|ICRC Activities in Zaire/Democratic Republic of Congo: 1994 - 3 February 1999 (International Committee of the Red Cross , 124 p.)|
Annual report 1997
During the early months of 1997, the offensive launched at the end of September 1996 by the ADFL* in the Uvira region  moved rapidly towards the interior of the country. With virtually no fighting, except along the Kisangani-Walikale axis and in Kenge, the ADFL took the countrys major towns one by one, aided by foreign forces, thereby opening up the way to Kinshasa. The capital fell on 17 May, a few days after the departure of President Mobutu, who was to die in exile in Morocco in September. The ADFL subsequently ex-tended its control over the whole country, now renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the exception of a few pockets of resistance where groups of fighters - soldiers from the former Zairian and Rwandan armed forces, Interahamwe militiamen and traditional fighters -continued their guerrilla activities against the ADFL. At the end of the year security conditions remained precarious in several parts of the country, especially in the east, owing to the presence of these groups, dissension between various ADFL contingents and tensions or sporadic fighting between rival communities, mainly in the Fizi, Baraka and Masisi areas.
In addition, the conflict that broke out in June in the neighbouring Republic of the Congo had repercussions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, especially in the capital, where gunfire from the opposite bank of the Congo river claimed victims among the civilian population. The fighting in Brazzaville drove several thousand Congolese to seek refuge in Kinshasa. 
ADFL in Kinshasa
At the political level, self-proclaimed President Laurent Drabila and his government were scarcely installed in Kinshasa when they had to face the resurgence of certain sectors of the opposition to former President Mobutu, whose members were frustrated at not having been invited to share power. Opposition demonstrations were held, in particular in the capital, and were suppressed by ADFL contingents. Arrests also took place in opposition circles and among the members of the former regime.
The conflict, together with the insecurity that prevailed right through the year in some regions, had serious humanitarian consequences in a country already weakened by years of crumbling public services and an ongoing socio-economic crisis.
Many civilians suffered from the scorched-earth policy adopted by the different groups of fighters retreating before the advance of the ADFL. Along the westward routes taken by these fighters, notably in Equateur and Eastern Province, civilians saw their property looted without restraint while infrastructure such as hospitals, health posts and water-supply facilities were also plundered, or even destroyed. Owing to the general insecurity, tens of thousands of civilians fled their homes and travelled to places in the country that were considered safer, while tens of thousands of others crossed Lake Tanganyika to seek refuge in Tanzania, in the Kigoma region. Subsequently, as a result of new developments and the gradual lessening of tension, the displaced people began to go back home. In September UNHCR started to repatriate the refugees settled in Tanzania, while others returned on their own.
Before the advancing ADFL fighters, some of the Rwandan and Burundian refugees living in the camps set up between Uvira and Bukavu returned to their countries of origin ; others (mainly Rwandans) headed for the countrys western borders. Although a number of them managed to reach Angola, the Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and countries further away on the Atlantic coast, several tens of thousands of these refugees moving towards the west remained in quite inaccessible areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Driven by illness, hunger and a hostile environment, they abandoned their hiding places and gathered in groups, in particular to the south of Kisangani and in Mbandaka. At the same time, whether because of the lack of minimum security conditions, the intransigence of the parties involved or the almost insuperable logistic difficulties and the fluctuating military situation, the humanitarian organizations working in this situation, including the ICRC, found their access to victims very seriously impeded. After much pressure had been brought to bear on the new authorities by the international community, the refugees south of Kisangani and in Mbandaka were finally repatriated to Rwanda by UNHCR in June and July. Other, smaller groups of refugees continued to emerge from the bush right up to the end of December, mainly in the Kivu area, and they were also repatriated to Rwanda. The circumstances in which these events took place - and which still need to be elucidated precisely  - were desperate and the approaches made by humanitarian organizations (principally UNHCR, but also the ICRC and some non-governmental organizations) to protect the refugees remained largely unsuccessful.
During the year the ICRC maintained a flexible policy to its staff deployment, in accordance with the developments in the military situation. In the early months the activities carried out by the organization in the increasingly vast areas controlled by the ADFL were run from a mission in Bukavu, in coordination with the Kinshasa delegation, which pursued its own activities in government-held territory. In June, after the ADFL had taken power in Kinshasa, the Bukavu mission was dismantled and the Kinshasa delegation resumed direct responsibility for all ICRC activities in the country. At the end of the year, besides the Kinshasa delegation, the ICRCs set-up consisted of sub-delegations in Bukavu, Goma, Kisangani and Uvira, and offices or sub-offices in Buta, Kindu, Lubumbashi and Mbandaka. Several times in 1997, ICRC teams deployed in the field to respond to specifically identified humanitarian needs had to suspend their activities or even withdraw completely, owing to the lack of any security whatsoever. For the same reason, entire regions remained inaccessible to the ICRC for varying amounts of time, especially in the Masisi area.
