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close this bookICRC Activities in Rwanda: 1993 - 6 April 2000 (International Committee of the Red Cross , 230 p.)
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View the documentRECENT HISTORY
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View the documentDECLARATION CONJOINTE
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View the documentRWANDA THE ICRC STAYED ON WHEN OTHERS LEFT
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View the document1995 - ICRC NEWS N° 1/4 January 1995
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View the documentICRC - SPECIAL REPORT - 29 March 1995
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View the documentFACT SHEET
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View the documentFrom the Annual Press Conference by ICRC President Dr. Cornelio Sommaruga, Geneva, the 30th of May 1995.
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View the documentICRC NEWS N° 44/1 November 1995
View the documentRwanda: Restoring family ties
View the documentICRC NEWS N° 47/23 November 1995
View the documentICRC News 50 - 13 December 1995
View the documentSTATEMENT OF COLLABORATION
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View the documentICRC News 96/12 - 27 March 1996
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View the documentRwanda, Hemmed in by mines
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View the documentUpdate No. 96/1 on ICRC activities in Rwanda
View the documentICRC News 30 - 31 July 1996
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View the documentUpdate No. 96/1 on ICRC activities in Zaire
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View the documentAnnual report 1996
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View the documentICRC News 97/03 - Rwanda
View the documentICRC News 97/03 - Rwanda: refugees return to Kamembe
View the documentUpdate No. 97/01 on ICRC activities in Rwanda
View the documentICRC News 97/04 - 30 January 1997
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View the documentUpdate No. 97/03 on ICRC activities related to the Zairian conflict
View the documentICRC News 97/11 - 27 March 1997
View the documentUpdate No. 97/03 on ICRC activities in Rwanda
View the documentExtract from “ICRC photo catalogue: 1996 selection, No 3”
View the documentLandmines in Africa
View the documentICRC News 97/17 - 7 May 1997
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View the documentICRC in Rwanda: An overview of activities
View the documentICRC News 98/25 - 26 June 1998
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View the documentHome again - 11 December 1998
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View the documentFact Sheet: ICRC in Rwanda
View the documentICRC News 99/42 - 21 October 1999
View the documentICRC News 00/01 - 20 January 2000
View the documentFact sheet: ICRC in Rwanda
View the documentICRC News 00/12 - 6 April 2000

Rwanda: Restoring family ties

11 September 1995

The recent events in Rwanda constitute one of the worst humanitarian disasters of the latter half of this century. The ferocity of the massacres, the mass exodus of refugees and internally displaced persons, and the sheer numbers of arrests reached such proportions that it can be said that every Rwandan has lost touch with at least one member of his or her immediate family. The situation has been exacerbated by breakdowns in the communications network both within Rwanda and between Rwanda and the outside world, especially the neighbouring countries, and by restrictions on population movements.

One outstanding feature of the Rwandan crisis is the very high number of children who, as a result of the events, find themselves completely alone. Under the law, special attention must be paid to these unaccompanied children since they constitute a particularly vulnerable group of victims.

Red Cross messages, a service for all Rwandans

Between April and July 1994 two million Rwandans left their country. In the general chaos and panic, most family members became separated from one another, including children from their parents.

A disaster of such magnitude required a commensurate response. Consequently, from mid-1994 one of the ICRC’s main objectives was to set up a Red Cross message network to enable Rwandans to restore contact with relatives with whom they had lost touch.

The purpose of Red Cross messages, which are provided for in the Geneva Conventions, is to allow individuals to correspond with their relatives in spite of hostilities, front lines and security or communication problems. A Red Cross message can be described as an open letter containing exclusively personal or family news; its contents may be checked at any time by the authorities or by the parties to a conflict. When official channels of communication such as postal services are disrupted by conflict, the ICRC and the tracing services of National Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies try to help by organizing their own network for the collection and distribution of Red Cross messages.

RED CROSS MESSAGES EXCHANGED
during the first half of 1995

Worldwide

3,400,000

In Africa

1,285,000

Great Lakes region

964,000

The ICRC’s goal has been to make this service available to all sectors of the population (refugees, displaced persons, detainees, children, etc.) and to cover all destinations - not only Rwanda and the neighbouring countries, but other countries as well.

Considerable logistical means were - and still are - indispensable to keep this veritable postal service running smoothly. Today there are as many as 20 Red Cross message collection and distribution points in Rwanda, and 60 in the neighbouring countries, mainly in the various refugee camps. Hundreds of ICRC workers help operate the network, and some 30 tracing services of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies throughout the world take an active part.

