Speaking Out videos: The Hunting and Killing of Rwandan Refugees in Zaire-Congo: 1996-1997

2 November 1996 – Associated Press – Gisenyi – Michele Quintaglie, WFP spokeswoman

4 novembre 1996 – Associated Press – Kigali – Sergio Vierra de Mello,  UN Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees – Jacques de Milliano, MSF Holland General Director 

4 November 1996 – France 3 – Goma  – Jacques de Milliano, MSF Holland General Director 

TV presenter: And in Zaire, Tutsi rebels have announced a ceasefire. The stated aim: to transfer the Hutus refugees trapped in the fighting. In diplomatic circles, things are picking up speed. It's true that humanitarian organisations are calling ever louder for an international intervention to halt the disaster rolling out. Jean-Paul Gérouard:

Commentary: "We're going to become grave-diggers without borders if the international community doesn't react. This cry of alarm was issued this morning by Médecins Sans Frontières. The humanitarian organisation calls on states for a military intervention as a matter of utmost urgency so as to aid millions of refugees now cut off from all assistance in eastern Zaire. This call for action, already launched several days ago, seems to have struck a chord for the first time this morning in Paris. Hervé de Charette has called for a UN Security Council meeting and emergency consultations with the region's countries"

Hervé de Charette: "France is suggesting to its partners that a meeting be held without delay so as to liaise on and organise the possible ways to bring about a temporary securing of north and south Kivu."

Commentary: "In short, what's being proposed is a military operation, but this time, France doesn't want to be the only one involved, as was the case for Operation Turquoise two years ago. In the immediate term, the Banyamulenge rebels have announced a unilateral ceasefire of three days for an evacuation of the refugees. Nothing suggests that Zaire will play ball. Zaire’s army considers itself fully at war, a war that it's losing - the rebels took Goma this evening."

6 November 1996 – Associated Press – Goma – Jacques de Milliano, MSF Holland General Director 

9 November 1996 – Associated Press – Gisenyi – Samantha Bolton, MSF Press Officer for the Great Lakes

18 November 1996 – Associated Press – Eric Goemaere, MSF Belgium General Director  

19 November 1996 – France 2 – Catherine Delaisse, MSF

TV journalist: Now to Zaire. Over the past two weeks you will have seen during our news bulletins scenes of columns of people forced onto the roads back to Rwanda. Our reporters have met these men and women, but most of all the children, who have often travelled over a hundred kilometres. 

Commentary: Those now arriving on the border between Zaire and Rwanda are the weakest and the most exhausted. They are last in the line, but their fortitude commands our admiration. The most vulnerable are 4 to 8 year-old children and so old enough to walk. They have sometimes covered 60 kilometres a day in the most appalling conditions. This woman, who has lost 4 children during the death march, is taking care of other kids and they need food.
MSF staff: These are the children she’s picked up on her way. 

Journalist: Is this what’s left of a meal? What is it?

Commentary: They’re actually bananas. They’re for making beer but they have be cooked because otherwise they’re inedible. They cause diarrhoea, which is the main danger. This woman explains that she’s given her children mashed up roots for their water and they’ve all eaten tree leaves on their way here. The long lines of refugees have been helped a bit by local people but mainly they’ve stolen food from fields beside the road.

Woman: When you’re hungry, you can’t just walk past fields with bananas, or potato fields. You can’t just walk by; you do what you have to do. That’s how we’re surviving. 

Commentary: But when they get to the first humanitarian aid organisation posts, they’re given high-protein biscuits and rehydration salts. Maybe that’s what keeps them going on the next stage of their journey. 

Catherine Delaisse: Yes, there aren’t any food distributions. All we hand out are biscuits and mashed biscuits, to everyone, including the children. We also have rehydration posts.

Commentary: Because water is vital. 45,000 litres are brought to this border post everyday so that the refugees don’t have to drink stagnant, disease-ridden water left over from the rainy season.

