Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sudan: Darfur: Diffulties faced by humanitarian organizations serving isolated victims of the Darfur genocide

This document is the first part of a long 2-part statement presented by Dr Kellenberger, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, entitled in full "Challenges face by the ICRC and international humanitarian law (IHL)." refWrite hopes to run the second part in the near future, which we will entitle "Challenges faced by international humanitarian law." The 2 parts were first presented by Dr. Kellenberger, at Georgetown University, Washington DC, Oct19,2k6f. Because the first part of Dr Kellenberger's statement uses the example of Red Cross work in the Darfur region, Sudan, it is most timely to offer this important document to refWrite frontpage readers now. For obvious reasons, ICRC and Dr Kellenberg do not use the term "genocide" at all, and do not characterize pejoratively or even mention the political-military forces carrying out the genocide; nor the rebel groups, except to mention how they splintered into multiple organizations over the years of the conflict. The Red Cross restricts itself to those in need in the aspect of their humanitarian needs, not which group they may or many not belong to, or which side if any they are on. -- Owlb

Challenges faced by the Red Cross internationally...

by Dr Jakob Kellenberger©October 19,2006

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank you for your invitation to such a prestigious university and welcome the opportunity to share some thoughts with you about the main challenges the International Committee of the Red Cross and IHL have to meet today. There is a special relationship between the ICRC and IHL. The ICRC has been at the origin of or involved in the codification of most of present-day IHL; on the other hand, IHL has expressly recognised the ICRC's mission and formalised the mandate the international community has given to it. Therefore, and keeping in mind that the primary responsibility to respect and ensure respect for IHL falls on the States parties to the Geneva Convention, challenges facing IHL are of essential importance for the ICRC. I will develop these challenges in the second part of my speech.

Let me start with a challenge I consider the most important operational challenge to be met by the ICRC, namely to ensure access to victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence. Direct contact with those affected by armed conflicts and other forms of violence is essential to understand their situation and their needs, and to try to address them. Moreover, access to all belligerents is crucial to ICRC staff security as well as to ICRC's endeavours to develop a bilateral dialogue with them regarding the respect of IHL and making representations when it is violated. In spite of a few areas off limits which hurt, the ICRC has succeeded in maintaining a uniquely wide access to persons affected by armed violence through the world. However, security constraints in a changing conflictual environment increase the difficulty to gain such access and we must always find the right balance between those two requirements.

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The ICRC addresses security concerns through various means. The most challenging aspect is to ensure the acceptance of ICRC's presence and activities by all the belligerents. To remain close to the victims and to communicate ceaselessly with all existing or potential parties to a conflict ICRC has developed a network of more than 230 delegations, sub-delegations and offices throughout the world, staffed by around 10,000 national employees and 1,500 expatriates, supported by 800 staff at headquarters in Geneva. It endeavours to continuously expand its network of contacts with all weapons' bearers, and with those influencing them. One striking example of this challenge is Darfur. But what does it mean for a humanitarian organisation to be in contact with all parties? In 2003, when the conflict started, there was one rebel faction, in addition to the government forces and the Arab militias. By the end of 2005, there were 6 rebel factions, which split again to be 11 different factions this summer. Even now the fragmentation is continuing. To have been present early helped us to keep track of these developments. But to ensure that all the factions, including the new breakaway ones, accept your presence, mandate and activities so as to reach a level of security acceptable to operate is not an easy task. To give you an idea, over the last 12 months, the ICRC carried out in Darfur 3,600 field trips for assessment, relief distribution, reestablishment of family links, etc. I let you imagine how many contacts it implies with the various faction to ensure a sufficient degree of security for each field movement.

Africa > Sudan > Darfur

However, such contacts are useless without the capacity to deliver on the expectations created by ICRC presence and mandate. It is therefore as well by its effectiveness in the field, by its action to relieve the suffering of the victims and the difference it can make that the ICRC gains its acceptance. In Darfur, the ICRC concentrated its endeavours in the rural areas, where it assesses the situation on the basis of needs, never ethnic, tribal or political affiliation. Cities and IDP camps nearby are well covered by humanitarian assistance; there have even been places where one could have wondered if the number of organisations present simultaneously in the same place was still exclusively based on needs. On the other hand, the ICRC has often been the only actor in the rural areas, along in some areas with Doctors without Borders who focuses on medical issues. Through the relief it brings to vulnerable residents, the ICRC tried to enable them to remain at home rather than being forced to migrate to the already overburdened IDP camps close to urban centres, as well as ensuring that people left behind, often the weakest, not even able to move to IDP camps, can survive. Its activities range from food distribution (currently to around 200,000 people) to seeds and tool distribution, livestock program and water point rehabilitation. Since 2005, ICRC also deployed a mobile field surgical team to operate on war wounded who do not have access to adequate health structures.

