Zaire: Oxfam International Statement, 11/5/96

Zaire: Oxfam International Statement, 11/5/96

Zaire: Oxfam International Statement
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The Crisis in Eastern Zaire

For further information please contact Justin Forsyth or Quynh Tran at Tel: (202) 783-3331; E-mail:
Oxfam International
Position Paper
The Crisis in Eastern Zaire

November 4, 1996


A human catastrophe is unfolding in eastern Zaire where up to a million Rwandan and Burundian refugees and Zairians have fled intensive fighting. These people are without protection, food, shelter or water, and may be joined soon by an even greater number if the war continues. Women are especially vulnerable to the present violence and insecurity. Despite the enormity of the tragedy in Eastern Zaire, it is only one aspect of a wider crisis of poverty, suffering and insecurity across Central Africa. There is imminent danger of a wider war unless the regional governments and rebel movements, with decisive assistance from the international community, act to reduce tensions and attack the root causes of the conflict.

Along with the International Red Cross, Oxfam has evacuated from Bukavu, South Kivu, as the fighting is preventing any relief work. The lack of humanitarian activity and particularly the absence of the Red Cross leaves the people of this region without any form of protection. No humanitarian agencies have received replies to demands for guarantees of security and access to vulnerable populations. Aid agencies have lost contact with over a half million refugees. In North Kivu, the UNHCR has reported that 715,000 refugees in the region have fled westward as Tutsi rebels have taken over the town of Goma.

Oxfam is painfully aware that the situation across the region is extremely complex, and that no simple solutions to the crisis exist. However, the scale of the unfolding suffering demands a rapid but considered response. This short briefing outlines what, from our experience across the region, we believe are the urgent steps which need to be taken to re-establish protection and humanitarian assistance for the victims of violence. The briefing also suggests ways in which the root causes of the crisis across the region have to be addressed if attempts are to be made to avert a far greater human calamity. Our Ability to Meet Humanitarian Needs (Access) There are an estimated 700,000 people displaced by the current fighting. There is now genuine concern that over one million lives are at risk.

Policy Recommendations:

- UN Special Envoy Chretien with the backing of the UN and OAU should undertake immediate negotiations with all parties to the conflict including the Zairian government and army, the Zairian provincial authorities, and the Banyamulenge and Banyarwanda, to establish a ceasefire, security for humanitarian activity in the region and safe corridors to help with the delivery of aid and the voluntary repatriation of refugees. All efforts should be made to convince the parties to the conflict of the need to uphold the Geneva Convention, and crucially to guarantee full access of the ICRC to assist the victims of war.

- Currently the Zairians displaced in North and South Kivu have no assistance or protection. The UN Secretary General must extend the mandate of the UNHCR to cover the displaced Zairian people who are suffering alongside refugees in Eastern Zaire.

- To ensure humanitarian efforts are effective, the UN Secretary General should appoint a regional humanitarian coordinator, with a strong support team, to guarantee the collaboration and coordination of humanitarian activities to maximize its benefit for the victims of violence. The regional humanitarian coordinator should coordinate with the UN Special Envoy to ensure humanitarian assistance is a part of a wider political strategy.

The Primacy of a Regional Political Settlement

The international policy vacuum which exists around the Great Lakes region is a major contributor to the current crisis. Humanitarian aid has masked the systematic neglect of the international community to assist the regional governments in reaching a regional political settlement. Oxfam has long advocated sustained and concerted action by the international community to promote a political settlement between the governments of the region. We have been persistently disappointed with the response.

While the governments of the region made dramatic progress on preventing an escalation of the crisis in Burundi, they now face the momentous task of creating a long term regional political settlement which will have to address the underlying causes of the region's instability including:

- The need for justice and an end to impunity in the aftermath of genocide and atrocities across the region. This will include strengthening the Rwandan judicial system and the International Tribunal.

- Tackling poverty through economic rehabilitation and regeneration as a first step to returning security and a livelihood to the people's of the region.

- Dealing with repatriation as a political issue requiring the arrest of the authors of genocide and the intimidators of refugees in the camps, funds for secure repatriation and an acceptance that a small number of refugees may never return.

- Developing regional agreements on nationality, citizenship, residence status and economic migration which is a permanent feature of the region.

- Moving to prevent the build up of arms and the tolerance, by governments, of bases of armed organizations determined to destabilise neighboring territories.

- Building responsive and accountable governments which reject the traditional politics of exclusion and seeks to represent the whole of society including the interests of minorities.

- Maintaining emergency preparedness and humanitarian assistance and protection of people's basic rights.

(For further details see Rwanda: Never Again, The Search for Durable Solutions in the Great Lakes Region, Oxfam International, April 1996).

Reaching a regional political settlement becomes ever more urgent as the threat of further political disintegration increases, and with it, identifiable and credible negotiators.

Policy Recommendations:

- The UN and OAU should use all the diplomatic opportunities available to them to support Ambassador Chretien, the new UN special envoy, to assist the parties to the current conflict to achieve an end to the fighting and to assist governments of the region to establish a process to reach a regional political settlement over the next year.

- The UN and OAU must make a public commitment to provide the resources and political will to sustain their cooperation and collaboration with this negotiation over the next year, and the implementation of the negotiated settlement well into the next decade. Without the security of long term cooperation by the international community there can be no hope of sustaining the slow and arduous climb back from calamity in the region.

- The momentum built by the regional governments for dialogue between all political parties in Burundi must be maintained and supported by the international community. This process not only represents a vital precedent of regional political cooperation for mutual security, but also, if successful will take considerable pressure off eastern Zaire where currently Burundian armed opposition operate.

The Role of Development Assistance and Donors This latest war is a further indication that economic and developmental assistance to the region will only be effective and sustainable if it assists a regional political settlement. Donors must act in concert to design their co-operation to encourage regional actors to find a negotiated regional political settlement.

Policy Recommendations:

- Call an urgent conference of donors, with the OAU, to establish common goals and strategies for assistance to design programmes which promote a regional political settlement between the governments in the Great Lakes. Aid and trade cooperation should be designed to promote a common material interest in stability and conflict resolution in the region.

- The principle donors should instruct their executive directors to the IMF and World Bank to seek an approach by these two institutions which is coherent with donors' common strategy to promote a regional political settlement.

Plans for Repatriation

Although, at this time, there is every indication that Rwandan refugees in Zaire are not repatriating even when they are caught in intense fighting and have no access to humanitarian relief supplies, it is important the international community provides every opportunity for them to return to Rwanda. The establishment of a cease-fire and safe corridors will be important in doing this.

Policy Recommendation:

- Establish safe corridors for refugee return. Help break the hold of the former regime on the refugees by detaining those implicated in the genocide. In addition it will be important to ensure the refugees have access to accurate information about their home communities, and funds are provided for rehabilitation and reconstruction in Rwanda to create the conditions for return.


Message-Id: <> From: Date: Tue, 5 Nov 1996 09:12:57 -0500 Subject: Zaire: Oxfam International Statement

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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