|ICRC Activities in Rwanda: 1993 - 6 April 2000 (International Committee of the Red Cross , 230 p.)|
The problems of all kinds facing Rwanda since the 1994 genocide continued to plague the country in 1997. No lasting solution emerged to the crisis, which was marked by rising tension between the armed opposition groups and the RPA* and resulted in an increasing polarization of Rwandan society.
Following the offensive launched in the former Zaire at the end of September 1996 by the ADFL* (supported by the RPA), hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees, who had settled in camps in Kivu since 1994, were forced to return to their country. Tens of thousands more headed for the western borders of the former Zaire, while an unspecified number died in circumstances yet to be clarified while wandering through the former Zaire . The Rwandan refugees living in the Ngara region of Tanzania returned to their country in December 1996, having been urged to do so by the Tanzanian authorities. Subsequently, tens of thousands of other Rwandan refugees were repatriated from the former Zaire by UNHCR, in April and June. The sudden mass return of over a million people to Rwanda caused problems both in the short and in the long terms, ranging from how to provide emergency accommodation for the new arrivals to how to reintegrate them into Rwandan society.
Meanwhile, growing insecurity pervaded Rwanda in 1997, mainly in the prefectures of Gisenyi and Ruhengeri, where skirmishes between guerrilla forces and the RPA increased. At times, these clashes degenerated into out-and-out combat involving a large number of fighters on both sides and the use of considerable military force. In addition to the casualties among the soldiers and rebels, many civilians were killed or wounded, either because they had been deliberately targeted (in a situation where, because of the growing mutual distrust between the communities, the principle of affording due respect to the civilian population was increasingly ignored) or because they were the victims of reprisals for support given (allegedly or in fact) to the other side, or else because they simply happened to get caught in the cross-fire. On several occasions the guerrillas carried out their attacks against communal lock-ups: hundreds of detainees and civilians were wounded or killed during these attacks and in the fighting with the army that ensued.
The number of arrests remained high, in particular following the return of the refugees at the start of the year. Those detained included not only people suspected of having played a part in the 1994 genocide, but others taken in for reasons of State security. Arrests were often carried out arbitrarily, outside any legal framework. Despite the efforts made by the Rwandan government to strengthen the judicial system, which was overwhelmed by the work involved in limiting these arbitrary arrests and in preparing and investigating the cases of those detained, and given the small number of releases that took place in 1997, the prison overcrowding noted in previous years persisted, with the ever-present risk of serious consequences for the health of detainees. Owing to the lack of space, the Rwandan authorities resorted more and more often to communal lock-ups for incarcerating newly arrested people. These places of detention, however, were not designed to hold such a large number of inmates for a lengthy period. Added to this was the lack of resources allocated to the Ministry of the Interior, which was in charge of managing these places of detention, so that it could meet the basic needs of detainees. As the months went by, conditions in the lock-ups gradually deteriorated, leading to the death of some 1,300 detainees registered by the ICRC. At the end of the year, over 73,800 people were crammed into the countrys central prisons, over 46,500 in lock-ups and 3,000 in the other places of detention visited by the ICRC.
Precarious food supply
In addition, a large number of people continued to live in great destitution, their suffering caused either by the 1994 genocide (mainly widows and orphans) or by the general insecurity prevailing in some parts of the country. The dangerous climate also slowed down the resumption of production activities and hampered the setting up of large-scale reconstruction and development programmes. Moreover, Rwandas food supply remained precarious, mainly owing to rising prices, average harvests, the return of refugees in droves and a rainy season that came late to the agricultural regions in the south. Faced with this situation, the Rwandan government called for substantial international food aid.
Such was the situation faced by the ICRC as it pursued the efforts it had begun in 1996 in all its customary spheres of activity.
At the beginning of 1997, a number of expatriates and Rwandans working for non-governmental organizations and UN bodies were killed or injured in attacks in which they were deliberately targeted in the prefectures of Cyangugu, Gisenyi and Ruhengeri. In view of the deterioration in security conditions, the ICRC had to suspend its activities for 10 days or so, to give itself time to take additional precautions and to review both the size of its staff and its modus operandi in the country. From March onwards, as the ICRC gradually resumed its activities, security remained a constant concern and the regions accessible to the organization were regularly assessed. At the end of the year, the situation in a large part of Rwanda, mainly the north and west, was so dangerous that the ICRC was unable to work there.
