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Burundi – ICRC activities from January to September 2006

30-09-2006 Operational Update

The ICRC focuses its work on four domains: protection, assistance, promoting international humanitarian law, and cooperation with the Burundi Red Cross.

The ICRC set up a delegation in Burundi in 1993. Following a serious security incident in 1996 in which three of its delegates were killed, the organization scaled down its activities in the country for three years. Today it is present throughout the country, with its delegation in the capital Bujumbura and sub-delegations in Gitega, in central Burundi, Ngozi in the north and Rumonge in the south. The ICRC's mandate is to relieve the suffering of those affected by the armed conflict that racked the country from 1993 to 2005.


 Visits to places of detention  

On the basis of various agreements concluded by the delegation with the Burundian government, the ICRC regularly visits detainees in the country's 11 prisons and in places of temporary detention such as lock-ups at police stations and military bases. These visits are intended in particular to assess whether the conditions of detention are adequate to sustain the detainees'physical and mental integrity and whether the treatment is in keeping with international humanitarian and human rights law.

From January to September 2006 the ICRC carried out 180 visits to places of detention: 149 places of temporary detention and 31 prisons.

In the course of these visits, detainees received limited aid where needed, mostly to improve personal hygiene and keep their cells clean.

 Restoring family links  

This work consists mostly of tracing individuals separated from their loved ones by armed conflict and restoring links between them by means of Red Cross messages(brief personal messages to relatives made unreachable by conflict). In Burundi this work is done for detainees, some of whose families are in the country and some abroad. It is also done for children, both of Burundian and other nationalities, who have become separated from their parents. In the case of children, Red Cross messages are often the first step, followed eventually by them being reunited with their families.

In the first nine months of 2006, the ICRC collected over 4,500 Red Cross messages and delivered a similar number. Fifty-seven tracing requests were resolved regarding persons who had disappeared and 13 families were reunited.


 Health in places of detention  

In accordance with its mandate, the ICRC has continued in 2006 to ensure that detainees have access to adequate health care, in particular by covering the cost of all medicines administered to them by medical facilities for common illnesses.

 "Women and violence" programme  

A number of studies have been carried out on the causes of death among women in the period leading up to and following childbirth in areas affected by armed conflict and poverty. The main causes are malaria and the effects of childbirth itself.

The ICRC ran a successful mother-and-child health-care project in Bujumbura from 2002 to 2004. This has now been expanded to Buyengero and Burambi in Bururi province, both places severely affected by the conflict.

The project, launched to help victims of the sexual violence widespread in the area, has trained 65 birth attendants in five places (each with a population of between 5,000 and 10,000). Childbirth kits have been distributed in order create more hygienic conditions for delivery and to reduce the spread of HIV.

The ICRC trained 84 residents of villages to pass on the message about tackling sexual violence.

In January a centre opened in Rumonge to provide victims of this violence with psychological help and guidance.

A programme was launched to furnish pregnant women with mosquito nets as a means of fighting malaria. Efforts were also made to ensure that children up to the age of five received the proper vaccinations, to increase the percentage of children born in adequate medical facilities, and to encourage all women to go for prenatal examinations.

Given the substantial improvement in the security situation in Burundi, the " women and violence " project ended in September, leaving it to the ICRC-trained birth attendants and community health workers to care for victims of sexual violence and pregnant women.

 Water and sanitation  

The ICRC repairs and upgrades water-supply systems and sanitation facilities damaged by the conflict.

  • Urban projects

ICRC engineers worked closely with colleagues from Regideso, the urban water and electricity board. Two courses on water treatment and supply have been held by the ICRC in 2006 to upgrade the skills of Regideso technicians.

Supplying drinking water to the south-western town of Rumonge has been a key urban project. It is now complete, with the network (which draws on boreholes and gravity-fed systems) providing water for 45,000 people.

Projects are under way in Gatumba and Mabanda, respectively in the west and south of the country, and should be completed in 2007. Their aim is to supply 70,000 people with drinking water by 2010.

