|ICRC Activities in Rwanda: 1993 - 6 April 2000 (International Committee of the Red Cross , 230 p.)|
One year on from the 1994 genocide, the humanitarian problems in Rwanda were still manifold. The people remained deeply marked by the genocide, and reconstruction of the ravaged nation had only just begun. Despite the international communitys initial pledges to help the Rwandan authorities with reconstruction and development, the financial assistance required was not forthcoming and by years end the countrys judicial system was by no means ready to assume the responsibility of bringing the culprits of the massacres to justice and to ensure the establishment of the rule of law. In August a change of government brought a change of attitude, as a harder line was adopted in terms of internal security and towards the international community. In the meantime, UNAMIR*, whose mandate had been renewed in June for a six-month period, saw its mission adjusted in December to a final mandate lasting until March 1996, as requested by the Rwandan government.
* UNAMIR: United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda
Though these internal issues were indeed crucial, the scope of humanitarian problems plaguing Rwanda was considerably broader. With over 1.8 million refugees still encamped in Zaire, Tanzania and Burundi, stability in the region undoubtedly rested on the return of these people to their home areas. Nonetheless, conditions in Rwanda were not propitious to such a return en masse and, in any case, the vast majority of refugees were seriously deterred from going back by the Interahamwe leaders and officials from the previous government.
The few thousand refugees who did make their way back home were confronted with two major problems. First, many of them faced accusations, often arbitrary, of involvement in the 1994 genocide and, as the legal system was not yet equipped to deal with the thousands of cases pending, the accused were placed in detention (see section below). Second, many returned to find others occupying their land, often claiming that it had originally belonged to them before they were forced to flee in the 1959 massacres or later.
As the year progressed, initial calls from Tanzania and Zaire in particular for the refugees to return quickly were silenced by the logical conclusion that until the countrys legal system was functioning and these matters could be settled, there would be no guarantee of security in the communes and a sudden and massive return could be disastrous for the whole Great Lakes region.
Inside Rwanda, as more and more people were arrested in connection with the 1994 genocide, the problem of overcrowding in the prisons and other places of detention reached alarming proportions. This was one of the main humanitarian challenges facing the ICRC in 1995, along with the need for effective water supply and medical care systems around the country, a system to enable families to keep in contact and the imperative need for unaccompanied children to be registered, monitored as they moved from place to place and ultimately reunited with their families. In addition, the ICRC ensured that vulnerable families were able to start anew, by providing them with seed and tools.
Throughout the year the ICRC maintained close and regular contact with the Rwandan government and with the authorities of the other countries of the region. In order to examine possible solutions to the Rwandan crisis a number of international meetings were organized, bringing together the governments concerned, the donor community and humanitarian organizations. For example, in February the OAU* and UNHCR held a regional conference in Bujumbura on assistance for refugees and the displaced in the Great Lakes region. At the conference the ICRCs Director of Operations underlined the imperative need for the countrys judicial system to be restored and disputes over land and property rights to be settled before the refugees were repatriated.
* OAU: Organization of African Unity
On 31 March the ICRC President invited the permanent representatives of the group Amis du Rwanda, including 12 Western governments, the OAU and Tunisia, to the ICRCs headquarters in Geneva, where he voiced the institutions grave concern with regard to conditions in Rwanda. A solemn appeal was subsequently sent to all diplomatic representatives in Geneva, New York and Addis Ababa, calling for the Rwandan government to ensure humane conditions of detention for those deprived of their freedom and for the international communitys support not only in restoring an effective judicial system in Rwanda and the swift administration of justice, but also in providing practical assistance for the rapid construction of temporary places of detention to reduce the overcrowding in the prisons.
Soon afterwards, in April, an emergency arose when the camps for approximately 200,000 displaced people in the Gikongoro area were emptied by the authorities. Thousands were killed or wounded, notably in Kibeho, and hundreds on the roads required urgent medical care. An ICRC surgical unit was set up and running within 48 hours, with the help of staff from the French and German National Red Cross Societies already in the country, and ICRC relief teams worked around the clock to supply displaced people with emergency food and water along the way. Further, in cooperation with other organizations, a relief plan was quickly drawn up to provide people returning to their home communes with food rations and other necessities such as blankets, jerricans, plastic sheeting and hoes.
