Speaking Out videos: Rwandan Refugee Camps in Zaire and Tanzania 1994-1995



5 July 1994 - France 2 - Interview with Philippe Biberson, MSF France President on French army intervention (French)

Philippe Biberson (MSF): "We've called for a halt to the genocide. And we think, and will continue to think, that there's only one way to bring this about - through the use of force. We needed to oppose, restrain the hand of the people carrying out these massacres. Yet apparently this hasn't yet happened because the genocide continues, the militia are still very active and the people responsible for all this are still around. As this operation has already failed in this regard, its continuation in one form or another just complicates things, and in my opinion will keep seriously complicating the situation from a humanitarian point of view."

Bernard Grangeon (MDM): "From the moment that France got its army involved, it just fell back on its old political ways - it has never known any other - so its old and disastrous ways kicked in, in Rwanda on this occasion, but elsewhere as well. In other words, supporting the regime in place, which on this occasion is a dictatorship, and militias who in this example are murderers."


18 July 1994 - ITN – Interview with Samantha Bolton, MSF Press officer.

link to video

22 July 1994 – France 2 – Report on MSF staff in Paris & Bordeaux mobilisation for Zaire intervention - Interview Bernard Pecoul (General director) and Bernard Chomillier (Director of logistics) (French)

TV presenter: Of course humanitarian organisations are launching emergency operations. Carole Caumont and Gilles Marinet followed the work of Médecins sans Frontières staff in Paris and Bordeaux throughout the day: 

Commentary: "More than 3000 calls in barely 24 hours. Médecins sans Frontières' reception has been responding to offers of help since yesterday. Doctors, nurses, donors, and a mass of individuals who are looking for ways to help the Rwandan refugees."

Bernard Pecoul (MSF): "We had to set up 40 telephone lines to cope with all the calls. Our reception desk couldn’t handle it. So there's an initial contact with people, a first sort through, an initial questionnaire. And depending on the outcome, either we fix a recruitment interview or we give out information."

An MSF woman questioning a volunteer: "So you’ve got a rough idea of what you're likely to do if you leave?"

Man: "Yes."

Commentary: "On the floor above, interviews have already started with volunteer doctors while the teams about to leave receive fresh information from the field. 35 tons of material already sent from Bordeaux this evening - emergency health kits, vaccination material - for transportation to the Bukavu region."

Bernard Chomilier (MSF): "According to our sources, there are tens of thousands of people leaving Goma for Bukavu. So we’re hoping to install the technical set-up, people and equipment needed to avoid a cholera epidemic flaring up in Bukavu, because it's pretty certain that the refugees will leave and bring cholera with them."

Commentary: "Two MSF doctors and two logisticians will accompany the freight, which involves heavy cost. Médecins sans Frontières hopes to raise 50 million francs to finance its work in Rwanda for the next three months."

22 July 1994 - France 2 - Report in Goma camp interview Sister Sabina Iragui and Catherine Lefèvre (MSF) on cholera and on refugees being manipulated by “genocidaires” (French)

TV presenter: "Good evening ladies and gentlemen. The veritable human disaster unrolling in Rwanda as we speak is without a doubt the worst we've seen this century. This is why France 2 has decided to spend time with you this evening trying to understand the awful reality of what's happening on the ground. What efforts are being made by Western countries? And how can you, if you so wish, participate in the race against time to save the refugees? The emergency is in fact twofold. It first of all involves a push to limit the cholera epidemic, which has left hundreds of dead in its wake during the last three days alone. And then - and this is the message we're passing to the United Nations’ decision makers - the Rwandans must go home as quickly as possible, and soon, but what must the conditions be? This is the crux of it. Once again, in Goma, the town bordering Rwanda and Zaire, the refugees and those trying to save them have been through another day in hell. Dorothée Ollieric and Alain Saingt."

Commentary: "For them, the exodus stops here. They're only a few kilometres from the Rwandan border, but they're the weakest, and they're the ones hit by cholera first. Yesterday, 25 refugees from Igangi camp died, there were twice as many today. According to humanitarian organisations, if we don't take action, they'll be 100 000 cholera victims in under three weeks. As things stand, people are dying in silence, at the feet of people too often themselves the living dead. In this city of death, we don't look at corpses, we don't talk any more, we don't even cry any more:

Sœur Sabina Iragui (Fille de la Charité): "There's a lot of patients dying because the cholera outbreak’s happening when they're particularly undernourished. They've been here for a week, you know, and they haven't received any humanitarian aid."

Commentary: "At the exit to the camp, we take the road to the north, a road as interminably long as the throes of death. Everywhere we look, the shadow of death, bodies that aren't even being buried anymore. Four kilometres from Igangi camp, we arrive at Munigi centre. A handful of humanitarian workers for patients that are dying in droves."