Assistance in places of detention
As in previous years, one of the ICRCs main concerns was the drastic situation that persisted in the central prisons as a result of overcrowding. Contacts were kept up with the Rwandan authorities, at all levels, with a view to reminding them of their responsibility to provide acceptable detention conditions and discussing with them various means for improving the situation in prisons. Meanwhile, the major assistance operation launched in 1994 to ensure the survival of detainees  continued throughout the year. As the authorities were experiencing procurement difficulties of all kinds, the ICRC supplemented the quantity of food supplied in prisons. Vitamin tablets were also distributed, and the most seriously undernourished inmates were put on a nutritional rehabilitation programme. In addition to monitoring the general state of health of detainees, the ICRC distributed medicines and equipment to prison dispensaries, in accordance with the principle that aid should be provided only where the capacity of the authorities in charge was overstretched. In May the ICRC and the Ministry of Justice signed an agreement whereby the authorities would take back responsibility for maintaining sanitary facilities in the countrys prisons while the ICRC would provide technical and financial support for the team of technicians put together for this purpose by the authorities. Furthermore, in cooperation with the authorities concerned, the ICRC concluded the work previously begun to upgrade the water-supply systems in several towns. This work also benefited the prisons situated in these towns by considerably reducing the risk that the water supply would be cut off, a chronic problem in some places of detention in the past. Nevertheless, water had to be brought to two prisons by tanker truck.
Despite the commitment of the authorities, the ICRCs assistance programmes and the efforts made by other humanitarian organizations, no lasting solutions were found in 1997 to the causes of prison overcrowding or its grave consequences, and the health of detainees gradually declined.
In lock-ups, because of the extremely serious worsening of detention conditions noted at the start of the year, the ICRC altered the approach it had adopted until then (ad hoc intervention only, so as not to turn the lock-ups - originally designed for temporary detention - into places used for detention over longer periods) and broadened its intervention criteria. When the situation was at its worst, sanitation and rehabilitation activities were undertaken, in particular to improve air circulation and increase the supply of drinking water. High-protein biscuits were distributed in some cases and steps were taken to transfer the most seriously undernourished detainees to prisons where they could be put on a nutritional rehabilitation programme. The ICRC also supplied food to two humanitarian organizations (Concern and Caritas) that managed communal kitchens in some lock-ups. Lastly, it made medical supplies available to the authorities.
Meanwhile, the ICRC kept up regular contacts with other organizations active in prisons in Rwanda - in particular UNDP* - and continued its efforts to draw the attention of the governments concerned to the gravity of the situation that prevailed in Rwandan places of detention and to the need for lasting solutions to the problems there.
First visits to military places of detention
Besides this wide-ranging assistance programme, which represented the first and a necessary stage in protecting detainees, the ICRC continued its visits to prisons, lock-ups and several places of detention run by the gendarmerie. In June the ICRC received authorization to visit two places of detention under the responsibility of the military authorities in Kigali. The aim of all these visits was to register people newly arrested, monitor previously registered cases, check on detention conditions and offer all detainees the possibility of exchanging news with their families. On the basis of the observations made during these visits, the ICRC regularly submitted written and oral reports to the authorities, reminding them of their obligation to treat detainees humanely.
The ICRCs work to protect the civilian population in the parts of the country most affected by the conflict was limited, mainly because security problems prevented the organization from going to these areas. It was therefore all the more necessary to promote humanitarian rules, in particular among people carrying weapons. The Rwandan military authorities accepted a plan proposed by the ICRC to make the teaching of humanitarian law a standard part of the instruction given to all troops, and the first stages of the plan, notably the training of Rwandan military instructors, were implemented during the year. Meanwhile, sessions were held for RPA units and the civilian authorities, to encourage respect for humanitarian rules and the work of humanitarian organizations. Programmes were also produced with the national radio and broadcast to a wide audience.
Concerted efforts to reunite families
The resumption of postal services and the return of the majority of refugees - including the unaccompanied children who had been living in camps in Tanzania and the former Zaire - to their places of origin made it possible for most of the people who were without news of their families to renew contact with them. The major network for exchanging Red Cross messages, in place since 1994, was therefore scaled down, and only messages between detainees and their relatives continued to be exchanged. Furthermore, over 27,000 unaccompanied children were registered in 1997, mainly after the refugees had returned. In cooperation with other organizations, in particular UNICEF, UNHCR and SCF-UK, most of these minors were reunited with their families. For the others - children separated from their parents since 1994 and living in Rwanda, and very young children who were unable to give precise details of their identity (some 8,800 by the end of the year) - efforts to find their families continued under the programme coordinated by the ICRC since 1994. 
In 1997, owing to the prevailing insecurity, two programmes launched the preceding years by various National Societies  to increase the supply of drinking water in rural areas had to be taken over by the ICRC, and they were successfully concluded during the year. A third had to be abandoned because of inadequate security. The ICRC also stepped in temporarily to ensure sanitation and drinking water supplies for vulnerable groups (orphans, widows and welfare cases).
In addition to its medical activities in prisons, the ICRC continued to support the hospital in Kibuye, in particular by providing expatriate staff to compensate for the scarcity of qualified Rwandan personnel. Moreover, on several occasions, ad hoc assistance was given to medical facilities having to cope with a sudden influx of wounded. The Gatagara prosthetic/orthotic centre, which had been restored under a project delegated to the Swiss Red Cross, was officially inaugurated in early August.
