Women who flee their homes in search of sanctuary from violence too often find that there is no meaningful refuge-they have simply escaped violence in conflict to face a different type of violence in the refugee camps. Women face particular protection and security risks in refugee camps, as well as the challenges of heading households while suffering from their disadvantaged status as women. Refugee women are vulnerable to rape, sexual assault, and other forms of sexual violence. Levels of domestic violence are also high in many refugee communities: in refugee settings, pressures regarding housing, food, security, and other resources often strain domestic situations and erupt in violence. Moreover, extended networks of family, neighbors, and community leaders that may have acted as a deterrent to abuse under normal circumstances no longer exist in the abnormal conditions and unfamiliar territory to which women refugees are exposed. Yet, generally women refugees have limited, or no, legal remedies against sexual and domestic violence, due to their unfamiliarity with, and wariness of, local police and judicial authorities, and because of a lack of proactive, timely, systematic, and sensitive responses by the relevant international and local authorities.
Human Rights Watch began monitoring the situation of Burundian refugees in the Tanzanian camps in 1997. Late that year, we received reports that human rights abuses, particularly sexual violence, were occurring at high rates in the camps, and that the responses of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (unhcr) and the Tanzanian government to sexual violence were inadequate. Human Rights Watch undertook a first mission to the Tanzanian refugee camps in May and June 1998. Our purposes were to obtain firsthand information about human rights violations, including sexual and other gender-based violence against refugees residing in those camps; and to remind the relevant authorities of their responsibility to ensure that perpetrators of such abuses must be held to account for their actions. We focused on Burundian refugees because they constituted the largest group, approximately two-thirds of the total number who also included refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
In both 1998 and 1999, Human Rights Watch and other rights groups found that Burundian women refugees in the Tanzanian camps were subject to high levels of sexual and domestic violence and urged unhcr to adopt and implement policies and procedures that would afford refugee women greater protection from, and effective remedies against, these abuses. Many of the refugee women interviewed by Human Rights Watch bore scars and other physical evidence of beatings by their husbands or partners. Some had received such severe injuries thatthey had required hospital treatment. In addition, it was evident that Burundian women refugees were vulnerable to rape both by male refugees and local Tanzanian nationals. We learned that women were liable to be attacked while carrying out routine, daily tasks, such as gathering firewood, collecting vegetables, or searching for employment in local Tanzanian villages.
But the full extent of the violence was impossible to gauge. Statistics on rape and domestic violence in the Tanzanian refugee camps are unreliable: no comprehensive reporting mechanisms exist, and many cases are believed never to come to light. However, unhcr officials and their community services implementing partners1 are now making efforts to collect data on rates of domestic and sexual violence in the camps. In May 1999, Refugees International, a U.S.-based nongovernmental advocacy group, on the basis of a survey they had carried out, estimated that one in four Burundian refugee women in northern Tanzania had been the victim of rape or serious sexual harassment.2 The International Rescue Committee (irc), a US-based humanitarian organization that provides health and other social services to refugees in the Tanzanian camps, including an education and counseling program for women who are victims of gender-based violence, documented 122 cases of rape and 613 cases of domestic violence in four camps-Kanembwa, Mkugwa, Mtendeli, and Nduta, in 1998. In 1999, the figures were 111 cases of rape and 764 cases of domestic violence. Some of the rape cases had been referred to police for investigation. Domestic violence cases, however, were mostly handled outside the justice system, through counseling. The example of Burundian women refugees in Tanzania shows all too clearly how the absence of well-designed and concrete programs to protect women refugees from violence and to punish the perpetrators of such violence when it occurs, leads to high rates of domestic and sexual violence. Their experiences also show why it is imperative that those responsible for the welfare and protection of refugees, notably the host government and UNHCR, recognize and respond effectively to such abuses from the earliest stage of the refugee influx. Humanitarian organizations long complained about the high rates of sexual and domestic violence in the Tanzanian refugee camps and bemoaned the lack of an effective response. Since the establishment of the camps some six years ago, these organizations, some of which are unhcr's implementing partners, have been working to improve programs and services towomen victims of violence. However, prior to 1999, they received little or no assistance from unhcr.