The distribution of messages is rarely an easy task. Frequently, it calls for much investigation and numerous contacts from village to village, from one refugee camp to another, from door to door even, before it is possible to deliver the good news or, sadly, receive or communicate bad news, a.i. the news of someone’s death.

The purpose and limits of Red Cross messages had to be explained at length both to the authorities and to those wishing to use the message service. The general atmosphere of distrust and divisions between population groups made it particularly difficult for the ICRC to fulfil this task, which forms part of its humanitarian mandate.

In order to maintain and develop this vital service, the ICRC had to establish an extremely strict procedure to monitor all Red Cross messages. It therefore decided to set a limit to the number of words people could write on each message. Every day several hundred ICRC employees in the Great Lakes region check that each message contains strictly family news. This is done under the close supervision of ICRC expatriate staff.

From mid-1994 until to day, some 1,300,000 Red Cross messages have been exchanged in the Great Lakes region, at an average monthly rate of 220,000 over the past few months.

Unaccompanied children

Already from spring 1994, the issue of unaccompanied children became one of the main problems of the conflict in Rwanda. On 27 June 1994, UNHCR, UNICEF, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the ICRC signed a joint declaration. To help protect these children and to make it easier to trace their parents and bring the families together again, it was stipulated that all information concerning unaccompanied children would be centralized by the ICRC.

Since then, the ICRC and dozens of governmental and non-governmental organizations have striven to

- register all unaccompanied children and keep track of them until an adult relative is able to take charge of them,

- find at least one adult relative and reunite the child with him or her,

- provide all children with the assistance they need, especially if they are unaccompanied.

The ICRC has provided emergency assistance to many makeshift orphanages and institutions providing day-to-day care for these children.

Above all, in an attempt to achieve the first two objectives - namely identify and register all the children, keep track of them, and ultimately reunite them with their families - the ICRC has been carrying out many activities in cooperation with UNHCR, UNICEF and some NGOs, especially the Save the Children Fund - UK (SCF-UK).

The ICRC centralizes all available information concerning unaccompanied children:

- the child’s name and photograph

- address at the time of registration

- regular confirmation that the child is still at that address, details of any transfers and regular follow-up to make sure that the child is not subject to any abuse

- names of relatives to be traced with a view to restoring a family link and subsequently reuniting the child with his/her family

- names of parents looking for their children

- family reunifications.

The above data is processed by means of individual files and a database, using an ICRC application. This application, used in all ICRC operations, enables the institution to process data on individuals covered by its protection and family reunification programmes.

The ICRC has more than 60 databases worldwide, including:

Rwanda

243,000 identities

Gulf - Coalition

120,000 identities

Israel and the occupied territories

101,000 identities

Former Yugoslavia

86,000 identities

Sri Lanka

58,000 identities

Somalia

24,000 identities

Peru

20,000 identities

Ethiopia

17,000 identities

In the Great Lakes region 74,000 children have been registered, 38,000 of them under direct ICRC supervision. About a hundred organizations took part in the operation. The cases are all followed up individually. A census is currently under way.


Unaccompanied children - Registration by country

In Rwanda SCF-UK, mandated by UNICEF, is running a programme for just over 20,000 children. The registration and follow-up of this group are coordinated with the ICRC. A clear distribution of tasks helps streamline the process: the ICRC is in charge of children housed in reception centres (around 60%) and SCF-UK of those staying with foster families (around 40%).

Records are also kept of the names of 109,000 parents who are either looking for their children or are being sought by them.

This database can be consulted at some 15 ICRC offices in Rwanda and neighbouring countries. It is being compiled in Nairobi and is updated once a week in the various offices on a total of 40 personal computers. The database makes it possible to reply promptly to the enquiries of thousands of people who approach the ICRC every day.

Under an agreement between the ICRC and UNICEF, 12,000 children were photographed in Goma and 7,800 in Rwanda by UNICEF, with the ICRC providing logistical support. The ICRC for its part has photographed 6,300 children in Burundi, Tanzania and Zaire.

All the children are able to use the ICRC’s Red Cross message service. The distribution network is organized in such a way that messages concerning unaccompanied children take priority. Thousands of children have already made contact with their relatives by this means.

Since September 1994, the ICRC has been broadcasting the names of parents of unaccompanied children on the BBC and Radio Agatashya with a view to the restoration of family ties and ultimately, family reunification.

