Letter: Oxfam called for justice

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The Independent Online
ALEX DE WAAL'S article ``Fine feelings, big problems'' (27 November) raises important issues that Oxfam and the staff of other non-governmental organisations working in conflict situations around the world struggle with on a regular basis. He is right to highlight the problem that relief agencies face when speaking out on human rights abuses and at the same time providing life-saving support. Speaking out can sometimes endanger the lives of staff and others.

However, his citing of Oxfam and Rwanda is not a good example of an NGO backing down and deciding to keep quiet to protect staff or to be able to carry on providing relief. Oxfam has consistently argued, frequently in a very public manner, that genocide has happened in Rwanda and that those responsible for genocide must be brought to justice. We campaigned for the establishment of an international tribunal and for aid to help with the re-establishment of the judiciary and police in Rwanda. We have also taken steps to provide practical support to the UN human rights operation by providing vehicles.

At the same time, with massive public support, we have provided clean water to 1.5 million refugees and displaced people in Rwanda itself, Zaire and Tanzania. We do not see this as contradictory.

We have consistently stated that bringing the perpetrators of human rights abuses to justice is at the heart of any solution to Rwanda's crisis. However, we are not in a position to name guilty individuals as Mr De Waal demands because we do not know; it is not our mandate to investigate such crimes. That is why we have pushed for an international investigation.

The article also misses the point on UN military intervention. Oxfam never claimed the UN could or should intervene to stop the war. Oxfam and other agencies called for rapid UN intervention to save as many civilian lives as possible by establishing safe areas, as the rump UN force of 400 successfully did to save thousands of people in Kigali. The advance of the Rwandese Patriotic Front into southern Rwanda proved far too slow to save the lives of civilians at risk of genocide. It is our firm belief that action by the international community could have saved tens of thousands of lives.

Oxfam will continue to speak out against human rights violations at the same time as ensuring that people's basic rights to water, food and shelter are met. There is an urgent need for the speedy deployment of a UN force to Goma, the full deployment of UN human rights monitors in Rwanda and aid to help the new Rwandese government re-establish basic services and law and order. It is vital the international community does not turn its back on Rwanda.

David Bryer

Director, Oxfam

Oxford

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