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The situation needs to be constantly reassessed, and the deterioration of the security situation throughout 2006 has obliged the ICRC to adapt its approach. Following the fragmentation of the factions and the ensuing increased volatility of the security situation, ICRC can reach at present only more or less half of rural Darfur, what is however still more than other humanitarian actors can. This is a great concern to us because we cannot assess ourselves the situation in these areas. This coverage changes rapidly, and an area which was inaccessible yesterday can be secure enough today to operate or vice versa.

In our analysis, the identity of the ICRC is a key element to ensure its widest possible access to those in need. It is not sufficient to be sure on your own identity. You have to project a clear identity to your different audiences. What is this so important, especially today? Today the humanitarian response is carried out by a large variety of actors, international and local humanitarian agencies, governmental or non-governmental, and in some regions military units as well. The risk of overcrowding is limited to relatively safe places. Higher is the risk of confusion between very different identities. The ICRC, without pretending that this is the only way to carry out humanitarian action, stands for an independent and neutral humanitarian action. It's a real challenge to ensure that this identity is clearly perceived and respected by all concerned, especially the belligerents. But I'm also convinced that this identity has an added value in terms of impact for the victims, in particular in times of conflict. In the past and in the present several examples can be found where the ICRC has been able or is able to remain operational where other organisations were or are not operational or were facing more difficulties. Afghanistan under the Taliban regime or the worst periods of the civil war in Liberia are past examples, parts of Iraq, rural Darfur or central and southern Somalia are present ones. Independence means we want to remain master of our own decision making process. Neutrality has a purely instrumental function. By not taking sides between parties to a conflict, we improve our chances to bring protection and assistance to those in need.

The diversity of the humanitarian sector and the magnitude of the needs it seeks to address make it imperative to ensure efficient coordination among different actors. Lack of coordination can result in conflict victims not getting the support they need while others receive aid well beyond their requirements. The ICRC therefore welcomes any serious effort to improve coordination in the humanitarian field and closely follows and promotes initiatives with this aim. To be effective, cooperation has to be action-oriented and reality-based. This means: it has to be based on existing capacities on the ground in terms of human resources, professional capacities available and logistical means. Organisations participating in reality based coordination have also to be clear on areas within and without their reach. However, credible independence is not compatible with participation in initiatives where the organisation does not retain its own decision-making capacity or where the perception of its identity risks to be blurred by association with others who might have a wider than an exclusively humanitarian agenda.

There can be no doubt for me at all that the position and the reputation an organisation enjoys in the field depends first on its operational capacities, fast deployment included. In Lebanon for example, the ICRC was the international organisation with the widest operation throughout the areas south of the Litani river while the hostilities were still raging. With the Lebanon Red Cross Society, it focused on the evacuations of war wounded and of civilians trapped by the intense fighting. In terms of assistance, the first ships with international relief items to arrive in Beyrouth and in Tyre were ICRC ships, and ICRC was the first organisation to distribute significant external assistance. Any description of ICRC's identity not centred on its capacity to act fast would be very incomplete indeed. I think the organisation also gave convincing proof of this capacity after the earthquake in South Asia on October 8, 2005 in the district of Muzaffarabad.

The last element I want to mention regarding ICRC operations is that of public communication. More than ever ICRC is action and the ICRC as an institution needs to be understood and supported. As I just mentioned, support is mainly generated by the effectiveness and quality of the humanitarian action in the field. But in today's world we also have to accept that support can be generated by public perception, perceptions, moreover, which travel fast. The ICRC favours confidential bilateral dialogue over public advocacy, and is often working in the long run rather than creating the headlines. When the main news in the media are events or situations of direct concern to the ICRC operations, it is not always easy to ensure that the value of its confidential approach is understood by all those in contact with the Institution. But the real challenge regarding public communication is to do it in a consistent way in time and space. Coherence matters. For an organisation like the ICRC which has a global reach, this is the only way to manage its public reputation efficiently.

More Info:

International Red Cross
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
(go to Africa page > Sudan items)
World Vision

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