Statement on the outcome of the Stuttgart meeting of troop contributing countries for a multinational force for eastern Zaire

from Oxfam
Published on 26 Nov 1996
The military of potential troop-contributing countries have just met to discuss their plans for a multinational force for eastern Zaire. Despite four days of talks, no conclusive proposal has emerged. Instead, at least four options remain for consideration and there is an apparent acceptance that 3-4 weeks will be necessary before any deployment can be made. These indications suggest that, once again, we are looking into a policy vacuum. There appears to be no sense of urgency about international deliberations, despite the continuing humanitarian crisis.
Thousands of people remain in Eastern Zaire displaced from their homes, many of them on the move. Recent aerial photos have detected around 700,000 refugees and displaced people within a 200-kilometre (125-mile) radius of Bukavu and Uvira in eastern Zaire. The major population movements and concentrations are reported on five main axes - north west from Sake to Masisi, west from Rutshuru, north of Bukavu, westwards from Bukavu to Katshungu and beyond and south of Uvira. Without assistance or protection, moving in difficult terrain, they are likely to be in worsening condition. The vulnerable, women, children and elderly, are a particular cause for concern.

The uncertainty around the location and condition of refugees and displaced Zaireans inevitably creates doubts about how best to respond. However, these debates must not obscure the urgency and potential scale of the need in Eastern Zaire. Whilst governments contest the precise figures, apparently for their own political ends, we fear people are dying.

Oxfam has been calling since 31 October for the need to secure access to the refugees and displaced people, and for assistance to allow those refugees who wish to return to do so. We have argued that the least worst option is an international military intervention which meets crucial criteria that would determine its effectiveness and success:

- It should establish humanitarian corridors to facilitate humanitarian access and allow voluntary repatriation.

- It should protect civilians from violence, with particular attention to the protection needs of women.

- It should have the mandate and capability to disarm the Interahamwe and Former Rwandan Army (FAR), and assist in the screening of refugees.

- The force must be neutral and perceived to be so by the regional governments.

This proposal is similar to that made by the Organisation of African Unity and the governments of the region when they met on the 5th November, and which received troop commitments from nine African nations in the following days.

We maintain that a force with such a mandate has an immediate role to play in preventing further suffering. We urge the potential troop-contributing countries to speed up their decision-making before it is too late. However, we are concerned that what we believe are vital criteria for a successful intervention have been ignored. The current proposals from some Western nations for a mission solely to provide or facilitate the delivery of humanitarian relief are inadequate, and potentially could do more harm than good. They risk wasting precious resources and time, and ignoring the presence of forces responsible for genocide in amongst the displaced and refugee population. Furthermore, the Western-dominated planning has alienated the governments of the region and the OAU. This must be urgently remedied.

If the UN member states are unwilling to live up to their obligations by providing an effective military intervention to assist humanitarian relief and separate those responsible for genocide, then the considerable diplomatic and economic resources which would go into a military intervention would be better invested in immediate diplomatic efforts to negotiate access for humanitarian relief, and the provision of adequate aid for the mammoth tasks of relief and reconstruction in the region. Diplomatic efforts should then be focused upon the urgent task of finding regional political solutions.