling the social repercussions of their return had to be set up; this issue was still far from being resolved at the end of the year. Disputes over property rights between refugees who returned to find their land occupied by other people - themselves former refugees often claiming that the land had originally belonged to them before they fled the massacres in and after 1959 - looked set to be the main problem in that respect.
Meanwhile, a general atmosphere of distrust between the communities again prevailed in Rwanda throughout the year, accentuated by the armed incursions from Zaire into the countrys western prefectures to attack the authorities and survivors of the genocidal massacres. The number of people arrested in connection with the 1994 genocide or for national security offences remained high, over 3,200 a month on average. Arrests, often arbitrary, were particularly numerous in May and June, when new identity cards and passports were issued, and late in the year, when returning refugees flooded in. Several new places of detention were opened between August 1995 and October 1996 and the capacity of some prisons was increased, bringing the countrys estimated total prison capacity to 34,000. However, these measures and the releases that took place during the year did not offset the arrival of new detainees in the prisons, as there was no effective judicial system to limit the number of arbitrary arrests and to investigate the cases of those arrested. Consequently, the acute overcrowding already observed there in 1995 and the ever-present serious health hazards for detainees living in exceptionally inhuman conditions continued in 1996. By the end of the year, more than 60,000 people were crammed into the countrys central prisons and over 30,000 more in temporary places of detention (lock-ups).
Another major humanitarian problem which remained unresolved was that of families split apart during the internal conflict, the 1994 genocide and the flight of hundreds of thousands of refugees to neighbouring countries, or the mass return of refugees in 1996. The problem of unaccompanied minors - children who lost or were separated from their families during the 1994 genocide and the events that followed, or when refugees streamed back home at the end of the year - was likewise of constant concern.
Moreover, many people whose homes were destroyed during the internal conflict and the massacres continued to live precariously in makeshift accommodation such as cowsheds or schools, or in cramped conditions with other families. Owing to the countrys economic difficulties and particularly the lack of jobs, these people - mostly widows and survivors of the genocide - were again left to eke out a living on the fringes of society. In 1996, no systematic assistance was provided for them, either by the government or by the humanitarian organizations.
In 1996 the ICRC continued its efforts in all its traditional spheres of activity.
Assistance in the prisons
As in 1995, acute overcrowding in Rwandan prisons throughout the year was again a major source of concern for the ICRC. At every possible opportunity, and particularly during the round table on Rwanda held in Geneva in June, the ICRC drew the attention of the countries concerned to the consistently alarming situation in Rwandan places of detention, which required their firm commitment and that of the Rwandan government to remedy it. Regular contact was also maintained at all levels with the relevant Rwandan authorities in order to remind them that they themselves bore the main responsibility for ensuring that the conditions of detention were acceptable. At the same time, the ICRC continued the large-scale assistance programme launched in 1994 to enable the detainees in those prisons to survive. The programme undoubtedly had an effect: by late 1995, the prison mortality rate had dropped to approximately that of the rest of the population and in 1996, despite the substantially higher number of people in prison, the situation remained under control thanks to the ICRCs unfailing efforts and the authorities growing commitment. In November and December 1995, and to a varying extent each month in 1996, the authorities did in fact manage to meet their responsibilities and to supply some of the necessary food, firewood and medicines. By the end of the year, the ICRC was able to reduce its food aid to 50% of the amount required in the prisons (down from 100% in 1995). Owing to the Rwandan health authorities efforts, its regular supply of medicines and other medical requisites to prison dispensaries could likewise be considerably reduced in 1996, and the ICRC stepped in only to make up for occasional temporary shortages, to provide specific medicines not available in adequate quantities in the country and to monitor the general health of the prison population. The work started by the ICRC in 1995 to improve prison sanitation was completed in 1996, and at the end of the year an agreement under which maintenance of the sanitary facilities would be taken over by the ministries concerned was being concluded between them and the ICRC.
In the lock-ups, which were intended to be only temporary places of detention, the ICRC did not distribute any food aid to the detainees. To meet any urgent needs observed during visits it did, however, give ad hoc assistance with regard to medical care and sanitation.
Besides providing assistance, which constituted the essential first phase in protecting the detainees, the ICRC also continued its regular visits to prisons and other places of detention, The delegates registered newly arrested persons and monitored the cases of detainees already in custody from an earlier date. In general, the work was carried out with good cooperation from the authorities. Nonetheless the ICRC was unable, despite repeated requests, to obtain the military authorities permission to have systematic access to the places of detention under their responsibility. On the basis of the delegates findings during their visits, the ICRC regularly submitted written and oral reports to the authorities concerned, reminding them of their obligation to treat detainees humanely. In addition, the ICRC gave all detainees visited the opportunity to exchange Red Cross messages with their relatives.
More than 2.5 million Red Cross messages exchanged
To restore and maintain contact between family members separated by events, the ICRC continued to run a vast network for the exchange of Red Cross messages both within Rwanda, between Rwanda and neighbouring countries and between Rwanda and other countries. Part of this tremendous task was accomplished in cooperation with the National Societies of more than thirty countries which had accepted Rwandan refugees. As postal services in Rwanda itself were gradually re-established during the year, the use of the Red Cross message service was progressively limited to people living in isolated parts of the country.
Concerted efforts to reunite families
The ICRC also continued to coordinate a large-scale programme for the registration of unaccompanied minors, with the ultimate purpose of reuniting them with their parents. This programme was launched in 1994 and had been run since then in conjunction with Save the Children Fund-UK, UNHCR, UNICEF and other non-governmental organizations . During the mass return of Rwandan refugees from Burundi, Zaire and Tanzania the ICRC, in accordance with its specific mandate, concentrated particularly on the reception of unaccompanied minors. On arrival in Rwanda, the children were registered by delegates, then transferred to transit centres there run by other humanitarian organizations. In many cases, the children had lost touch with their parents only temporarily among the crowds heading home and could therefore be rapidly reunited with their families, sometimes the same day.