UNHCR's shortcomings in responding to the problem of violence against women in the camps prior to 1999 occurred despite the agency's own longstanding directives on preventing and responding to gender-based violence. unhcr has issued two important sets of guidelines to provide direction to their staff on ways to better protect women refugees.3 However, these guidelines have often represented little more than theory, with few, if any, efforts made by unhcr staff to ensure that they form a routine and integral part of all unhcr programs from the very first stage of any refugee crisis. Too often, women refugees have been left languishing in camps with little or no attention paid to their protection needs-even in situations in which unhcr and the host government are informed of the violence being perpetrated against refugee women.
In 1999, five years after the establishment of the refugee camps in Tanzania, unhcr began more systematically to address violence against women in these camps by both implementing new programs and strengthening existing ones. These efforts were undertaken partly in response to pressure from human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, and unhcr's receipt in October 1998 of funds to support programs to combat violence against refugee women in Tanzania and other African countries. Many of these programs are commendable, but further reforms are needed to ensure that they provide refugee women the greatest possible degree of protection.
As this report goes to publication, unhcr's programs on violence against women in the Tanzanian camps could be further strengthened in several ways. With regard to domestic violence, first, no protocol exists to guide both unhcr staff and other refugees who counsel victims of domestic violence, nor has unhcr yet developed an explicit set of policy guidelines on domestic violence for use by its staff. This absence of a clear, informed, and consistent unhcr policy on domestic violence is a significant omission, and one that may lead to women's lives being jeopardized. That said, however, Human Rights Watch is pleased to note that unhcr has now recognized the need to revise its policies on refugee women to include guidelines on domestic violence and urges unhcr to consult with and involve ngos, particularly those with expertise in working with refugee women.
A second problem in relation to domestic violence is that there are no applicable mechanisms within the refugee camps to punish perpetrators of domestic violence against women and most of these cases are not referred to local authorities. There are no guiding principles or mechanisms to monitor and ensure that mediation councils known in Kirundi, the language of Burundi, as abashingatahe. These councils are run by mostly male refugee elders and do not preside over criminal cases. Neither unhcr nor the Tanzanian authorities have communicated to the abashingatahe that their power to mediate disputes does not give them jurisdiction to preside over alleged criminal actions. Among other things, these councils preside over cases of domestic violence, though their standards are not based on relevant international human rights law. unhcr and the Tanzanian authorities need to communicate clearly to the abashingatahe that any disputes brought to their attention, when involving physical violence occurring in domestic or non-domestic settings, should be referred for criminal investigation. Finally, unhcr's education and counseling programs on domestic violence lack a core message on women's equality and are not implemented consistently across the various refugee camps. Together, these factors seriously weaken unhcr's programs to respond to domestic violence, often resulting in refugee women having to suffer domestic violence in the Tanzanian camps with little or no recourse.
In some cases, a lack of coordination among protection officers and community services officers has undermined the effective protection of refugees. unhcr has placed staff in each camp to provide refugees with community services and protection. The community services officers are responsible for developing community-based programs or income generating projects for refugees. They also run all education programs for refugees on sexual and other gender -based violence and provide counseling for the victims of such violence. In some camps, programs are run by implementing partners' staff in collaboration with unhcr community services officers. unhcr protection officers are responsible for all matters relating to refugee protection: they oversee camp security, advise refugees on legal matters when they are victims of crime, follow up cases involving refugees to ensure that they are properly investigated and prosecuted, and work with the host government authorities on matters relating to refugee rights under international refugee law. There is, however, a lack of systematic follow-up in cases of sexual violence in the camps, as well as a lack of coordination between community services officers and protection officers in seeking to ensure that women know and understand their legal rights and other options when they have been subjected to sexual or physical assault. In addition, more coordination is needed between community services officers and protection officers to ensure that women receive appropriate assistance, advice, and support during legal proceedings.
