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ICRC: Meeting evolving humanitarian needs

THE head of regional delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Pascal Cuttat, gives an insight into the activities of the ICRC in the region and globally as the organisation commemorates 150 years of humanitarian action.

What is the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)?

The ICRC is an international humanitarian organisation whose headquarters are in Switzerland. It works in more than 80 countries around the world to protect and assist people affected by armed conflicts and situations of violence.

It is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Moveme-nt which is the world’s largest humanitarian network. We are united by the same core values in over 188 countries around the world, namely: neutrality, impartiality, independence and humanity. Together, we are able to respond to the essential humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable during all times of emergencies be it war, violence, natural or man-made disasters.

Our regional delegation in Harare is responsible for humanitarian activities in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Moza-mbique, Namibia and Zambia.

Could you highlight some the key milestones in your organisation during that period?

Our journey as an organisation mirrors the main events that have touched the lives of our beneficiaries and the evolution of conflict over the past century. We have been privileged to be able to meet the needs of those most affected by war and witness the rebirth of communities that had been torn apart.

One of the most important milestones was our first visit to prisoners of war in 1915. That singular event set the tone for and standard for the work we are able to carry out today in favour of over half a million detainees around the world on an annual basis. It reaffirmed the core belief behind the creation of the ICRC in 1863 and the modern laws of war that any person, no matter their affiliation, is entitled to humanitarian assistance and contact with their family as long as they are no longer participating in conflict.

Our involvement in and support for the campaign to ban the production, stockpiling and use of anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions is reminder of the other fundamental role of our organisation – to promote the development of international humanitarian law. Although the destruction of these indiscriminate weapons has proceeded slowly in some instances, the commitment of states to increasing protections for communities and fighters that led to the creation of the modern law of war must not be minimised.

What are the delegation’s major achievements over the past few years?

The ICRC has had an operational presence in Zimbabwe since 1975. Over the past four years we have worked with the Zimbabwe Prison Service in 46 prisons around the country to improve the welfare of inmates. Our cooperation continues to be built on the pillars of improving nutrition and food security for inmates, monitoring the healthcare of inmates and rehabilitating water and sanitation infrastructure.

In partnership with the City of Harare, the ICRC supports 12 health facilities in the high-density suburbs of Harare to improve the provision of primary health care services for over one million residents. Working closely with the medical and non-personnel of the polyclinics, we have provided training, essential drugs, improved waste management within the clinics and rehabilitated electrical and water infrastructure.

Through a joint initiative between the ICRC and the Zimbabwe government we provide technical support to the work of the Zimbabwe Mine Action Centre to clear and destroy the anti-personnel mines that maim, kill and impede development within communities on Zimbabwe’s borders with Mozambique.

Beyond this, we play a major role in the development of and strengthening of international humanitarian law in Zimbabwe and the region.

What activities does the ICRC pursue in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia?

One of the roles of national Red Cross societies is to provide first aid during natural and man-made disasters. We work with them to enhance their emergency preparedness capacity. This has enabled Malawi Red Cross volunteers to prove emergency first aid to people injured during violent protests in July 2011 and the Zambia Red Cross volunteers responded to incidents of violence during the September 2011 general elections.

In Namibia, we have been monitoring the treatment and conditions of detention of 124 inmates detained in connection with events in the Caprivi Region in 1999. In partnership with the Namibia Red Cross Society and in cooperation with the Namibia Correctional Service, loved ones of the inmates are able to visit them in their places of detention twice a year. We assist the families by providing accommodation and transportation as it is a considerable distance from their homes to the places of detention.

We also work with all national Red Cross societies in the region assisting people displaced by conflicts to restore and maintain contact with their families.

Those receiving assistance come from a variety of countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Somalia. This is done through Red Cross messages but increasingly through modern technology such as e-mail whenever possible.

What challenges does the future hold for the ICRC?
The people and communities whom were serve remain the centre of the ICRC’s focus today and as we look into the future. To be able to fully understand their humanitarian needs our personnel need to be able to be secure in the environments in which they are working. In a number of contexts over the past few years, it has become increasingly difficult to provide such security, limiting our ability to reach the most vulnerable.

Therefore our future is also closely linked to increased respect for international humanitarian law – the rules that protect those who are not or no longer participating in conflict and regulates the tactics and weapons that fighting parties can be used.

Since 1864, remarkable progress has been made to strengthen this system of rules. With a comprehensive set of rules in place, all actors during conflict need to work harder to enforce them. This will ensure greater protection for civilians and the humanitarian actors who selflessly serve them.

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