|ICRC Activities in Rwanda: 1993 - 6 April 2000 (International Committee of the Red Cross , 230 p.)|
In April 1994 Rwanda lapsed into chaos and savagery that resulted over the following three months in the death of almost one million people. A further two million had to flee their homes and sought refuge in other parts of Rwanda or in neighbouring countries. Rwandas infrastructure and the very fabric of society were severely damaged, if not completely destroyed.
Throughout the period of genocide, the ICRC, and especially its field staff, were severely tested. The organization had to respond to countless emergency needs while reaffirming its humanitarian message in a seemingly crazed environment where the most fundamental human values had been repudiated. The ICRC estimates that in the maelstrom of violence its delegates tenacious intervention helped save tens of thousands of lives.
Today the situation in Rwanda and in the Great Lakes region remains extremely disquieting from a humanitarian point of view. The closing in April 1995 of the camps for displaced persons in the Gikongoro area resulted in renewed displacement, this time of over 200,000 people. It seems unlikely that those who sought refuge in neighbouring countries will be able to return in the foreseeable future: demographic pressure on sparse agricultural resources, the revival of long-standing ethnic resentments, a feeling of injustice and a desire for revenge all continue to pose major obstacles to the restoration of stability and security. Moreover, the border area between Rwanda and Zaire is the scene of sporadic fighting.
Through the regular presence of large numbers of delegates throughout the country and direct contacts with the authorities, the ICRC has consistently endeavoured to ensure respect for the humanitarian principles and fundamental rights of the population. Whenever its delegates note violations of these rights or abuses of power, the ICRC makes representations to the authorities, asking them to put an end to such excesses.
INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS
VISITS TO DETAINEES
Between mid-July 1994 and mid-May 1995, the number of detainees whose situation was monitored by the ICRC rose from about one hundred to more than 43,000 inmates held in Rwandas 13 prisons and over 170 temporary places of detention throughout the country. This dramatic increase has so overwhelmed the prison system that in some prisons there are now six detainees for every square metre of space. Such extreme overcrowding results in many deaths each day.
The prison administrations lack of material and financial resources and the virtual disappearance of the judicial system has led the ICRC to take exceptional steps to ensure the detainees survival by providing food, medicine and adequate hygiene conditions. Dispensaries have been set up in some prisons and drinking-water supply systems installed or improved.
These measures have made it possible for the moment to stabilize the mortality rate among detainees. But the overcrowding has created a highly volatile situation, and the slightest incident could spark off a riot in which hundreds of people would probably be killed.
The only short-term answer to the problem of overcrowding is to build new places of detention. To activate the initial stage of the process the ICRC has decided to take part in the setting up of a new detention camp (capacity: 5,000) being built by the Rwandan authorities and UN agencies near Nzinda. The ICRC will supply tents to serve as quarters for the detainees and will also provide the camps medical and sanitary facilities. The ICRC has agreed to undertake this exceptional task because everything possible must be done to save human lives. It expects the Rwandan government, supported by UNDP, UNAMIR and other organizations, to act without delay to construct other temporary detention facilities.
The Rwanda authorities must also show their determination rapidly to set up an adequate judicial system so that detainees held on insufficient charges can be released. Moreover, arrests must be made in accordance with the provisions and requirements of the law.
Following the Kibeho massacre in late April 1995, dozens of injured people were brought to Butare, where the ICRC had set up two operating theatres in a wing of the local university hospital. Some 200 patients were admitted there for treatment. The ICRC was able to close the facility at the end of May.
ICRC medical teams also make daily visits to the places of detention.
Working in conjunction with the ICRC, the French and German Red Cross societies are in the process of putting back into operation 15 health-care centres that were been damaged during the events of last year. Over 450,000 people rely on the centres for medical services.
FOOD AND OTHER EMERGENCY AID
Even before last years war had ended, the ICRC began concentrating on helping people living in or displaced within Rwanda and those returning from other countries. By the end of 1994, food and other relief supplies had been distributed to 433,000 people in Byumba prefecture, 750,000 in Gitarama prefecture, 100,000 in Ruhengeri prefecture, 260,000 in Kibuye prefecture, 200,000 to the south of Gikongoro and 100,000 in Kigali itself. The relief operation reached its peak in November, when 1.3 million people received ICRC assistance. In all, 85,300 tonnes of food and 1,200 tonnes of tents, blankets, plastic sheeting, water containers and other essential items were distributed.
By the time the camps for displaced people in southern Rwanda were closed in April 1995, the ICRC had provided food aid to over 200,000 people in the Gikongoro area. Some of the camp dwellers, now back in their home communities, are continuing to receive ICRC aid.
The ICRC has made a particular effort to revive agricultural production in Rwanda and increase the countrys self-sufficiency in terms of food. To make the most of the rainy season it distributed seed (3,400 tonnes to one million people) and agricultural implements last September.
RESTORING WATER-SUPPLY SYSTEMS
During the war and the period that followed, the ICRC helped to put the main waterworks in all of Rwandas major towns back into operation by providing the necessary chemicals, spare parts, electric generators and fuel.
A shipment of 500 tonnes of aluminium sulphate and chlorine recently arrived in Rwanda, enough to ensure that sufficient drinking water can be distributed in urban areas over the next six months.
Together with the Red Cross Societies of Australia, Sweden and the United States, the ICRC is also working on projects to restore water supplies to a number of rural areas in the prefectures of Kibuye, Ruhengeri and Gisenyi.
RESTORING FAMILY TIES
There are hardly any Rwandans who have not lost track of one or more members of their family. As long as population movements continue and communications within Rwanda and with neighbouring countries remain disrupted, the ICRC must offer its services to restore contact between members of families separated by the events and forward personal messages between them.
In cooperation with the various National Societies concerned, a Red Cross message network has been set up for this purpose both in Rwanda itself and between Rwanda and other countries. Over half a million such messages have so far been collected and delivered
A great deal has been done to help unaccompanied children, who are among the most vulnerable victims of the Rwandan calamity. Working in conjunction with UNICEF, UNHCR, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Save the Children Fund and other non-governmental organizations, the ICRC has undertaken to centralize all available information about these children in a data bank which can be used to assist families looking for them. To date, 63,000 children have been registered and 15,000 families have asked for missing children to be traced. Some 2,000 children have meanwhile been reunited through the ICRC with their families.
SPREADING KNOWLEDGE OF HUMANITARIAN PRINCIPLES
Briefings on international humanitarian law and the work of the ICRC have regularly been organized for the Rwandan civilian and military authorities and for UNAMIR contingents. In the course of their relief and protection activities in the field, ICRC delegates try to promote respect among the general population for the basic humanitarian principles. They also use radio spots and distribute publications in the local language, Kinyarwanda to put over the humanitarian message.
The ICRC currently has 160 delegates and some 800 local employees based in Kigali, Butare, Gikongoro, Kibuye, Gisenyi, Ruhengeri, KIdaho, Byumba and Kibungo. The ICRCs budget for Rwanda is about 55 million US dollars.