In order to speed up the processing of cases concerning unaccompanied children and the search for their relatives, the ICRC makes available:

- extracts from its database to UNHCR and UNICEF (via SCF-UK);

- lists of names of children and parents and related information to all governmental and non-governmental organizations dealing with this problem, to facilitate their work.

For their part, UNICEF and SCF-UK have started to display photos of children inside Rwanda.

To date, 12,000 children have found their relatives. For nearly 8,400 of these cases, the ICRC has documents attesting to the family reunification. The ICRC itself has organized almost 3,000 of these reunifications.

At present, under an agreement with SCF-UK, the ICRC handles cross-border family reunifications, while SCF-UK sees to those carried out within Rwanda.

The achievements made so far would have been impossible without proper coordination between the various child welfare agencies.

The registration of children has almost been completed. All efforts must now be directed to effective follow-up, tracing the children’s relatives, restoring family links and reuniting family members. This makes a fully comprehensive exchange of information between humanitarian agencies all the more important. Proper coordination between the organizations concerned is more indispensable than ever in order to ensure efficiency and avoid a waste of valuable resources.

The dozens of organizations involved makes the situation very complex indeed: it leads to delays or inconsistent recording of data, distorts information, etc. Staff who sometimes lack adequate training or supervision and work on the local scale tend to lose sight of the overall purpose of the activities under way.

It is particularly important:

to standardize working criteria: for example, 22% of identities forwarded to the ICRC by certain agencies concern children accompanied by adult relatives; and 3% concern persons over 18 years of age;

to avoid duplication of work: more than 10,000 children have been registered twice or more;

to remedy shortcomings in the collection, forwarding and processing of information: the number of family reunifications reported by some and the situation observed in the field show that many movements of children are not notified to the ICRC. This makes it impossible to keep the information in the central database up to date, to keep track of the children while they are still unaccompanied, and to ensure that family reunifications are carried out in accordance with the principles and rules of international law.

All the humanitarian agencies working in the Great Lakes area must be aware not only of the successes scored, but also of the factors that hamper achievement of the programme’s objectives. Major efforts at coordination are currently being made to remedy the situation, with the active participation of the ICRC. The aim is to harmonize the methods used and to work more efficiently in the interests of Rwandan children.

Detainees

The people arrested following the events in Rwanda also constitute a group of particularly vulnerable victims who are a cause for concern to the ICRC. More than 50,000 people accused of taking part in the massacres of spring 1994 are currently being held; they include 1,688 children under the age of 18, including 524 under 15.

DETAINEES VISITED BY THE ICRC
during the first half of 1995

Worldwide

112,600

In Africa

77,700

In Rwanda

49,400

In order to contribute to the physical and mental protection to which these people are entitled, ICRC delegates visit them regularly in their places of detention. The ICRC makes representations to the detaining authorities and carries out large-scale assistance programmes in an effort to guarantee respect for the detainees’ integrity.

All detainees are registered by the ICRC and followed up at every stage of their detention. This information is also processed in the database described above. The large number of detainees and their frequent mouvement (transfers, arrests, and releases) make it necessary to carry out regular computer-aided censuses.

The data gathered on detainees is available in all ICRC offices in Rwanda and makes it possible to inform their families of their whereabouts. No notification is given by the authorities, so the information collected by the ICRC, together with Red Cross messages, is crucial to enable detainees’ families to keep in touch with them, and also helps unaccompanied children to find relatives.

Moreover, it serves as a basis for the many approaches made to the authorities on the detainees’ behalf. The ICRC sometimes makes these approaches in conjunction with other humanitarian agencies. For example, it was on the basis of a list drawn up by the ICRC that UNICEF succeeded in having 152 children under 14 years of age transferred from prison to the Gitagata rehabilitation centre on 17 June this year.

Resources deployed by the ICRC

Considerable resources are obviously needed to carry out all these activities for the restoration of family ties and the protection of detainees.

RESTORATION OF FAMILY TIES

Resources deployed by the ICRC in the Great Lakes region

40

expatriates

1,000

local staff

100

personal computers

50

vehicles

100

motorcycles

One of the key elements that enables the ICRC to conduct its activities is the database used to process details on individuals.

THE ICRC’S RWANDA DATABASE
243,000 identities

74,000 unaccompanied children
26,000 parents seeking their children
83,000 parents sought by their children
60,000 names of detainees

(3,000 items relating to deaths)

Size: 240 megabytes

The database is centralized in Nairobi and the information fed into a network of 60 PCs by 90 local staff forming two teams that work from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. six days a week.

The database is updated once a week on 40 PCs in some 15 ICRC offices in the Great Lakes region.