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Aline: "Many former detainees speak of a moral debt to the ICRC…"

25-05-2005 Feature

Aline Mukamabano was the first local employee to be hired by the ICRC in Rwanda, in 1990. She currently works as administration delegate at the ICRC's regional delegation in Cameroon.

I heard about the ICRC for the first time in 1990 when the institution first arrived in Rwanda. It was the beginning of what would be the most troubled decade Rwanda had ever known. When the ICRC arrived, the Rwandan Red Cross put me at their disposal since they had no personnel or infrastructure whatsoever. I happened to be the first person the ICRC employed in Rwanda; the recruitment of other Rwandan personnel started straight away.

This was my first contact with the International Red Cross and the Red Crescent Movement and its fundamental principles.

A few years later, I had to spend the 3 months that the genocide lasted within the ICRC's premises in Kigali. Along with me, there were some expatriate staff, many other Rwandan colleagues as well as thousands of injured. I must admit that I can't find the right words to express my feelings about the work accomplished during this period, during which our only protection was the red cross emblem. The notion of time and " me " no longer existed for us: we only thought about the injured people we had to care for, and the human remains that had to be buried.

 Total craziness  

I remember with emotion the assistance given to the victims on both sides of the front line during the Rwandan conflict. I remember as well the hospital we set up in, of all possible places, a former religious convent. The injured were treated in that place, without anyone asking them what ethnic group they belonged to, whereas outside craziness embraced the whole country.

People who saw the ICRC while in detention could express better than I, the impact of these visits on their lives. In any case, what I do know is that many of these former detainees often speak about a moral debt towards the ICRC. I would not be able to contradict them.

During all these years, I have remained amazed at one particular feature of this organisation: its neutrality. The neutrality with which every single conflict situation is dealt with. And I have witnessed many times the commitment and humility of ICRC staff towards the victims of armed conflicts in my own country, Rwanda, and in Lokichokio, Kenya.

 More outspoken?  

Would a more outspoken ICRC have more impact in the face of violations of international humanitarian law? In a situation of warfare and madness, the ICRC is armed with nothing more than the text of the law. Could proactive denunciation of breaches of international humanitarian law be a better way to protect the victims of abuse? But then how can a strictly humanitarian organisation guarantee and preserve its access to people in need of food, water, medicine and be outspoken at the same time? As a one-time victim of war and now, since a long time, part of this big Red Cross family, I have problems in finding a satisfactory answer to these questions.

Unfortunately, our home, our Africa, is by far the continent most affected by armed conflict. For me, the ICRC is very important from two perspectives: in the immediate and short term, to bring assistance (material and moral) to the victims of those conflicts, and in the longer term, to raise awareness of and strengthen international humanitarian law.

I am an ICRC delegate currently working in Cameroon as an administrator. When I think that my humble contribution has an impact whenever people in need receive some relief in their suffering, I tell myself that I am in the right place. W hen I think that I am part of a system that constantly reminds people of their human side and invites them to measure their behaviour according to the law, I know I am doing the right thing. I want to be part of this for a while to come.