24 January 1997 – Associated Press – Kisangani – Brigitte Doppler, MSF France Medical Coordinator

10 February 1997 – Associated Press – Sadako Ogata, UNHCR High Commissioner

1997 - 42min Documentary - Hubert Sauper

9 April 1997 –  RTBF – Eric Goemaere, MSF Belgium General Director

9 April 1997 –  RTBF – Eric Goemaere, MSF Belgium General Director

23 April 1997 - France 2 - Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General

25 April 1997 - RTBF - Eric Goemaere, MSF Belgium General Director

2006 – The MSF Adventure

28 April 1997 – Radio France Internationale – Bernard Pécoul, MSF France General Director

Presenter: Sixty days…that’s how long Zairian rebels have given humanitarian organisations to repatriate 100,000 refugees from Kisangani. By creating an investigation committee, Laurent-Désiré Kabila hopes to counter the massacre accusations against him. He wants to be done with the refugee issue.

Reporter: In an ultimatum-cum-counterattack to the accusations against him, Laurent-Désiré Kabila is demanding that Rwandan Hutus leave the Kisangani area by the end of June. To make this happen, he’s agreed to the conditions proposed by the UNHCR several weeks ago: unrestricted use of both city airports, unfettered access to the Kisangani and Ubundu area – that is, the region where the refugees were supposed to be – and the creation of centres where they can be treated prior to their journey. The UNHCR – which before the refugees disappeared had estimated that repatriation would take two to three months – hopes the alliance deadlines will be flexible, because there’s a problem: the refugees are gone. Laurent-Désiré Kabila claims they headed south – something the UNHCR hopes to verify in the next few hours – and the head of the alliance has again agreed to an international mission to investigate the massacre accusations aimed at rebel soldiers.

Presenter: So the rebels’ evacuation plan is very similar to the one worked out by the UNHCR. The only difference is that for military reasons, the refugees aren’t allowed to go through Goma. So the plan is to go straight to Rwanda, an option that Médecins Sans Frontières vehemently opposes. MSF Director Bernard Pécoul tells us why.

Bernard Pécoul, MSF: Repatriation is no longer a credible option. How can repatriation be considered when neither the rebels nor the Kigali government are willing to take these people in?

Reporter: You’re working in the transit camps where the refugees go when they arrive in Rwanda. How is that going?

Bernard Pécoul, MSF: The camps are only supposed to last 24 hours, but most of the people coming in now are terribly malnourished. The goal is to send them straight to their collines. I think these people are in the way now, no one wants them. I think we’re opening a window. We’re not diplomats, it’s not up to us to find a solution, but we think the refugees should be given asylum in a neighbouring country so they can pull themselves together and recover at least a little dignity. I think we’re ashamed of what's happening right now, the passivity of the international community and the governments in the region, who should be involved in what’s happening.

Presenter: MSF Director Bernard Pécoul. In any case, the refugees have to be found before they can be repatriated; the most recent reconnaissance operations have failed to locate the roughly 85,000 people who fled the camps around Kisangani last week.

5 May 1997 - France 2 - Jean-Hervé Bradol, MSF France Communication Director 

TV presenter: "Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Are the Zairean refugees cursed? After this new tragedy of yesterday, it would seem to be the case. A train of hope transformed into a train of death. Around one hundred refugees crushed to death, suffocated in the carriages that should have carried them to Kisangani. Dorothée Ollieric."

Commentary: "On this train, thousands of men, women, children, and hope. The hope of an end to six months of war, famine and killings in the forests of Zaire. The refugees took the train by storm - escape at any cost - but at the end of the trip... Help is needed, humanitarian workers and journalists provide first aid."

A man: "I'm not a doctor."

Commentary: "They try to offer comfort to those clinging to their dead. Asphyxiated, crushed, bodies are being removed by the dozen. A tender gesture for this baby, but it's already too late. In the light of this tragedy and the prior massacres, humanitarian workers speak out."

Jean-Herve Bradol, MSF: "The Alliance's military forces are using aid organisations' work to attract the refugees and draw them out of the forest. They intercept them before they reach the first aid posts and finish them off in the most appalling conditions."

