Update 00/01 on ICRC Activities in Algeria
07-12-2000 Operational Update
In mid-1999 the ICRC began conducting visits to detainees and stepped up its support for the Algerian Red Crescent Society's (ARC) activities on behalf of women and children traumatized by the violence in Algeria. The recent visit to the country by the ICRC president, during which he met President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the president of the ARC, confirmed the will on all sides to consolidate the dialogue and the cooperation.
I. Constructive dialogue between President Bouteflika and ICRC president
In the meeting with the president of Algeria on 19 November, ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger expressed satisfaction at the way the ICRC's visits to detainees in Algeria had developed and highlighted the constructive nature of the humanitarian dialogue between the organization and the country's authorities. He conveyed the ICRC's initial conclusions and recommendations concerning detention conditions and the treatment of detainees in prisons administered by the Ministry of Justice. During his visit to Algeria, the ICRC president also had talks about the organization's activities in Algeria and around the world with the Algerian prime minister and the ministers of foreign affairs, justice, health and national solidarity.
The ICRC president furthermore visited Sahrawi refugee camps and camps containing Moroccan prisoners near Tindouf. He was later received by the secretary-general of the Polisario Front, Mr Mohamed Abdelaziz, with whom he discussed the question of the 1,682 remaining Moroccan prisoners. The ICRC president expressed his disappointment at the Polisario Front's refusal to release and repatriate the prisoners, most of whom have been living in captivity for over 20 years. Mr Abdelaziz nevertheless confirmed the agreements whereby the ICRC visits the prisoners on a regular basis and maintains contact between them and their families.
Detailed talks with the new president of the Algerian Red Crescent brought confirmation of the two organizations'desire to pursue cooperation projects.
II. Continuation of ICRC visits to detainees
On 15 November the ICRC transmitted a first synthesis report on its visits to penitentiary establishments to the Algerian authorities. The report covers the first three series of visits to facilities administered by the Ministry of Justice, which were carried out in autumn 1999, in spring 2000 and in autumn 2000, in implementation of an agreement concluded with the Algerian authorities in June 1999. In the third series of visits, which ran from 24 September to 15 October 2000, the ICRC focused on the treatment and the conditions of detention encountered by the detainees since their arrest, by interviewing detainees who had recently been transferred from police or military custody, and on revisiting a number of establishments already seen. In total, ICRC delegates have visited 23 places of detention and talked in private with 1,183 detainees. The report summarizes the delegates'observations and makes recommendation s to the authorities. It also outlines the perspectives for the continuation and expansion of the ICRC's activities in Algeria in the field of detention.
III. Strengthening of cooperation with the Algerian Red Crescent (ARC)
While the ICRC has lent support to the ARC's activities for many years, this was done on an ad hoc basis (e.g. assistance programmes for needy families during Ramadan, summer camps for children from poor families). The ICRC's aim to bring this cooperation onto a new qualitative and quantitative level was achieved in 1999 with the start of cooperation projects covering two new areas, namely the psycho-social rehabilitation of traumatized children and women, and development of the ARC's operational capacity, in particular in the fields of first aid, communication and dissemination of international humanitarian law.
These new programmes, which began to be implemented in May 1999 and were formalized in four cooperation agreements in November 1999, have been advancing smoothly and constructively over the past months. The collaboration has gradually been gaining speed and breadth, in particular as other components of the Movement have lent their support.
The ICRC encourages close coordination and an open exchange of information among the different components of the Movement, so as to favour a coherent and efficient response to the needs of the most vulnerable.
1. Psychological rehabilitation of the victims of violence
Since June 1999 the ICRC has been supporting psychological rehabilitation programmes for women and children who have been victims of violence, which are run by the Algerian National Society in collaboration with the Ministries of Health and Labour. ICRC support takes the form of funding and the provision of equipment and material for the programmes, and the services of a child psychiatrist who provides expertise in matters of staff training and care for the victims.
The intended beneficiaries of this programme are around 4,400 children, 600 women and 240 professionals working in the medical and paramedical sectors.
(i) Rehabilitation programmes for traumatized children
The ICRC has met its planned objectives for 1999-2000 of
- supporting the first national seminar on care for children traumatized by violence, which was organized by the ARC in Algiers from 20-24 June. This provided an opportunity for the 50 participants, mostly psychologists and other specialists working in the field (psychiatrists, paediatricians), and representatives of various associations, to exchange experiences and to voice their needs, especially in terms of training. The summaries of all the presentations made at the seminar were compiled in a brochure published in French and in Arabic in November 2000;
- supporting the first two ARC-organized seminars in a training cycle of four regional seminars for a total of 50 psychologists from eastern Algeria (Skikda, 8-9 November 2000) and western Algeria (Tiaret, 15-16 November 2000);
- financing production of an information brochure for professionals caring for child victims of violence;
- supplying psycho-pedagogical equipment for 70 centres run by the Ministry of Labour which help 4,000, and equipping 20 centres run by the Ministry of Health for 400 children;
- covering stationary and other basic material needs for these two types of centre;
- funding summer camps for 250 children, either from the poorest segment of Algerian society or traumatized by violence. This latter group was accompanied during the camps by the educators and psychologists who follow them regularly.
