|ICRC Activities in Rwanda: 1993 - 6 April 2000 (International Committee of the Red Cross , 230 p.)|
A climate of insecurity continued to reign in some parts of Rwanda in 1998. At the beginning of the year armed groups made slow but significant progress, expanding their insurgency campaign from their strongholds in the Ruhengeri and Gisenyi prefectures in the north-west into southern and central areas. Attacks on villages and ambushes of vehicles claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians. Reprisals were often equally brutal. By mid-year, the situation appeared to be on the turn. The RPA* carried out massive counter-insurgency operations in Ruhengeri and Gisenyi, forcing the armed opposition to retreat. A number of combatants surrendered, while many others were killed during the fighting.
At the end of July, tension increased between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo when the latter put an end to the two countries military co-operation agreement. When an internal conflict broke out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in August,  Rwandan support for the Congolese opposition forces put further strain on relations with its neighbour.
Although many parts of the country enjoyed relative calm, the Rwandan population as a whole was still suffering the after-effects of the 1994 genocide. Furthermore, the countrys poverty continued to permeate every aspect of life, including State structures, which did not have the resources to provide essential services to the population.
Numbers of detainees stable, conditions worsen
In 1998 the number of detainees, which had been steadily rising since 1994, stabilized and even registered a slight decline, although around 124,000 people were still in custody. There were fewer new arrests and more releases on humanitarian grounds (the sick and very old). Inmates held in some communal lock-ups (cachots) were freed or transferred to central prisons. This, however, exacerbated the already crowded conditions in the latter. Kitchen facilities in particular were overstretched, and the incidence of diseases such as tuberculosis and typhus rose. Malnutrition continued to be a source of concern, especially among detainees transferred from the lock-ups, who were generally in a poor state of health. Meanwhile, conditions remained precarious in lock-ups still housing detainees, where overcrowding, insufficient food, water and medical care and poor hygiene were the cause of many deaths.
The ICRC kept up its visits to all detainees held in connection with the conflict and the 1994 genocide, with the exception of those held in regions inaccessible to the organization. As in previous years, the prison authorities had neither the means nor the funds to deal with the scale of the problems encountered. The ICRC was therefore obliged to provide the assistance needed to preserve the lives, health and dignity of the detainees. At the request of the Ministry of Justice, the ICRC covered just under 60% of the food requirements of the countrys prisons; in the last three months of the year this was increased to full rations. It also supplied nutritional supplements, life-saving medicines and basic hygiene items to both prisons and lock-ups. ICRC water and sanitation projects provided an adequate water supply and proper waste disposal for several prisons and the neighbouring population.
The priority for the tracing service remained family reunifications for children separated from their parents during the mass repatriations in November 1996,  following which over 28,000 unaccompanied children were registered. By the end of 1998, 87% of them had been reunited with close relatives. In June, a third album was published in conjunction with UNICEF containing photos of children too young to give any information about their identity or the whereabouts of their families. Since the launch of the programme in May 1997, the photos of a total of 1,655 unidentified children had been circulated in this way, and as a result some 700 children had been reunited with family members.
Most of the Red Cross messages exchanged in 1998 were on behalf of un-accompanied children, with a view to restoring family links. The network was also available to civilians or detainees wishing to correspond with relatives abroad, but the number of messages handled decreased as compared with previous years.
Displaced and resettled people in conflict zones
The violence and killings in the northern and western districts prompted many people to seek refuge in safer communes nearby. In an initiative begun in July by the Rwandan army, an estimated 500,000 people were assembled in camps. By the end of the year, some of these civilians were allowed to leave the camps and resettle near their fields, but not in their former homes. By implementing this policy the government aimed to encourage these people to build new houses, grouped in villages, and end their traditional scattered way of life.
Although the fighting had abated and there were fewer attacks on civilians in the second half of the year, insecurity remained high in the north-west. Relief agencies assisting displaced or resettled people had to use army escorts for their own security. Under such circumstances, the ICRC deemed that the conditions for independent action were not fulfilled and it was therefore not in a position to survey needs in the region or to take part in relief operations, which were essentially led by the UN and NGOs. Nevertheless, the ICRC provided ad hoc food aid for some 20,000 displaced people in those regions it could reach.
