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Update No. 98/01 on ICRC activities in Tajikistan

15-05-1998 Operational Update No 98/01

 Situation  

Over the past few months, humanitarian organizations in Tajikistan have been confronted with a steadily deteriorating security situation. The implementation of the peace agreement (signed on June 27, 1997) has met with a lot of difficulties and consequent delays have caused serious tensions. In Kofarnikhon district (east of Dushanbe) violent clashes between opposition groups and government units have claimed over 120 deaths within the last six weeks, illustrating the fragility of the peace process. Notwithstanding the highly volatile situation (which led to a reduction of staff at the end of 1997) the ICRC has been able to react immediately to emergency situations, its delegates distributing medical supplies to hospitals treating those wounded in the latest fighting.

Together with the Tajikistan Red Crescent Society (TRCS), the ICRC also brought assistance to several villages in the centre of the country recently affected by major landslides. This emergency assistance was coordinated with similar action taken by the National Society in other parts of the country with the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Furthermore, the ICRC has continued its nutritional rehabilitation programme for detainees in government prisons, widened the scope of its medical activities and made valuable headway with its dissemination of international humanitarian law programmes.

The slow implementation of the peace process means that humanitarian needs in Tajikistan are likely to remain high for some time to come. The economy is in a very poor state, and, as long as insecurity reigns, badly needed reconstruction and rehabilitation work will be delayed, further worsening the state of the country's infrastructures which are already seriously damaged by the five-year civil war.

There are currently 13 expatriate staff, including personnel seconded by the American and Belgian Red Cross Societies and over 150 local staff working for the ICRC operation in Tajikistan.

 Detention activities  

For several years now, the ICRC has been seeking permission to visit all detainees arrested by the government in connection with the internal conflict since 1992. Whilst delegates are able to deliver assistance, they have so far been denied access to the detainees in full accordance with customary ICRC procedures. 

However, more than 250 government soldiers detained by the opposition were visited in 1997, prior to their release. At the same time, Red Cross messages were exchanged between detainees and their relatives.

 Agricultural projects for prisons  

June 1998 will witness the end of ICRC's emergency nutritional programme for the country's prison population but the delegation has initiated a new assistance programme designed to help the prison administration start its own food production for detainees. So far, a dozen such projects representing some 100 hectares have been identified. These plots of land will be used to grow potatoes, wheat and beans. Seeds, fertilizers and various agricultural material have been provided by the ICRC in time for the planting season. Other projects are currently being evaluated by an ICRC agronomist. It should be added that this programme has been met by good cooperation fro m the penitentiary authorities and the Ministry of Agriculture.

Although the ICRC nutritional assistance programme, launched in the summer of 1996, has succeeded in reducing the mortality rate among the prison population (some 7,000 people), surveys have shown that the overall situation is still far from satisfactory. Several prisons used ICRC food supplies exclusively instead of using them as a means to tide them over until authorities had taken the measures necessary to make up the shortfall in food.

 Assistance to medical facilities in Dushanbe  

Although the parties in Tajikistan have signed a peace agreement, sporadic and violent outbursts of fighting are still regularly taking place. Assistance to treat the war- wounded is badly needed as health facilities are among the hardest hit by the poor economic conditions. In late March, more than 30 injured people were registered within a couple of days in hospitals in Dushanbe which turned to the ICRC for emergency medical supplies. As security conditions were preventing ICRC delegates from reaching the opposition side, the local branch of the TRCS delivered medical aid to the local hospital in Kofarnikhon, which was treating several dozen war-wounded. Following the latest bout of fighting at the end of April/ beginning of May, the ICRC again delivered medical emergency supplies to hospitals treating war-wounded in Dushanbe.

 Medical programmes in the former conflict areas  

Former conflict zones are particularly hampered by lack of staff and supplies. Monthly drug distributions, training and specialist assistance for the hospitals in Garm and Tavildara will continue throughout 1998. These activities are under the responsibility of an ICRC health delegate wh o has been based in Garm since the last quarter of 1997. Unable to reach Tavildara during the harsh winter months, the ICRC has only just been able to resume distributions of much-needed medical supplies in this isolated region seriously affected not only by conflict but also by torrential rains and landslides.

 Orthopaedic project  

With some 4,000 amputees in Tajikistan, a survey carried out by an ICRC orthopaedist during mid-1997 revealed significant needs in this area. As a result the ICRC signed a cooperation agreement with the authorities in March this year to resume the production and fitting of prostheses. Significant rehabilitation work started immediately on the prosthetic/ orthotic centre in Dushanbe. An expatriate technician has recently arrived to assist in the resumption of artificial limb production.

 Dissemination  

In February the ICRC held a seminar in Dushanbe for 20 commanders of the 25th Battalion. Composed of troops of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), the battalion was recently incorporated into the government forces in accordance with the June 1997 peace agreement.

The seminar took place as part of a series of cooperation agreements between the Tajik authorities and the ICRC, aimed at including the principles of the law of war into the training of all military personnel, including troops belonging to the Ministries of the Interior and Security. To support this objective, an ICRC training manual for military instructors was distributed to military units throughout the country.

However, if humanitarian law is to be respected, it is more important than ever to ensure that younger generations become familiar with and accept its principles and rules. As such, cooperation with the Ministry of Education continued with a view to incorporating humanitarian law into the curricula of higher educational institutions, particularly in faculties of law and military studies. Mandatory courses on humanitarian law were introduced for students of international law at Tajik State University and Khodjent State University. Concerning the secondary schools programme, the Tajik-language book produced by the ICRC in cooperation with the Ministry of Education has just undergone a positive evaluation in a number of schools and will soon be ready for distribution to fifth-graders throughout the country.