From 25 to 28 October the ICRC President was on mission in Rwanda, where he met the Prime Minister and four other Ministers. He reiterated that ICRC was anxious to see the creation of conditions propitious to a return of the refugees still encamped in Zaire, Tanzania and Burundi, though the discussions centred on the restoration of a working judicial system and the reduction in overcrowding in the countrys prisons.
As the year progressed the ICRC appealed once again to the international community and the Rwandan government to set up new places of detention. It was only towards the end of the year that detainees were finally transferred in any significant number, but even then, overcrowding remained a very serious problem.
During the year the entire western border was the scene of frequent armed incursions from Zaire, causing regular security problems. One of the most serious incidents occurred in late September, when an ICRC vehicle hit a landmine in the Gikongoro area, seriously injuring one expatriate nurse.
In 1995 the ICRC:
* registered and regularly visited 70,891 detainees in 250 places of detention;
* improved access to medical care and water and regularly provided food and other supplies for 42,000 inmates in the countrys 14 prisons, thereby greatly reducing the high mortality rate among detainees;
* centralized data concerning 87,158 unaccompanied children and reunited 2,700 of them with their families;
* collected 1,525,782 Red Cross messages and distributed 1,305,197 in the Great Lakes region;
* provided food and other aid to displaced people within Rwanda: returnees and residents of areas where large numbers of returnees had arrived (560,000 beneficiaries in January, 360,000 per month in the second half of the year);
* supplied residents and returnees with seed, tools and back-up food rations (75,000 families in January/February and 65,000 families in September);
* delegated projects to participating National Red Cross Societies (Australia, France, Germany, Sweden and the United States) to rehabilitate 14 health centres in the Gitarama, Kigali and Byumba areas and renovate the water supply systems in the prefectures of Kibuye, Gisenyi and Ruhengeri.
Activities for detainees
At the end of December there were 63,547 people detained by the Rwandan authorities on the accusation of having participated in the 1994 genocide. They were being held in the countrys 14 prisons (45,517) and in over 230 transitional places of detention (18,030). Severe overcrowding, with sometimes up to five people per square metre, gave rise to major health problems (dysentery, oedemas, respiratory problems, etc.), though the outbreak of epidemics was miraculously avoided.
To try and improve conditions of detention in Rwanda, the ICRC launched a large-scale programme for detainees in the countrys prisons, providing them with water, food, sanitary facilities and medical care. Most medical supplies in the prison dispensaries came from the ICRC and, from April on, transitional places of detention also received some medical assistance, wherever there were no local health facilities. The ICRC expanded the water storage capacity in the prisons to increase the inmates water rations. Rehabilitation of entire water supply systems was also carried out where required. Toilets were built in all the prisons, sewage systems were restored and septic tanks were installed in several places. In some prisons, notably Gitarama and Kibungo, the overcrowding was so severe that only the bare minimum could be done to improve access to sanitary facilities (350 people for every toilet). For most of the year the ICRC met all food needs in the jails, i.e., 80 percent of the total requirements of all places of detention in Rwanda, but by November the authorities had begun to assume their responsibilities, and were providing some of the food and firewood.
The exceptionally inhumane conditions in Rwandan prisons were directly linked to the severe overcrowding. This prompted the ICRC to participate in the construction of seven new temporary detention sites. Starting with a facility at Nsinda with a capacity of 5,000, the ICRCs involvement was restricted to providing tents and cooking equipment and setting up water supply and sanitary facilities. The ICRC at all times impressed upon the authorities that the purpose of such aid was exclusively to save lives and that ultimately it was their responsibility to guarantee acceptable conditions of detention for the inmates. By the end of the year some 6,000 detainees had been transferred to the temporary detention site at Nsinda and to the extension of Nyanza prison. Second courtyards at Gitarama and Rilima prisons were completed and detainees were also transferred there.
Another six temporary detention sites were under construction at the end of 1995. Nevertheless, there were still more than 45,500 detainees crammed in the 14 prisons (including Nsinda), some 30,000 more than the maximum capacity, and the new facilities would only be able to take in about half of the excess. Furthermore, between 600 and 800 new detainees were still being registered every week.
The ICRCs programme to protect and assist detainees had had an obvious impact by the end of the year. The mortality rate in the prisons had been brought down to a level comparable to that of the rest of the population, and all detainees in the 14 prisons assisted had regular access to water and food.