One factor contributing to this is that the unhcr operation in Tanzania functions under stringent budgetary constraints. This also means that UNHCR has insufficient resources to provide refugees with certain basic necessities, such as fuel for cooking and housing. Women often must travel many miles outside the camps to collect firewood, increasing their vulnerability to rape or other sexual assault. unhcr and the Tanzanian host government have received inadequate financial and other support from the international donor community while sustaining a very heavy burden of mass refugee influxes. Various crises I
n Africa have taxed unhcr's resources, while the international donor community's focus on recent refugee crises in Europe has further limited the resources available for unhcr and host governments to assist African refugees. Resources, however, are only part of the problem. unhcr's slow progress in fully implementing its own Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women (hereafter Guidelines on Refugee Women) has also stemmed from lack of interest and prejudice among some unhcr staff, and a lack of political will to make the protection of refugee women a priority.
The situation for both Burundian refugees and local Tanzanians living close to the border is precarious given the potential spillover of rebel activity and arms flow from the Burundian conflict. Robberies, rapes, and thefts of crops from Tanzanian farms have resulted in a growing anti-refugee sentiment among local Tanzanians, sometimes leading to rape and other violence against refugees. In one particularly serious incident in May 1999, a group of some fifty or more refugee women were alleged to have been raped by a group of Tanzanian men, apparently in reprisal for the death of a local school teacher. More than a hundred Tanzanian men were believed to have taken part in the rapes, though only eleven were subsequently arrested.
Human Rights Watch visited the Tanzanian refugee camps in May 1998 and October 1999. During the first visit, Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed refugee leaders, representatives of unhcr, the United Nations Children's Fund (unicef), and other humanitarian organizations, as well as Tanzanian government officials from the judiciary, the police, and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which is responsible for refugee matters. Human Rights Watch visited eight refugee camps-Kanembwa, Lukole A and B, Mtabila 1 and 2, Mtendeli, Muyovosi, and Nduta-and interviewed over one hundred refugee women, including twenty-seven who had been victims of domestic or sexual violence while in the refugee camps. Following this first visit, Human Rights Watch visited unhcr's headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, in February 1999, to discuss its findings and make recommendations to unhcr and donor governments. In June 1999, a Human Rights Watch delegation visited Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, where unhcr's Tanzania field office is headquartered, to hold discussions with theTanzanian authorities and with unhcr. Finally, a follow-up mission to the camps was carried out in October and November 1999 in order to assess steps being taken to respond to the problem of violence against refugee women.
In 1998, we found that some unhcr staff were defensive or dismissive about the problem of violence against women refugees. Some even tended to blame the victim, while others saw such violence as unfortunate, but "normal,"or attributed sexual violence to Burundian culture. At that time, unhcr lacked both community services staff with relevant training, and dedicated programs to assist refugee women.
When Human Rights Watch returned to the camps in 1999, we found that unhcr, to its considerable credit, had initiated more systematic, careful, and effective efforts to address the problem of sexual violence. Together with its implementing partners, unhcr had begun to put in place a stronger safety net for women victims of violence by expanding and strengthening its existing programs to combat violence against refugee women. These new programs are aimed at raising community awareness of sexual and other gender-based violence; providing counseling for victims of sexual violence; following up rape cases with the police and courts to ensure that they are investigated and that perpetrators are prosecuted; and establishing food distribution systems to ensure women's access to food, particularly in situations of domestic violence or divorce.
Since March 1999, there has also been increased coordination between unhcr and its implementing partners, as well as with local ngos working with refugees, in setting up programs to address violence against women in the camps. unhcr has also hired new staff specifically to implement programs for refugee women. For example, two Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (sgbv) assistants were recruited in September 1999. Their responsibilities include collaborating with community services officers to implement programs for refugee women and following up on cases that require community-based assistance. Two Tanzanian lawyers were also appointed in September 1999 to assist refugee women who are willing to bring cases of violence against them before the courts, and an international security liaison officer was recruited to train police deployed to refugee camps on their responsibilities in refugee situations and to monitor their work.
Human Rights Watch welcomes unhcr's efforts to increase protection of refugee women in the Tanzanian camps. Such developments show what can be achieved with political will and the appropriate allocation of resources. While it will clearly take some time for these measures to have their full effect, they appear to be a step in the right direction and, if ultimately successful, they could usefully be adapted and replicated in other unhcr programs elsewhere.