  • Rural projects

In rural areas the ICRC works closely with the rural water board (Ministry of Energy and Mines) to repair and upgrade water-supply facilities damaged during the conflict. So far in 2006, seven projects serving about 40,000 people have been completed in various parts of the country: Marangara and Mwumba in the north, Buyengero in the south, Bugendana and Rwisabi in central Burundi, and Kabezi and Mitakataka in the west.

Several other projects are under study or being carried out. Four of these are intended to supply water to 25,000 people. All these projects include training for the management committees of the systems concerned. The ICRC helps prepare these committees to run the networks themselves.

Promoting international humanitarian law 

In accordance with the mandate assigned to it by the community of States, the ICRC constantly strives to ensure an effective working relationship with the various entities responsible for implementing or promoting international humanitarian law: government authorities, the army, the police, the media and academic circles.

 With government authorities  

The ICRC and the Burundian parliament jointly organized and ran eve nts to provide information and to encourage deliberation on ratification and implementation of humanitarian treaties. Members of the foreign affairs and justice committees dealt with the matter for two days in June; senators did likewise in August.

In order to enhance discussion with the members, representatives from the Ministries of External Relations and International Co-operation, Defence and War Veterans, and Interior and Public Security were invited, as were a number of other experts.

 With the army and police  

Following the signing of various ceasefire and peace agreements, new armed and police forces – i.e. the Force de défense nationale and the Police nationale de Burundi – were set up. The ICRC works regularly with officials from the two forces to promote incorporation of international humanitarian law into training and disciplinary codes. To this end the organization has in 2006 contributed to several training seminars and information events for military and police personnel.

In particular, the ICRC:

  • facilitated participation by four senior army officers in military courses organized by the International Institute of Humanitarian Law in San Remo, Italy

  • covered the cost of participation by two police officers in the pan-African meeting of police officials regarding the ICRC-devised training programme entitled " To serve and protect " .

In 2006, the army high command authorized the holding of 60 sessions on international humanitarian law for 4,000 personnel throughout the country. In the case of the police, the focus was on courses in humanitarian and human rights law held during training in Bujumbura for officer s and in four regional centres for non-commissioned officers. These police courses, generally initiated by the ICRC, were supplemented by the work of a police officer trained with support from the organization.

A draft reference document designed to help incorporate international humanitarian law into training at all levels of the military was completed with ICRC support by a commission of five military experts who had received scholarships for training in the law at the San Remo institute.

The small-format edition of the handbook To serve and protect was translated by the ICRC into Kirundi and 20,000 copies were printed locally to ensure that each member of the police received one. The copies were handed over to police training officials.

 With the universities  

The ICRC is encouraged by the results of its work at universities – one public and six private – to promote interest in international humanitarian law. All seven institutions have begun courses on the subject in their faculties of law or political science, with the ICRC augmenting the expertise of the instructors concerned by facilitating their participation in pan-African courses on humanitarian law (in 2006 in Ouagadougou). Among other measures, a standard set of works on that law was given to each university involved that had not received them in previous years.

An inter-university competition on international humanitarian law has been initiated by the ICRC and is being prepared with help from professors and other experts serving on the selection panel.

 With the media  

The media are a valuable channel for conveying the ICRC's humanitarian message and are kept informed of the orga nization's assistance and protection work for the benefit of civilians.

Both publicly- and privately-owned media have given broad coverage to the completion of water-supply systems in Buyengero (April), Mwumba (July), Rwisabi (September) and Rumonge (October). They also showed interest in other ICRC activities such as the events held jointly with parliament (June, August and November), events organized at provincial level to give information on the role of the Red Cross to local National Society chapters and public officials (all year), and the closing of the " women and violence " project (September).

Cooperation with the Burundi Red Cross 

The components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement help each other, and so the ICRC delegation in Burundi strongly supports the communication and disaster-management units of the Burundi Red Cross.

As a means of making the activities of the Burundi Red Cross better known to the authorities and the general public, the ICRC supported the holding of events in all 17 provinces to exchange views and spread information about the Movement. These were organized for provincial governors, municipal administrators, heads of local Red Cross branches, religious leaders and representatives of the police and army. The theme was " the authorities and the Red Cross – working together to relieve suffering " .

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