Commentary: "The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, overwhelmed by the situation, has asked Laurent Kabila's rebels to suspend evacuations by train. The air lifts between Zaire and Rwanda continue. Today, a total of 2600 refugees have left Kisangani, leaving massacres and fear behind them, but they don't know what future awaits them in their own country."

4 June 1997 - France 3 - La Marche du siècle- Jean-Hervé Bradol, MSF France Communication Director 

Jean-Marie Cavada: Mr. Jean-Herve Bradol, a doctor with Médecins sans Frontières, you were in the field recently. In its report of 20th May, MSF accuses the Alliance of pursuing what you call a strategy of extermination. That's a violent term to employ. What proof do you have, and what exactly are you trying to say?

Jean-Herve Bradol, MSF: What we're trying to say is that for around the last seven months, in the areas controlled by the Alliance, almost all the efforts have been focused on getting rid of the maximum number of refugees, including using aid organisations as a bait to draw them out.

Jean-Marie Cavada: In what way?

Jean-Herve Bradol, MSF: You know that to help refugees leave the forest, we've set up what we call first aid posts.

Jean-Marie Cavada: Along the tracks and roads.

Jean-Herve Bradol, MSF: Right. First aid posts where medicines, drinking water and high protein biscuits are available. And we've noticed that the Alliance soldiers don't hesitate to publicise the whereabouts of these first aid posts among the Zairean villages so that word reaches the refugees that they can leave the forest. When they do, the soldiers intercept and massacre them. So even our work....

Jean-Marie Cavada: But along the roadsides or in the forests?

Jean-Herve Bradol, MSF: In the forests, before they reach the road.

Jean-Marie Cavada: In the forest, but near the roads.

Jean-Herve Bradol, MSF: Yes, while they're travelling, before they reach the road and the first aid posts.

Jean-Marie Cavada: You have formal proof, you've witnessed these things?

Jean-Herve Bradol, MSF: We haven't witnessed massacres, but we've received information from the Zairean village chiefs, the rural Zairean who live in the region, who are letting us know that our work is now part of this push to liquidate the refugees.

Jean-Marie Cavada: Mr. Bradol, why are you keeping your humanitarian teams on the ground to build up testimonies rather than prioritising their safety? Because at some point they're also going to be highly exposed. You're already experiencing accidents, difficulties.

Jean-Herve Bradol, MSF: It's more than a risk. For the last four years that we've been working in the region, we must pay tribute to the Zairean, Rwandan and Burundian staff of Médecins sans Frontières, among whom there's been a number of deaths. We cannot forget that the care and commitment of over 100 Rwandans to the genocide victims in April 1994 cost them their lives.

Jean-Marie Cavada: Why do you call it a genocide? You're talking about 1994?

Jean-Herve Bradol, MSF: I'm talking about 1994, which was completely different.

Jean-Marie Cavada: And here I'd say that whatever the security risks might be, you’ve chosen to keep your teams in place so they can bear witness and ensure that a cloak of silence doesn't cover this up?

Jean-Herve Bradol, MSF: That's the main point. If there's silence.... Silence is a pre-requisite for the massacres to continue, it really conditions things. If we can't get word out about these massacres, the chances are high that they'll continue in a climate of complete indifference.

Jean-Marie Cavada: Stephen Smith?

Stephen Smith: How many Europeans have died since the genocide in Rwanda over these last three years?

Jean-Marie Cavada: You mean in both Rwanda and eastern Zaire?

Stephen Smith: Rwanda, Burundi, the Great Lakes area in Africa...

Jean-Marie Cavada: All regions combined.

Jean-Herve Bradol, MSF: If we include those working on behalf of international aid and all other categories, and we include Rwanda and Burundi, 26 people have been killed for their humanitarian work since August 1994. But that's nothing, at least, of course it's terrible and the figure's too high, but there are several hundred aid workers from Burundi, Rwanda and Zaire who've lost their lives in providing assistance and choosing to be at the sides of the sick and wounded.

Jean-Marie Cavada: Thank you Mr. Bradol.

9 October 1997 – Associated Press – Scott Campbell, HRW