ICRC activities in Tunisia, Mauritania, Libya and Morocco in 2008

01-02-2009 Operational Update

The ICRC visited detainees in Mauritania and Tunisia and helped restore links between family members separated by armed conflict. Delegates helped Morocco and the Polisario Front resolve cases of people missing in connection with the Western Sahara conflict, and opened a limb-fitting and rehabilitation centre for people injured by mines set during it. Activities also included promoting international humanitarian law and working with the region's Red Crescent Societies.

 Visiting detainees  


Since 2005, delegates have been visiting detainees in Tunisia held in Ministry of Justice facilities and people held in police custody in Interior Ministry facilities of whose cases the ICRC has been notified.

During their visits, delegates assess the material conditions of detention and the detainees'treatment, from their arrest to their release. Individual attention is given to detainees accused of posing a threat to State security, to those condemned to death, and especially to vulnerable persons, such as minors. Then, in the context of its dialogue with the detaining authorities, the ICRC conveys its conclusions and recommendations.

The ICRC visited over 20,200 detainees in Tunisia – 600 of them individually – during 40 visits to 31 places of detention run by the Ministries of Justice or of the Interior. With a view to restoring or maintaining family links between detainees and their families, more than 50 Red Cross messages – containing brief family news – were delivered by the ICRC.

In Mauritania, delegates visited people held in prisons and police stations. They saw over 1,000 detainees – around 50 of them individually – during 35 visits to 16 places of detention run by the Ministries of Justice and the Interior. Twenty-seven Red Cross messages were delivered.

 Restoring family links  


To help people who had lost contact with a loved one – through conflict, imprisonment or migration – the ICRC facilitated the delivery of around 650 Red Cross messages in the countries covered by its regional delegation.

The ICRC participated in a telephone programme for detainees at Guantanamo and at Bagram (Afghanistan) and their families. Through the programme, 25 telephone calls were made – lasting an average of one hour each – between the detainees and their families living in Tunisia (18), Libya (4, with support from the Libyan Red Crescent), Morocco (1) and Mauritania (2).

In 2008, the ICRC received 38 new tracing requests for family members missing in connection with conflict and other outbreaks of violence. This brought the total number of requests in the region close to 50. Two people were successfully located over the course of the year.

At the request of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 50 ICRC travel documents were issued for persons temporarily residing in Libya and awaiting the necessary documentation to proceed to other countries.

 Resolving cases of persons missing in connection with the Western Sahara conflict  


Acting as a neutral intermediary, the regional delegation in Tunis continued to work with Morocco and the Polisario Front to throw light on what happened to people missing in connection with the 1975-91 Western Sahara conflict. The ICRC recently proposed that each party establish a body to gather and centralize any information useful in resolving cases and to meet the administrative, economic and psychological needs of the families concerned.

 Helping mine victims  


Although years have passed since the end of hostilities over the Western Sahara, explosive remnants of the conflict continue to pose a threat to people inhabiting or moving through contaminated areas.

To help deal with the tragic consequences of mines and other such devices, the ICRC started in May to manufacture artificial limbs and provide physiotherapy for the physically disabled living in Sahrawi refugee camps in and around Tindouf, in south-western Algeria.

Manufacturing began in a limb-fitting and rehabilitation centre that gives amputees and people with limited limb mobility constant access to local community-based services. The aim is to afford them greater autonomy and a better quality of life in order to help them rejoin society and maintain their dignity.

Once fitted with an artificial limb, a person needs follow-up for the rest of his or her life. Mindful of this, the ICRC has started training local people in limb-fitting and physiotherapy techniques, which is essential to sustaining the project over the long term.

Fifty patients – including 41 amputees – were in this way able to receive medical attention, prostheses, orthoses, crutches and wheelchairs, from June onwards.

 Promoting international humanitarian law  


The ICRC stepped up its cooperation with the Libyan and Tunisian armed forces with a view to fully incorporating the provisions of international humanitarian law (IHL) into their training manuals and programmes. With ICRC support, the armed forces organized courses for military judges and IHL instructors.

In Morocco and Tunisia, the ICRC provided legal and technical support for national committees responsible for promoting implementation of IHL at national level. Committee members took part in a number of training schemes, at national and regional levels, intended to set these national bodies on the road to autonomy. At the same time, Morocco and Tunisia organized and hosted three regional meetings on the implementation of IHL, for Arab government experts and academic circles.

The ICRC expanded its dialogue with Islamic scholars to Tunisia and Mauritania. Seminars on protecting human dignity in wartime and the complementary nature of IHL and Islamic law were held at Al-Qarawiyyin University in Fes, Morocco, in the theology faculty at Zitouna University in Tunis, and for around 30 Muslim legal scholars in Mauritania.

The ICRC continued in its efforts to incorporate the teaching of humanitarian principles into school curricula. Jointly with Morocco's Ministry of Education, it organized a course for inspectors and teachers participating in the Exploring Humanitarian Law programme, which is aimed at 13- to 18-year-olds. The ICRC also backed two exhibitions of work by pupils belonging to Exploring Humanitarian Law clubs in Tunisia.

The Tunis-based Center for Arab Women Training and Research, in conjunction with the ICRC, organized a round table and photo exhibition on the theme " Women and War " . The ICRC also held an IHL day for representatives of Arab NGOs brought together by the Tunis-based Arab Institute for Human Rights.

 Supporting Red Crescent Societies  


To support the National Societies in their role as auxiliaries to public authorities in humanitarian endeavour, the ICRC provided technical aid for work to restore family links.

The ICRC also involved the region's Nati onal Societies in its activities to promote IHL. The Societies all belong to national committees with the task of incorporating IHL into national legislation.