Catherine Lefèvre, MSF: "Yesterday evening we had 500 people like Patience. Now we have 1000. 200 people died here yesterday, just in this centre. Today, it'll be 400, maybe more. It's getting worse and worse. Apparently the situation's going downhill in Kubumba too. So if it's the same thing in Kubumba, what's already a disaster will become even worse."

Commentary: "They've fled the chaos of war, now they must flee from this disease."

A young refugee woman: "My sister died of cholera three days ago and I've been looking after her baby. But he hasn't eaten anything for three days, not even a drop of milk. I don't know what to do. I don't want to go back to Rwanda, I'm too scared."

Commentary: "Fear, rumours, a lot of people don't know that the war's over in Rwanda. They're still talking about the massacres, about the ditches they say every Tutsi is digging in his garden so as to bury the Hutus. As we advance along the road, we understand how much this crowd is manipulated, how everybody has completely lost their way."

Journalist to a refugee: "What's more dangerous for you, cholera or the RPF?"

The refugee: "Well, when you get cholera, there's steps you can take. You can get cholera, but if you're lucky you can get treatment. But going back to Kigali's really dangerous because the Inkotanyi show no mercy."

Commentary: "At the 23rd kilometre, we've seen the hills of Kibumba and a tidal wave of humanity, in exodus. 100 000, 500 000, 1 000 000, whatever the figures, whatever the ethnic groups involved, solutions must be found. And as if things aren’t already bad enough, the cholera leaves us little room for hope."

22 July 1994 – France 2 – Interview Rony Brauman (former president MSF France) on emergency to bring aid to refugees and preparing their return to Rwanda, and on camps under the grip of “genocidaires” (French)

TV presenter: Rony Brauman, good evening, you're the former president of Médecins sans Frontières, joining us directly from Montpellier. The French government wants to increase its medical aid. Philippe Douste Blazy is heading for Goma as we speak. The United States has announced that it will provide a total of 76 million dollars in aid. In your opinion, has the world got moving now? Has the degree of urgency been understood?

Rony Brauman: Yes, it would seem so, we're at last seeing the international community come to life. But I would just like to correct one little error I heard in the report you just delivered. The people we're currently seeing in Zaire aren't the people who've fled the massacres. These are people who were urged to flee Rwanda and take refuge in either Tanzania, Zaire or the French security zones so that the new government in Rwanda has no people left to govern i.e. the country it holds power over is emptied of its people. In short, it's about creating sanctuaries from which this government will rebuild itself - I'm talking about the former government, sorry - to re-wrest control of Rwanda. So there are currently two emergencies, of equal importance. The first is the one you've shown - treating these people who are innocent and dying. We do indeed need to provide them with food, drinking water systems, nutritional centres and rehydration stations such as Dr. Vasset was describing a minute ago. It’s vital to react to this emergency now, and humanitarian organisations, governments and international organisations are moving into action.

TV presenter: That's the first emergency.

Rony Brauman: Right. There is another one, which is just as present and should be considered just as urgent – it’s the refugees' return to their country. Why? Partly because it's not just not an option to set up bases that are so volatile, so explosive, in countries that are themselves powder kegs. Secondly, because in Rwanda, the crops are dying in the fields and if they're not harvested, another famine will ravage the country. And thirdly, last but by no means least: Rwanda needs to get back on its feet, collect itself, re-build its identity, and this will only happen if people resettle themselves peacefully.

Presenter: But Rony Brauman, if the refugees are to return, isn't a prior political solution needed to provide them with political security?

Rony Brauman: There's already the beginnings of a political solution. The government that's set itself up in Kigali is a government that's guaranteed, promised, the refugees that they need not be concerned - at least, not those who took no part in the major massacres, because it goes without saying that the warranties are for the innocent - they cannot exclude justice being done. Security cannot be put in the balance with ensuring justice is done. We need both security for people who've done no wrong, and justice for the murderers. There's a lot of people in these camps, because it also bears noting that the sites we’ve just seen in Tanzania, the French security zones and Zaire are literally locked down by the militia responsible for the genocide. The former government, responsible for the genocide, is building itself back up in these sanctuaries. So we must avoid setting up camps in these regions and everything must be done - it's an international responsibility of the utmost importance - to ensure, as quickly as possible, and I mean today and during the days to come, that a maximum number of refugees return to their villages and revert to a normal life. Then, as a second step, and here again speed is of the essence, in the weeks to come we need a process - a real process that is worthy of the name - put into place to judge the main guilty parties in the genocide. This will be hard to bring about because full justice is far from guaranteed, obviously. But the main guilty parties - those who launched the calls for hate and extermination via the famous radio station Milles Collines, the main leaders of the militia who have massacred hundreds of thousands of people, the Presidential guard (that France helped maintain) and a good part of the police force - these people must be judged.