Three issues, however, remain to be resolved. First, delivery and distribution of food and non-food items to refugees in the camps are not sufficiently responsive to the needs of women victims of domestic violence. Under unhcr's food distribution system, refugee heads of household receive the food for their families. When it reaches the household, women are responsible for the cooking, but men retain the power to decide how the food is used. Some sell the family's ration or parts of it, keeping the money they receive for their own personal use. Women refugees complained to Human Rights Watch that, as a result, they and their children were sometimes left without enough to eat and, when they complained about this to their husbands, they were beaten. Second, while it is women who collect firewood for their family fuel allocation and grow crops to supplement their food rations, the areas where they can do this are often distant from the camps and from police protection, increasing women's vulnerability to sexual assault. Last, unhcr's lack of explicit policy guidelines on responding to domestic violence leaves its staff without direction or training on how to prevent and address the problem. In 1999, Human Rights Watch found that unhcr had adopted a protocol which lays out clear procedures for staff to follow for reporting rape, but not for domestic violence. Moreover, although unhcr had instructed the abashingatahe not to deal with cases of rape, no similar restrictions were communicated to the abashingatahe forbidding them from dealing with cases of domestic violence. This left the abashingatahe with the discretion to preside over and mete out punishments in domestic violence cases-frequently passing judgements that did not conform with the requirements of international human rights law.
unhcr has overall responsibility for camp administration, but the Tanzanian host government also has a responsibility, among other things, to extend police protection and judicial redress to all refugees-including victims of rape and domestic violence-through its domestic legal system. However, the Tanzanian justice system is generally overburdened and underfunded, and it does not adequately investigate, prosecute, and punish perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence. Despite the existence of laws punishing rape and assault, the Tanzanian authorities' lack of resources, guidance, and training to enforce those laws has left women with little hope of seeing their attackers held accountable. Moreover, we found that investigators seldom sought to obtain the evidence required to prosecute a domestic violence case because of a prevailing bias against the state intervening in "private" domestic matters. Tanzanian police officers interviewed by Human Rights Watch did not regard domestic violence as a crime, though they were concerned about sexual violence.
Refugee women are also discouraged by other refugees from taking complaints about sexual or domestic violence to the Tanzanian police or courts. Those who do lodge cases often face recrimination and blame from within the refugee community, including from their families, for reporting on fellow refugees rather than seeking assistance from the abashingatahe. Within the camps, refugees depend heavily on the abashingatahe system in which a group of respected, mostly male refugees appointed by the community acts as an arbiter of disputes. Women refugees who are victims of violence often seek their assistance, although the elders are not supposed to deal with serious criminal matters of such magnitude as murder, arson, or rape. They do deal with cases of domestic violence, however, but do not constitute a satisfactory mechanism because, according to Burundian custom, the role of the abashingatahe is reconciliatory. Moreover, the abashingatahe's discriminatory views about women often result in women's claims being minimized.
To conclude, there are several important lessons that can be drawn from the Tanzania case. First, unhcr needs to ensure a more institutionalized response if it is to address consistently and effectively the protection needs of refugee women from the start of an emergency. Second, unhcr guidelines on the protection of refugee women and the prevention of sexual violence must be more speedily and consistently implemented in all refugee situations, and unhcr staff and those of its partner organizations should be fully apprised of, and trained in, their content. Last, unhcr must address the protection gap for victims of domestic violence and design and implement concrete policy guidelines for its staff on how to prevent and respond to the problem of domestic violence. 1 UNHCR enters into contract with humanitarian aid organizations to provide a variety of services to refugees. These are its implementing partners. 2 Refugees International, Hope in the Fight to Reduce Gender Violence in Tanzanian Refugee Camps (Washington, DC: Refugees International, May 26, 1999). 3 A synopsis of Sexual Violence against Refugees: Guidelines on Prevention and Response can be found on the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children website: http://www.intrescom.org/wcrwc/wc_guidelinesexviol.html. For full text of the guidelines, contact UNHCR.