In 1995 the ICRCs tracing operation in Rwanda and the surrounding area was the institutions largest after the former Yugoslavia. This operation was quite exceptional, as Rwanda is a nation with a low literacy rate and a culture which relies on oral rather than written communication. The tracing statistics (see box p. 58) are all the more remarkable when one considers the atmosphere of distrust which pervaded the country and led to recurring disruptions in the Red Cross message service. This service was the only way for people in Rwanda to communicate with their relatives across the borders.
The ICRC also coordinated a major programme to register unaccompanied minors, setting up a computerized database in Nairobi and implementing large-scale tracing programmes, with the ultimate aim of reuniting children with their families. The operation was run in conjunction with UNICEF, UNHCR, Save the Children-UK and other non-governmental organizations involved in childrens centres. By the end of 1995 over 87,000 children had been registered and 2,700 had been reunited with their families by the ICRC. A further 10,000 had rejoined their relatives by their own means or with the help of other organizations.
Assistance for the civilian population
The ICRCs vast relief operation, which had assisted over one million people in 1994 and was still aiding some 560,000 civilians in January 1995, was gradually reduced over the year as those displaced within Rwanda returned to their home areas, whether voluntarily or otherwise, and the nutritional situation in the country improved. In the second half of 1995 some 360,000 people received regular food distributions to counter shortages in the Bugesera, Butare and Gikongoro areas, which saw a large influx of returnees. Distributions in the Bugesera area ended in September, while in the other two they continued until December, in preparation for the harvest in January 1996. Blankets, cooking pots, jerricans, plastic sheeting and soap were provided to around 350,000 people in areas where returnees were arriving in large numbers. As regards agricultural rehabilitation, the ICRCs 1995 objective was surpassed, with seed and tools handed out to 75,000 families in January/February and to 65,000 families in September. Back-up food rations were distributed to all those who received seed, to prevent them from eating the seeds instead of planting them.
At the end of 1995, given the favourable results of an agricultural survey carried out in November, the ICRC was able to terminate its food distributions for displaced civilians and returnees and devote its resources to covering the food needs of detainees. Nevertheless, although over 140 humanitarian organizations were working in Rwanda, the ICRC kept a close watch over the food situation and stood ready to intervene in an emergency.
During the year the ICRC rehabilitated 14health centres through projects delegated to the French and German Red Cross Societies. Three expatriates from the French Red Cross worked in eight health centres in the Gitarama region, while three German Red Cross expatriates worked in the regions of Kigali (four health centres) and Byumba (two centres). The buildings themselves had to be renovated, medical equipment replaced and local personnel trained. Health activities resumed in the centres, bringing access to medical care to some 450,000 people. The ICRC also participated in a polio vaccination campaign, immunizing over 33,000 children, and supported Rwandas only psychiatric hospital at Ndera, providing food and drugs and paying incentives to the staff.
On 24 April, following the forced evacuation of Kibeho camp, the authorities of Butare University Hospital gave the ICRC permission to open an emergency surgical wing at the hospital there, to treat the wounded arriving from Kibeho. Within 48 hours two ICRC surgical teams were at work. In one month they performed 376 operations on 200 patients. In early June the unit was closed and the equipment stored for future emergency use. Water and sanitation Besides improving water distribution and sanitation in the prisons (see above), the ICRC restored the water supply to the countrys principal towns. This involved renovating the main water stations, providing over 800 tonnes of chemicals for water treatment, supplying spare parts, generators and fuel, and repairing the electricity lines between Ruhengeri and Gisenyi. While the camps for displaced people near Gikongoro were still occupied, the ICRC covered the water needs there too.
The ICRC also rehabilitated rural water supply systems in the prefectures of Kibuye, Gisenyi and Ruhengeri, benefiting over 360,000 people. Part of the work was done under individual projects delegated to the American, Australian and Swedish Red Cross Societies, respectively.
Courses on the law of war were held for military instructors in Kigali and in other parts of the country. One such session was attended by officers from the former Rwandan army who had been integrated into the new armed forces.
Meetings were held throughout the year with local authorities in the prefectures and communes to explain specific activities of the ICRC, such as visits to detainees, the tracing of unaccompanied minors and the handling of Red Cross messages. These last two activities were still a source of frequent misunderstanding, owing to the tack of trust among Rwandans within and outside the country.
The ICRC also held sessions on humanitarian law for 150 judicial police officers and organized a seminar for 40 prison directors.