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Congo-Brazzaville: a Red Cross message brings a husband back from the dead

01-12-2005 Feature

In October 2005 armed violence broke out in Bacongo, in the southern part of Brazzaville. A number of people fled or were arrested. Paulette, who lives in a village in Kindamba, lost touch with her husband following the fighting.


© ICRC Brazzaville 
The content of Red Cross messages is of a strictly personal nature. 
    Very soon after the incidents, the ICRC visited people arrested during this period to verify that their conditions of detention met international standards. The organization visits Congolese places of detention regularly under an agreement with the government signed back in 1999.

It was during one of those visits that ICRC delegates found Paulette’s husband, who had been arrested. The ICRC arranged for him to write a Red Cross message to his wife. These messages contain only family news, and in the Congo they are collected, transported and distributed by the ICRC.

When two ICRC workers went to deliver the message to Paulette at her home in Pool the following month, they found she had already shaved her head and started the traditional period of mourning. Once they had got over their initial disbelief, there were scenes of joy among the relatives who had come to support the “widow.” Paulette immediately sent a reply, and now she is hoping she will be able to make the journey to Brazzaville so she can visit her husband.

The news was then passed on to the second wife, Louise, who instantly wrote a Red Cross message to her imprisoned husband. He wrote back, and at the end of November his reply reached her in the maternity unit of Kindamba Hospital, where she had just given birth to a girl. “I dreamt of this message last night! I was expecting it!” announced the young mother, her face lighting up.

Families scattered, children abandoned, parents dead, in jail or missing. The consequences of war and conflict. Knowing what has happened to one’s relatives is a right under international humanitarian law. The ICRC’s mandate is to protect and assist the victims of armed conflict. For over a century, the organization has been restoring hope to the families of missing persons.