Sir The United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (1) suggest that internally displaced people should be protected against rape and, at a minimum, should be provided with their basic needs, such as food, water, shelter, clothing, medical services, and sanitation. Cooking fuel could be classed as essential for food preparation, and warmth and light when no other provision is made. However, this item is not a standard provision, and the consequences of this omission present a disturbing reality. We believe provision of fuel would help to reduce the rate of attacks on internally displaced women by lessening their need to leave camps to gather wood.
Internally displaced women and adolescent girls are frequently raped in Angola. (2) Sex-specific violence is a global problem, but each attack is also an individual human tragedy. The inability to curtail such attacks has been a fatal flaw in otherwise workable peace initiatives.
In the Dadaab refugee camps, in the Garissa District of Eastern Kenya, Klingshirn (3) reports a disturbing situation, in which the women collecting fuel wood are frequently subjected to personal danger from wild animals and snake bites but and, more seriously, rape by bandits. In Angola, Matenge has noted sexual violence towards displaced women and adolescents while collecting fuel when military troops are stationed near their camps. Rape and sexual abuse of displaced women and adolescents are reported in Colombia as a strategy of intimidation by paramilitary groups. (4) In Burma (Myanmar), many internally displaced women and children are raped, outside the camps, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council. (5)
Each of these examples illustrates the ever-present danger faced by the women of the displaced population who increasingly have become the main breadwinners of their families. They show also that provision of fuel would lower the incidence of such attacks by decreasing the number of necessary unprotected excursions. This solution may not be the best but it could be immediate.
We recommend, therefore, that the guidelines (1) should state that, irrespective of the circumstances and without discrimination, competent authorities should provide internally displaced female people with a minimum of safe access to appropriate fuel.
References 1 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Geneva: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 1998.
2 Matenge Mavis N, LaMont-Gregory, E. The Matenge brief: the transition from military to civilian life is the key to peace, security, and the reconstruction of Angola.
3 Klingshirn A. Cooking energy for refugees: the cases of Zaire and Kenya. In: The environmental impact of sudden population displacements. Brussels: European Community Humanitarian Office, 1995: 36.
4 Obregon L, Stravropoulou M. In: In search of hope: the plight of displaced Colombians. Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 1998: 418.
5 Lallah R. Situation of human rights in Myanmar: report of the special rapporteur. Geneva: United Nations Commission on Human Rights, 1999.
* Refugee Studies Centre, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3LA, UK
The Matenge brief: Authored by Eric LaMont Gregory and Mavis N Matenge at Oxford, was submitted to the Secretary of State as part of an effort to end the 35 year-old war in Angola. 4 million internally displaced women and children were trapped between two armies and had been systematically raped and brutalised by one army or the other as the war waxed and waned. Combatants attacking civilians is a crime against humanity. The war ended 13 weeks after the brief reached the Secretary's desk. Eric LaMont Gregory then turned his attention to the conflict in Afghanistan and a brewing conflict on the border between Ethiopia and Somalia. Matenga went on the work with the High Commission on Refugees in Southern Africa after a brief internship in Canada. This is the subject of a soon to be released book by Gregory 'An End to War'.