Assistance for genocide survivors
The ICRC continued to concentrate its efforts on assisting the most vulnerable among the survivors of the 1994 genocide. Although poverty was rife throughout Rwanda and needs enormous among all sectors of the population, this group, estimated at about 150,000 people, remained the hardest hit and the least likely to receive assistance from other sources. All had witnessed the massacres, including the murder of relatives and friends. Many were profoundly traumatized by the events and still bore physical and psychological wounds. Following the repatriation of refugees in 1996/1997, large numbers were displaced by returnees reclaiming their land and homes. They moved to sub-standard sites, living in partially constructed houses, collective centres or temporary shelters, without adequate access to basic services.
The ICRCs programmes for this vulnerable group mainly targeted widows, orphans and disabled and elderly people. Assistance was provided via local associations and included food, non-food supplies, training and materials for agriculture, livestock-breeding, income-generation and house repairs. The aim was to set up projects that would provide beneficiaries with a sustainable source of income or would help them on their way to self-sufficiency. In 1998 the programmes included supplying sewing machines, fabrics and furniture to enable orphans to learn a skill on leaving school; canoes, nets, rope and oil lamps to teach 400 schoolchildren and 150 unemployed youths between the ages of 10 and 19 how to fish; and seed, fertilizer, pesticides and agricultural tools to a group of widows who had turned to cultivating the land. The ICRC also contributed to the repair of houses damaged in the conflict by supplying roof tiles, doors and windows, while the occupants carried out the work themselves.
By 1998, most health facilities had been rehabilitated and were functioning once again and the number of qualified Rwandan medical staff had increased with the return of refugees and the arrival of new graduates from medical and nursing schools. It was difficult for the ICRC to assess the health situation in the areas to which it did not have access. Although only half the medical facilities in these areas were reported to be functioning, all the district hospitals treating the wounded remained open. The ICRC provided the hospitals in Gisenyi, Gitarama and Ruhengeri with medical supplies upon request. In cooperation with the German and Swiss Red Cross Societies, it kept up its support for the Kibuye district hospital by providing an expatriate medical team, supplying essential medicines and medical equipment and paying the salaries and overtime of all hospital staff.
The ICRC continued its programmes designed to restore or provide a reliable water supply in both urban and rural communities. A survey was conducted to determine the need for the rehabilitation and improvement of water-supply systems in repatriation/resettlement areas. The systems had been damaged during the events of 1994 or just afterwards, when no management or supervision was in place, and the relevant authorities still lacked sufficient financial and/or human resources to restore the supply to pre-1994 standards. Of the six places visited, three were considered a priority and projects were implemented straight away.
Promoting humanitarian law and principles
Given the countrys recent history, the blatant disregard shown for human life and the prevailing insecurity, promoting compliance with humanitarian rules, spreading awareness of general humanitarian principles and raising the profile of the ICRC and the Red Cross remained an essential task in Rwanda. The field officers who formed part of the network set up for this purpose received continuous training and guidelines were established. Following a report on the ICRCs image in Rwanda, greater emphasis was placed on increasing the capacity of all ICRC and Rwandan Red Cross staff to include dissemination in their day-to-day activities and on promoting humanitarian law within the Rwandan military.
IN 1998, THE ICRC:
- visited 112,807 detainees in 130 places of detention and
- continued to centralize data on over 10,000 unaccompanied
children and, together with other international and non-governmental
organizations, carried out 4,053 family reunifications, bringing the total to
63,749 since the programme began in 1994;
- distributed 1,517.5 tonnes of food and 134 tonnes of material
assistance to displaced and needy people throughout Rwanda;
- in cooperation with the German and Swiss Red Cross Societies,
delivered medical assistance to Kibuye district hospital (over the year 702
patients admitted, 1,422 operations performed and 22,384 outpatient
- by means of a project delegated to the Swiss Red Cross, ran a
limb-fitting workshop in Gatagara for disabled people and amputees, provided the
services of an expatriate technician and a physiotherapist and trained local
staff in the production of prosthetic/orthotic appliances and physiotherapy; in
all, the workshop fitted 207 new patients with prostheses and orthoses and
manufactured 67 prostheses, 240 orthoses and 151 pairs of crutches;
- maintained support to the Rwandan Red Cross in the area of
dissemination and training, and carried out joint activities to mark Red Cross
and Red Crescent Day on 8 May;
- initiated discussions with the RPA in order to develop a plan
of action for permanent instruction in the law of war within the force;
20. See ICRC News N° 17/26 April 1995.
21. Seethe ICRCs 1996 Annual Report.
* RPA: Rwandan Patriotic Army