|ICRC Activities in Rwanda: 1993 - 6 April 2000 (International Committee of the Red Cross , 230 p.)|
The adverse effects of mines may be calculated in terms not only of the dramatic increase in the number of casualties; they also take the form of restrictions on the work of humanitarian organizations, which are prevented from reaching people in need by the known or suspected presence of mines on the roads.
Thus, ICRC teams in Rwanda have in recent months had to suspend operational travel plans because of increasingly frequent mine incidents. Since the beginning of the year, landmines - mostly anti-tank devices - have claimed some 130 victims, mainly in the west of the country. This figure naturally reflects only incidents known to the outside world - it does not include victims in more isolated regions.
The ICRC sub-delegation in Cyangugu, south of Lake Kivu and only a few minutes from the border with Zaire, recently had to restrict the movements of its staff for ten days following the death of at least 14 people in mine incidents. The ICRC is obliged to assess the risks run by its staff and to weigh them against the urgency of the needs that they are there to meet. For the prefecture of Cyangugu alone, suspending staff movements means interrupting visits to several thousands detainees, suspending the tracing of family members separated by the events of 1994 and the exchange of family messages. In other words, the ICRC is no longer able to take action should detainees be ill-treated, no longer able to install water-supply systems in the countryside and no longer able to bring children who have been separated from their parents back to their homes - in short, the ICRC is cut off from the victims it is trying to help. It is also compelled from time to time to impose such restrictions on other prefectures.
What results can humanitarian organizations - the ICRC, UN agencies and NGOs, which often adopt the same safety measures - hope to obtain when their freedom of movement is so severely reduced? What action can be taken to help the victims? How can an areas situation and needs even be assessed?
Landmines kill and wound. They can also isolate, depriving people of the assistance and protection vital to their survival. Even more perversely, they can also be used to manipulate the work of humanitarian organizations by placing certain areas off-limits.
The case of Cyangugu is not unique in Rwanda. The population of four prefectures bordering on Zaire is particularly severely affected by the presence of newly-laid mines. Mine explosions have cost about 60 lives this year and after each successive incident the ICRC must decide whether or not to use certain roads. The danger is all the greater since the roads are often were tracks on which a mine can be laid and all traces brushed over in a few minutes. Indeed, though some mines have been there since 1994, most of them have been laid very recently, making travel in the field a hazardous business.
No track, therefore, is ever absolutely safe, even if vehicles have passed along it several hours before. In such circumstances, all mine clearance is unreliable.
Four of the victims in recent months were working for humanitarian organizations. This figure may not be spectacularly high, but it will probably change, like that of the Rwandan victims, according to the shifting interests engendered by political developments in the Great Lakes region. In any case, many more people may well become the prisoners of landmines, with all the consequences for their future that that entails.
Protecting humanitarian work is one of the items on the agenda of the Review Conference of the Convention on certain conventional weapons being held in Geneva from 22 April to 3 May. Though the adoption of new measures and their subsequent implementation will help reduce the number of humanitarian staff who fall victim to mines, they are no panacea. Rwanda is a case in point.
International Committee of the Red Cross
SLE/April 30 1996