(ii) Rehabilitation programmes for women victims of violence
In 1999-2000 the ICRC financed the setting up of 8 sewing and embroidery workshops for women (cost per workshop 40,000 CHF). These will enable 400 women to learn sewing and embroidery skills. It is estimated that 20% of the women in the ICRC-supported workshops are direct victims of violence. ICRC delegates visited four of these workshops and were impressed by the commitment shown by all involved - beneficiaries, teachers, ARC branches, and local authorities. The need for more such workshops is underlined by all. As it is extended, the programme will include activities promoting skills-training for women in different fields as well as direct involvement by psychologists. In her initial assessment, the ICRC psychiatrist was of the opinion that women victims of violence were best taken care of in an environment where they can mix with women who had not endured such trauma.
The Netherlands Red Cross has pledged to finance two workshops for needy women in particular, through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies .
(iii) Support in 2001 for women and child victims of the violence
The ICRC will support the ARC and the Ministries in their efforts to train teams taking care of children and women traumatized by viol ence. In particular, it will provide financial backing and expertise for two more ARC-organized regional seminars for the northern and southern zones of Algeria, thus completing the first cycle, and for a second national seminar for 100 psychologists from the four regions.
It will also contribute to equipping 5 new workshops for women in zones affected by violence, for a total cost of 200,000 CHF, and will continue to provide other material support to the different workshops already set up and to the centres taking care of children.
The ARC has set up a coordination committee together with members of the relevant Ministries and a network of psychologists. This formed the basis for the creation of a pedagogical committee which will: through monitoring visits, guarantee the psychological follow-up of women affected by violence who are working in ARC workshops; hold training seminars; and prepare an information directory and address book of professionals looking after child victims of violence. In 2001 the ICRC will support this pedagogical committee's activities by organizing a specialist training event for its members.
2. Building up the operational capacity of the ARC
The second area of cooperation between the ICRC and the ARC concerns reinforcement of the latter's capacities in the fields of emergency preparedness, promotion and dissemination of IHL and communications .
In enhancing its emergency preparedness, the ARC is concentrating its efforts on first aid. The number of intended beneficiaries is 28,000 ARC volunteers, including 10,000 first-aiders acting in 48 wilaya (district) committees, and 228 local committees involved in emergency p reparedness.
This support is characterized by close cooperation between the ARC, the ICRC, the International Federation and participating National Societies.
- The programme was launched in September 1999 following an evaluation by a delegate from the Swedish Red Cross specialized in first aid. In April 2000, the Swedish Red Cross selected and sent first-aid material, funded by the ICRC, to equip 48 wilaya committees and the 8 training poles included in the programme (48 first-aid kits, 48 oxygen kits, 194 folding stretchers, etc.). This complemented the material provided in 1999 (audiovisual kits for the same structures).
- Between February and May 2000, the ICRC sponsored study trips for 8 ARC first-aid trainers to 3 participating National Societies, namely the French, Belgian and Swiss Red Cross Societies.
- The highlight of this year's cooperation was the holding of the first national training seminar for 144 ARC first-aid trainers on 19-20 November in Algiers, with the participation of representatives of the International Federation and the Belgian Red Cross Society as well as representatives from the relevant Ministries. As a result of this meeting, the ARC has now agreed on standard levels of training and a standard curriculum. The first-aid diploma will also be standardized so that it is recognized throughout the country. The ICRC president attended the closing ceremony of this seminar. In his speech, he stressed the importance of close cooperation and coordination among the different components of the Movement interested in supporting ARC first-aid activities.
With ICRC financial, material and technical support, and in cooperation with the International Federation, the ARC plans to:
- hold decentralized training sessions for 48 first-aid trainers in 8 training poles across the country, thus enabling 960 first-aiders to acquire basic knowledge in first aid and to work in 48 emergency brigades created to this effect;
- bring out two first-aid training manuals, one for trainers and one for volunteers.
This first-aid programme is to be gradually handed over from the ICRC to the International Federation, once the latter has received the necessary funding.
(ii) Dissemination of IHL and communications
To build up the ARC's capacity in this field, the ICRC contributes towards the running costs of the information service and equipping its documentation centre.
In 2000 the ICRC provided written and audiovisual material on IHL-related subjects and contributed to producing a monthly promotion bulletin on ARC activities and editing the National Society's Web site.
In 2001, with ICRC support, the ARC plans to
- train an IHL disseminator for each of its 48 branches;
- organize a national colloquium on IHL, to be held in February 2001;
- produce 12 radio programmes promoting Red Cross/Red Crescent activities and principles.
IV. Prosthetic/orthotic project
In 2001, the ICRC will conduct an evaluation in order to determine ways of supporting the government-run prosthetic/orthotic centre of Ben Aknoun in Algiers, by introducing ICRC technology. This centre will fit Sahrawi refugees as well as Algerian amputees who were victims of violence.
V. Western Sahara
The ICRC is increasingly concerned about the plight of the 1,682 Moroccan prisoners in the Western Sahara, some of whom have been in captivity for 25 years. The ICRC strives, during its twice-yearly visits, to provide the prisoners with more specialized medical care on the spot and spares no effort to secure their unconditional release and repatriation in accordance with humanitarian law.
The ICRC's second visit this year came to an end on 23 November, conducted by a doctor and two delegates.