At the start of 1997, the ICRC was able to continue its activities for detainees in areas that were still controlled by the Mobutu government. Besides regular visits to the places of detention run by the military and civilian authorities, the ICRC carried out sanitation work in prisons and continued a programme begun in 1994 to meet the basic needs of detainees in several of the places visited . When the ADFL seized power in Kinshasa in May, a stop was put to these activities. According to the information available to the ICRC, the detainees already visited by the organization either had been released or had escaped when the regime changed. The ICRC subsequently made repeated approaches to the new authorities in order to gain access to any new detainees. By the end of the year, despite a dialogue with the authorities on the issue, the ICRC was still unable to visit persons held by the ADFL.
During the first months of the year, many families were scattered on both sides of the front line. Therefore, in cooperation with the Red Cross of Zaire, the ICRC set up a network for exchanging Red Cross messages. At the end of 1997, as most of the displaced people had returned home and the situation had stabilized, the volume of messages handled had greatly decreased. Throughout the year the ICRC also continued to convey Red Cross messages between Congolese refugees settled in the Kigoma region of Tanzania and their families in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and between Angolan refugees and their families at home.
Restoring family links
Special attention was paid to the problem of unaccompanied children. The dismantling of the Rwandan refugee camps in the Kivu area in October 1996 made it impossible to monitor the minors registered there in the previous years, a large number of them having gone back home during mass returns or during repatriations organized by UNHCR . However, unaccompanied Rwandan children continued to turn up throughout the year in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; these were repatriated by UNHCR, SCF* or the ICRC. At the end of the year, to the best of the ICRCs knowledge, there remained 2,000 unaccompanied Rwandan children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in addition to unaccompanied Burundian children. Together with the National Society, the ICRC also registered unaccompanied Congolese children who had become separated from their families during the events, with the ultimate aim of reuniting them with their parents.
Resettlement of displaced persons
Besides providing emergency aid for displaced persons and refugees in the acute phase of the conflict, the ICRCs priority was to help Congolese civilians who had left their homes because of the conflict to return and settle back in. In mid-April a vast operation was set up to transport these people - with all kinds of vehicle, from planes and boats to trains and trucks - back to their places of origin. This operation started in Kisangani, from where several thousand of them were brought back to various destinations in the Kivu area. It continued with similar transfers throughout the national territory and finished at the end of the year. In addition, to help the returnees (including refugees coming back from Tanzania) settle in their homes again, the ICRC distributed food, seed, farming tools, blankets, tarpaulins, jerrycans, kitchen utensils and soap, depending on their needs. Various institutions dealing with vulnerable groups, such as hospitals, orphanages and missions, also received food aid. In addition, food was distributed to workers who were repairing damaged roads in the Kivu area.
In the emergency phase, and in coordination with the other aid organizations active in the area, the ICRC endeavoured to bring food and medical supplies to the refugee groups to which it had access, whether they were heading back to Rwanda along the routes leading from the Kivu area towards the west and south, or whether they were in the Republic of the Congo (Lukolela-Liranga) and, to a lesser extent, the Central African Republic (Bangui). In April the ICRC, which was being held at a distance from the tragic events that were unfolding, publicly requested that the ADFL guarantee humanitarian organizations free access to the victims.
Restoring medical facilities
Health activities developed along several different lines. First of all, besides the emergency assistance it provided to the displaced people and refugees, the ICRC supported medical facilities treating the war-wounded evacuated from the conflict areas, in particular in Kinshasa, Goma, Bukavu and Uvira. Later, it concentrated more on post-conflict rehabilitation in the areas which had been worst hit by the hostilities and where the civilian population had not had access to medical treatment. Here, the priority was to enable the health-care system - dealt a final blow by the war - to become operational once more, until other organizations (development agencies, for example) could resume or begin their programmes. Depending on the needs encountered, the ICRC restored or even rebuilt looted or destroyed medical facilities and provided them with regular or ad hoc medical supplies and the support necessary to run them. In addition, work was begun on several referral hospitals and aid was delivered to them, mainly to enable them to provide adequate surgical services. An expatriate medical and surgical team was sent to the Uvira hospital to compensate for the lack of qualified local staff.
Support for water-supply systems
Meanwhile, the ICRCs water and sanitation programme focused on preventing epidemics which could be caused by the drinking water shortages that threatened the large urban areas owing to the destruction of water-supply infrastructure during the conflict. Technical and material assistance was given to the relevant government department, whose provincial branches had often been cut off from any support from the capital. The ICRCs efforts ranged from merely providing various kinds of supplies to carrying out work on a large scale, such as rehabilitating entire water-supply systems. This programme began in the Kivu area and was later extended to other provinces as the ADFL advanced. In addition, ad hoc sanitation work was done for various medical facilities.