Apart from the major sanitation work carried out in places of detention, in 1996 the ICRC continued and expanded programmes launched the previous year to improve drinking water supplies, particularly in rural areas in the Butare, Gikongoro, Ruhengeri, Gisenyi, Kibungo and Kigali prefectures. Some of the latter work was done through individual projects delegated to the American, Australian, British, German and Swedish Red Cross Societies. The ICRC also continued to supply spare parts and provide various forms of assistance to the authorities to enable them to continue operating water treatment plants serving the main towns. During the year, since the authorities concerned were able to provide sufficient chemicals for water purification, the ICRC stopped its own large-scale deliveries of such products and only made up for occasional shortages.
Support to medical facilities
As the Rwandan medical services improved during the year and several non-governmental organizations stepped in, the ICRC was able to reduce its medical aid. Begun in 1995, the projects delegated to the French and German Red Cross Societies to rehabilitate health centres were extended to 17 such centres and completed in 1996. The Swiss and German Red Cross Societies also began a major programme during the year to support the Kibuye hospital with medical equipment, expertise and expatriate staff; the Swiss Red Cross took on the additional task, through a delegated project, of running the Gatagara prosthetic/orthotic centre.
Assistance to the survivors of the genocide
In 1995, the ICRC had progressively been able to reduce its assistance to the civilian population and food distributions had ceased by the end of the year . In 1996, the ICRC concentrated on aiding particularly vulnerable sections of the population: on the one hand, survivors of the 1994 genocide, and on the other hand people who, feeling threatened by the armed incursions from Zaire, had fled their homes and gathered in public places - mainly in Kigali and Gitarama. In the former case, the delegation established closer contacts during the first six months with genocide survivors associations and helped them to carry out certain projects they had submitted to it. In the latter case, the ICRC intervened directly by providing ad hoc aid in places where those people had gathered. During the mass return of Rwandan refugees from Zaire and Tanzania, the ICRC also took part in the emergency operation set up by the humanitarian organizations - particularly UNHCR, the Federation, the Rwandan Red Cross and non-governmental organizations - to receive the new arrivals.
Furthermore, the delegation made every effort to overcome the mistrust felt by some of the population for the foreign community present in the country by promoting greater knowledge and acceptance of the ICRCs specific nature and activities. A public information campaign on humanitarian law was also launched, and care was taken to incorporate local cultural values in the humanitarian message conveyed so as to make it accessible to all.
As the Rwandan Red Cross was being completely reconstituted, the ICRC, in consultation with the Federation, supported its development by providing it with the logistical facilities and various relief supplies it needed to organize a food aid programme for 15,000 pupils at secondary-level boarding schools.
In 1996 the ICRC:
- regularly visited detainees in prisons and temporary places of detention. At the end of the year, 90,040 people registered by the ICRC were held there; two-thirds of them were in prisons;
- provided 8,115 tonnes of food and 1,020 tonnes of other relief supplies as part of its prison assistance programme to ensure the survival of all detainees; dispensaries were also supplied with medicines according to the needs identified (shortages or unavailability of particular medicines) and the sanitation work begun in 1995 was completed;
- forwarded some 150,000 Red Cross messages between detainees and their families;
- monitored the general state of health of the prison population (hygiene, epidemiological monitoring, nutritional checks) in order to prevent any rapid deterioration;
- distributed ad hoc assistance in the temporary places of detention and carried out sanitation work as needed;
- concluded an agreement with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and, on the basis of that agreement, began regular visits in June to the persons detained under the Tribunals authority in Arusha (7 persons registered).
- forwarded some 2.5 million Red Cross messages either within Rwanda, between Rwanda and neighbouring countries, or between Rwanda and other countries, to and from members of families separated by the events;
- continued to coordinate a programme to register unaccompanied Rwandan minors and ultimately reunite them with their families; in 1996, a total of 11,500 children were reunited with their families either by the ICRC or thanks to other humanitarian organizations.
- distributed 1,060 tonnes of food and 160 tonnes of various other supplies to over 11,000 direct victims of the genocide (orphans, widows, and people who had fled their homes because of insecurity);
- supported the programmes carried out by survivors associations to build almost 400 homes in Kigali, Butare and Gisenyi;
- distributed drinking water and protein-enriched biscuits at supply posts along the main routes taken by refugees heading home on foot from Zaire and Tanzania, and made its vehicles available to transport the weakest refugees.
- completed the rehabilitation of 17 health centres all over the country through projects delegated to the French and German Red Cross Societies;
- supported Kibuye hospital through projects delegated to the Swiss Red Cross and the German Red Cross.
- supported the Gatagara prosthetic/orthotic centre through a project delegated to the Swiss Red Cross.
- continued to give the relevant authorities technical and material assistance to enable them to keep going the water treatment plants serving large urban areas;
- continued sanitation work in rural areas in order to improve access to drinking water; some of this work was carried out through projects delegated to the American, Australian, British, German and Swedish Red Cross Societies.
- supplied the Rwandan Red Cross with the logistical resources and relief supplies needed to set up a food aid programme for 15,000 secondary school pupils.
- organized numerous dissemination sessions on humanitarian law for various audiences - civilian and military authorities, armed forces and police units, academic circles;
- launched a public information campaign to promote respect for basic humanitarian rules.
* UNAMIR: United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda
* UNDP: United Nations Development Programme
* ADFL: Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Zaire-Congo
3. See Zaire and Tanzania.
4. See the ICRCs 1994 Annual Report and 1995 Annual Report.
5. See the ICRCs 1995 Annual Report.