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Selective Feeding Programme for Detainees in Rwanda

Authors: Michael Byrne and Annalies Borrel - CONCERN Worldwide

CONCERN is currently providing a supplementary wet-ration to over 7,500 detainees in twelve cachots (commune level detention centres) in Rwanda. The objective of this supplementary feeding programme is to reduce the burden of food provision on the families of the detainees and, indirectly, to assist households to become food secure. The programme is an interesting deviation from the wide range of selective feeding programmes that are characteristic of complex emergencies.

The Rwandan government reports that there are approximately 100,000 detainees in Rwanda's main prisons and cachots, some of whom have been waiting trial for a significant period. The numbers continue to rise and only a few have been tried or released. The Rwandan government has repeatedly requested international assistance to meet the costs of its justice system but international response has been small.

Graph 1: Quantities of food provided to Cachits in Gitarama Prefecture (Dec'95-May'97)

Food Security for Detainees and their Families - A Need for a Supplementary Feeding Programme

While ICRC provides food for distribution at the main prisons, the families of detainees are the only source of food for detainees in the overcrowded cachots. While such high numbers of detainees are present in the cachots, local government structures do not have, and most likely in the near future will not have, the resources to assume the responsibility for providing a nutritional supplement to the detainees in the cachots.

Detainee families are considered to be particularly vulnerable for several reasons. These include the reduction of income source and means of food production due to the imprisonment of a family member and the extra need to provide food for the detained relative. Managing to provide food is difficult for women and children because of the distances that relatives have to walk to the cachots (about 15km) and the risk of discrimination within their communities. For a significant proportion of families, the capacity to produce food has been drastically reduced as a result of a family member being detained.

This vulnerability is further exacerbated by the fragile food security situation that is evident in many parts of Rwanda, because of factors such as:

Under these circumstances, a large proportion of the population dependent on agricultural production is already vulnerable. The families of cachot detainees are especially so.

Evolution of CONCERN's Intervention

In September 1995, UN Human Rights requested CONCERN to discuss with local authorities the possibilities of working in the Gitarama cachot prisons. Following a needs assessment and negotiations with local authorities and ICRC, CONCERN targeted six of the 17 cachots in Gitarama prefecture for a nutritional support programme because approximately 55% of the detainees in these cachots did not receive food support from families or relatives. Between February 1996 and April 1997 there was an increase of 137% in the number of detainees in these cachots. Following repeated requests from the Prefect of Butare, CONCERN expanded into six communes in that prefecture in May and June 1997. CONCERN, currently, is the only agency implementing supplementary feeding programmes in the cachots.

During the initial stages, the objectives of the programme focused on the direct nutritional assistance to the detainees themselves. Although, the programme was in response to, and successfully addressed a very real humanitarian need there were weaknesses in the project design in the areas of:

CONCERN addressed these areas in the evolution of the programme and the emphasis has been shifted from direct nutritional benefit to the detainees to assisting the families of the detainees in the community.

Programme Activities

At the time of writing CONCERN provides a food supplement to detainees by providing one meal on three days each week, meeting at least one third of their weekly requirement. Hence, the potential for interrupting existing community links is minimised. Initially, food was provided for five days a week but this was reduced following a review of the programme and negotiations with the commune authorities. Relatives continue to visit the cachot and provide food on other days. Food brought to the cachots by relatives is shared between all detainees as approximately one third of detainees do not receive any food from relatives. By providing a nutrition supplement to the detainees, family and relatives have more resources and time for food production, school attendance and other activities.

A basic weekly food menu is followed which uses a combination of the locally available foods, (depending on availability and prices), such as beans, maize flour, sweet potato, cooking oil, salt and cassava flour. In addition, CONCERN provides a ration of UNAMIX to women and children detainees. To date, CONCERN has purchased all items in the local towns in Kigali as well as at commune markets near the prison. Large quantities of these commodities are required to meet the overall demands (see Graph 1) resulting in problems such as: dependency on CONCERN as the only food supplier; creation of temporary market demand locally (causing price increases); increased cost of overall programme and logistical difficulties in delivering food supplies on a regular basis. However, WFP have recently agreed to supply the basic food items to the programme via ICRC; this assistance will inevitably reduce these difficulties.

The local commune authorities support the programme by ensuring a supply of firewood, a food store and store-keeper and by permitting detainees to assist with water supply and food preparation. Local authorities are involved in programme planning, programme reviews and problem resolutions. While authorities have assumed greater responsibility for the implementation of the programme, CONCERN has still been able to maintain its role in monitoring food usage.

Given the sensitive nature of the programme there is a very real risk of local communities reacting unfavourably to CONCERN's work with the detainees. Therefore, concurrent activities within the communities are required to provide a balance for the support role in the cachots. Hence, CONCERN is addressing needs in the community and is involved in projects such as support to community associations, literacy, water rehabilitation and housing construction in the same communities.

Constraints, Problems and Issues facing the Programme

The programme continues to try to identify more sustainable alternatives. Establishing and working through local associations to collect and cook food for the detainees, working through local church structures, directly assisting the families of the detainees with food and creating food gardens at the cachots, have all been extensively investigated. None have yielded a viable solution. In particular, when the possibilities of increasing the role and capacity of local associations was considered, however, two major constraints were identified:

The potential contribution by detainees themselves, through participation in small scale food production, is limited. Two constraints are:

The latter approach is currently unrealistic but may be more feasible in the future.

Access to a more direct and secure pipeline of food from WFP or ICRC on a longer-term basis is essential towards making the programme more sustainable. Strengthening of the government's legal and administrative capacity to process the large number of detainees will also be necessary.

The current CONCERN programme is a relief operation and is unsustainable. The need for and the time frame of the programme are dependent on a number of external factors. The continuation or withdrawal of the programme will therefore depend upon recommendations based on reviews at periodic intervals. The following indicators can be considered as triggers which would warrant an exit strategy:

Some of the detainees are most likely to be suffering from some form of nutritional deficiency. There have been a number of reported 'deaths as a result of malnutrition' however, the actual cause of death in most of these cases is rarely confirmed. Under the current design of the programme, severe malnutrition among the detainees can not be addressed for the following reasons:

Detainees suffering from severe malnutrition are referred to nearby health facilities, by ICRC delegates, responsible for monitoring the detainees' health status, or the commune authorities. No anthropometric assessment and monitoring of the nutritional status of the detainee population is being carried out in the cachots where CONCERN is working. Monitoring procedures such as these are difficult to implement due to security restrictions.

This programme has highlighted yet another scenario where some form of supplementary feeding programme may be deemed an appropriate intervention. The design and approach of the programme takes into account a number of considerations i.e. the involvement of local authorities, supporting rather than breaking family support links, presence of concurrent community activities in the same area and an exit strategy that is not defined by quantitative targets. There is an increasing need to recognise and to include this type of (detainee) supplementary feeding programme within the overall framework of different types of selective feeding programmes, by both donor and international agencies, particularly in the context of complex emergencies.

See also the Post Script to this article.

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Reference this page

Michael Byrne and Annalies Borrel (). Selective Feeding Programme for Detainees in Rwanda. Field Exchange 2, August 1997. p3.



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