The conflict, followed by the change in regime, meant that the ICRC could only partly achieve the aims it had set itself for promoting humanitarian law, whether among the armed forces, the general public or in academic circles. As the conflict was marked by sharply drawn ethnic divisions and the proliferation and fragmentation of armed groups, a humanitarian message based on respect for people not or no longer taking part in the fighting generally had little if any chance of being heard. However, the firm commitment of the National Society volunteers working alongside the victims, often in extremely difficult security conditions, undoubtedly set an example for the population. A dialogue on this issue was later begun with the recently installed authorities, in particular the military, and in the second half of the year the ICRC was able to hold sessions on humanitarian law for officers in the new national army and police force, which were then being set up.
Spotlight on the National Society
Throughout the year, the ICRC continued its cooperation with the Red Cross of Zaire, renamed the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When the crisis was at its most acute, material aid (food, stretchers and first-aid kits) was brought to the National Societys volunteers, who were often the first to care for the victims. Priority was also given to training and equipping first-aid workers, to training volunteers in charge of promoting knowledge of Red Cross work and to supporting various programmes run by the National Society, for example those to improve hygiene in public places in Kinshasa, set up neighbourhood composting systems and train teams of patrollers responsible for ensuring the safety of schoolchildren at the capitals main crossroads. Out of a concern to contribute to the financial independence of the National Societys branches, the ICRC supported the implementation of various income-generating projects whose profits were to be used to cover some running costs. Lastly, it contributed towards the National Societys overall running costs and helped pay the salaries of some of its senior staff.
In the context of the emergency work done for refugees scattered throughout the country, special mention must be made of the determination and courage of the National Society volunteers who, with the limited resources available to them, took action at a time when it was impossible for the international humanitarian organizations to intervene. Several of these volunteers paid for their commitment with their lives, notably in Kenge, where 10 of them were killed in the cross-fire.
IN 1997 THE ICRC:
- up to May, and in cooperation with non-governmental organizations and local religious organizations, continued an assistance programme to provide water, food and other basic necessities for some 2,600 people held in 14 places of detention;
- made approaches to the ADFL with a view to obtaining access to the detainees under its responsibility;
- took part in the repatriation, by UNHCR and SCF, of over 18,500 unaccompanied Rwandan children;
- together with the National Society, registered 1,123 unaccompanied Congolese children separated from their families by the events, and organized 874 family reunifications;
- distributed vegetable seed and tools to over 30,000 displaced Congolese families who were resettling in the Kivu area;
- handed out blankets, tarpaulins, jerrycans, kitchen utensils and soap to over 41,000 Congolese families (displaced people or refugees returning from Tanzania) to help them settle back home and provided supplementary food rations for over 75,000 people affected by the events, mainly in the Kivu area;
- distributed emergency aid (mainly high-protein biscuits and essential medicines) to the groups of Rwandan and Burundian refugees and displaced Congolese to whom it had access;
- supplied seed and tools to 1 cooperative and 3 agricultural colleges as a way of encouraging them to resume seed production;
- restored or rebuilt 58 medical facilities that had been looted or destroyed in the conflict, mainly in the Kivu area, and regularly provided these facilities, and a number of hospitals, with medical supplies (in the Kisangani region, these activities were carried out from September onwards under a project delegated to the Belgian Red Cross);
- restored or set up several units in the Uvira hospital (surgery, radio-logy, laboratory) and provided a medical and surgical team for the hospital so as to compensate for the lack of qualified staff and to train local staff;
- furnished the relevant authorities with 250 tonnes of chemicals for water treatment, hydromechanical equipment and various supplies, and carried out work on installations to ensure the distribution of drinking water in 12 towns (in Lubumbashi and Buta these activities were carried out under projects delegated to the American and Netherlands National Societies, in November and December respectively);
- sank and equipped 35 wells in various villages on the Rusizi plain (this work was begun in November under a project delegated to the Australian Red Cross);
- continued to support the National Societys various programmes (improvement of hygiene in public places, school patrollers, theatre group promoting humanitarian ideas, neighbourhood composting systems, income-generating projects);
- held seminars on the law of war for 320 staff officers from the new Congolese national army and 400 trainee police;
- organized 2 lectures on the law of war and the ICRCs role for 720 students from the Catholic University of Kinshasa and the National Education Institute.
* SCF: Save the Children Fund
* ADFL: Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire
15. See the ICRCs 1996 Annual Report.
16. See Republic of the Congo.
17. See Rwanda.
18. During the year, the UN appointed a commission to inquire into the serious human rights violations allegedly commited in the country since 1993. With one delay after another, by the end of the year the commission had still not been able to begin its work.
19. Seethe ICRCs 1994 Annual Report, 1995 Annual Report, and 1996 Annual Report.
20. See in particular Rwanda.