TV presenter: Rony Brauman, the doctor turns prosecutor.

Rony Brauman: No, I'm not talking as a doctor here, I'm talking as a citizen, as an ardent admirer of, a supporter of democracy and justice. This is not about being a prosecutor, it's about calling for a minimum of justice to be done. If this process is not set up, the hate will continue to fester, seeping through the entire country and plunging it into a new cycle of violence, outbursts and reprisals like the ones we're already seen. So the refugees’ return, justice and assistance in re-starting the economy - these are the priorities, and they're just as important as the humanitarian priority that's so evident today. 

TV presenter: Thank you Rony Brauman, you're in Montpellier, we should mention that that you're working on a book on Rwanda, due to come out soon, which explains your knowledge and why you’re with us.


22 July 1994 - ITN - Report on Rwandan refugees dying of cholera in the camps; MSF volunteers counting corpses (English)

Link to video

1995 - Rwanda: the humanitarian dilemma; Refugees in Goma camps under the grip of the authors of genocide, MSF – English

1995 - Rwanda: the humanitarian dilemma - Refugees in Goma camps under the grip of the authors of genocide, MSF (French)


19 August 1994 - ITN - Interview with Samantha Bolton, MSF press officer on risks of epidemic outbreak

Link to Video

TV presenter: "The United Nations High Commission says it is concerned by but not in despair about this situation, in stark contrast to the relatively positive feedback from most humanitarian organisations about Operation Turquoise and its roll out these last few days. Philippe Rochot and Vincent Maillard"

Commentary: "The departure of the last 500 French soldiers from Rwanda leaves humanitarian organisations to cope with the immense staffing and logistics problems on their own. No one's contesting the thousands of human lives saved due to the French armed forces' efforts. But according to organisations such as Médecins sans Frontières, which has 300 staff on the ground, France should be doing more than just assistance operations for populations in distress."

Bernard Pecoul (MSF): "The soldiers were useful and I believe they did a proper job of the humanitarian part of their work. But we also believe that when states become involved, when the international community becomes involved, it can't just intervene from a humanitarian angle because that completely blurs the essence of the problem, which must be kept in sight."

Commentary: In the Goma camps, people aren't just dying of cholera, they’ve got other diseases too, just as in the humanitarian zone. For Médecins du Monde, the French soldiers have left too quickly, there's been no time to prepare handovers.

Vincent Faber, Médecins du Monde: "The departure of the French today is just the logical conclusion of political ambiguity in that they've had limited impact from the start, limited by the RPF because they never had any legitimacy in the RPF's eyes, so there you go. They’ve had limited impact from the start, unable to really prepare a handover of their humanitarian work, which is what they came here to do, don't forget."

Commentary: But the departure of the French is felt hardest in logistics terms. Small organisations such as Atlas are now having to face transport problems alone, whereas previously the French army arranged convoys for most of the food and medical aid. Now they're desperately searching for convoy leaders and logistics personnel.

Hervé Dubois, Atlas president: "We realised that there was such a deficit in transportation terms that funding was required for trucks, stocks and telecommunications installation. All logistics infrastructure has been funded, we're starting to set it up, and we need to double our efforts in the Cyangugu area."

Commentary: All humanitarian organisations are currently accepted by the new authorities in Rwanda, which allows them to work in the former French zone, but population movements remain hard to predict.

TV presenter: The staff of Médecins sans Frontières have had enough. The organisation has decided to leave the Rwandan refugee camp in Bukavu, eastern Zaire. Médecins Sans Frontières states that security is not guaranteed, and voices its revolt at the indifference shown by the international community. Isabelle Baechler:

Commentary: Nearly one million Hutu Rwandan refugees in a camp in Zaire, where emergency is ‘under the thumb’. Here's the situation humanitarian workers are facing. A population, over-estimated in number, that doesn't receive food aid directly. All aid is filtered by the leaders, to the point where children still suffer from malnutrition despite the significant excess of distributed food. Using intimidation tactics, aid is diverted to the Rwandan administration, the very same administration that ordered and perpetrated the genocide this spring and which has re-built itself in the camps. Local officials and militia make the law.

Dominique Martin, MSF: "The risk is that it prepares a new offensive against Rwanda and a new genocide. And as a humanitarian organisation, we cannot accept to be mixed up – from near or far - with such a risk, which seems increasingly real to us. There are times when you have to make choices and we think that today in Bukavu, the reasonable choice for us to make, where our responsibility lies, is to leave the camp."

Commentary: Just as they've left Cambodia, Ethiopia and Honduras in the past, MSF France humanitarian workers don't want to be manipulated by the former leaders of the massacre. Their 19 expatriates will have left Bukavu by tomorrow noon, with heavy hearts, needless to say. They're leaving behind them 150 jobless employees, but above all the very real distress of the refugees.