Assistance for survivors of the genocide
Work begun the previous year to assist vulnerable people, in particular those who had lived through the 1994 genocide, was extended in 1997. The ICRCs approach consisted in supporting programmes submitted to it by various associations of survivors. These programmes, aimed at the socio-economic reintegration of vulnerable groups, were of various kinds: depending on the case, the ICRC provided food and basic necessities, school supplies, small livestock, poultry or swarms of bees, building materials, seed and tools, or even materials for handicrafts. It also regularly gave out food and basic necessities to orphanages and social-welfare institutions.
Moreover, when the Rwandan refugees returning from the former Zaire and Tanzania came back in their country, the ICRC took part in the emergency operation carried out by a number of humanitarian organizations - especially UNHCR, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Rwandan Red Cross and non-governmental organizations - to receive the new arrivals.
In 1997 the Rwandan National Society, whose reconstruction was in full swing, concentrated on setting up local structures. In consultation with the Federation, which was primarily responsible for developing the Rwanda Red Cross, the ICRC continued working with the latter, focusing mainly on restoring family links, strengthening the Societys capacity to respond to emergencies and assist the most destitute, and promoting knowledge of the Red Cross and its work.
IN 1997 THE ICRC:
- continued its visits to detainees held in prisons and communal lock-ups and those held by gendarmerie squads (at the end of 1997, some 73,800 people registered by the ICRC were detained in prisons, some 46,500 in lock-ups and some 2,100 by gendarmerie squads);
- began in June to visit detainees held under the responsibility of the military authorities in 2 places of detention (by the years end, 983 people had been registered);
- visited the detainees held under the responsibility of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha (by the years end, 20 people had been registered);
- provided 9,568 tonnes of food, 116 tonnes of fortified milk, over 15 million vitamin tablets and 325 tonnes of other supplies under its prison assistance programmes;
- covered 50% of the annual demand for medicines in prison dispensaries;
- supported the technical unit set up by the authorities to maintain sanitary facilities in prisons;
- carried out or began repair/sanitation work in around 40 lock-ups where detention conditions were the most appalling;
- conveyed some 43,000 Red Cross messages between detainees and their families;
- monitored the health of detainees (hygiene, nutrition, vulnerability to epidemics);
- supplied office equipment and other assistance to the Ministry of Justice in order to help it put together files on detainees;
- conveyed some 14,000 Red Cross messages between family members separated by the events, both within Rwanda and between Rwanda and neighbouring States or other countries;
- continued to coordinate a programme to register unaccompanied Rwandan children with a view to finding their parents (24,268 children were reunited with their families during the year, either by the ICRC or by other humanitarian organizations);
- supported over 80 programmes implemented by local associations for survivors of the 1994 genocide, distributing 3,173 tonnes of food and 180 tonnes of soap, blankets, tarpaulins, etc;
- distributed drinking water, medicines and 50 tonnes of highprotein biscuits as part of the emergency operation undertaken by humanitarian organizations to assist refugees returning from the former Zaire and Tanzania;
- supported the Kibuye hospital by making medical and surgical teams available and providing medical supplies (over 4,600 patients were admitted and over 30,000 out-patient consultations were given during the year);
- provided ad hoc assistance to medical facilities treating the war-wounded;
- by means of a project delegated to the Swiss Red Cross, restored the Gatagara prosthetic/orthotic centre, where it fitted 46 new amputees with artificial limbs and produced 57 prostheses and 151 orthoses;
- repaired the water-supply systems in several towns (Gitarama, Gikongoro, Byumba, Rwampara and Kinyiya);
- supplied 100 tonnes of chemicals and technical equipment needed to operate the water-treatment plants serving large urban areas;
- continued its sanitation work in rural areas to make drinking water more readily available in the prefectures of Gitarama and Kibungo;
- supplied the Rwandan Red Cross with 2,304 tonnes of food for an ongoing programme to feed 10,000 secondary-school pupils in Butare, Gisenyi, Gitarama and Ruhengeri;
- supported National Society branches in their first-aid work, in particular in manufacturing stretchers;
- backed an exhibition on the Red Cross that was presented in most of the major towns and was seen by some 20,000 people (civilians, members of the armed forces, government employees and students);
- held an instructors seminar for 25 RPA officers with a view to standardizing the teaching of humanitarian law within the armed forces;
- arranged for 2 Rwandan professors to be trained at the University of Abidjan as part of an endeavour to introduce the teaching of humanitarian law at the National University of Rwanda, and supplied the latter with reference books;
- organized many sessions on humanitarian law for different audiences (civilian authorities and units of the armed forces and the gendarmerie);
- conducted a historical study of traditional humanitarian values and principles with a view to adapting its humanitarian message to the Rwandan cultural context;
- in cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, organized a humanitarian law seminar in Arusha for the Tribunal judges, their assistants and defence lawyers.
* RPA: Rwandan Patriotic Army
* ADFL: Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire
* UNDP: United Nations Development Programme
22. See Democratic Republic of the Congo.
23. Seethe ICRCs 1994 Annual Report; 1995 Annual Report and 1996 Annual Report.
24. See the ICRCs 1994 Annual Report; 1995 Annual Report and 1996 Annual Report.
25. See the ICRCs 1996 Annual Report.