International Committee of the Red Cross
International Committee of the Red Cross

Regional Delegation for the United States and Canada

In This Issue:
Pierre Krähenbühl: The Militarization of Aid and its Perils
Access During Humanitarian Crises: Barriers to Protection and Assistance
Colombia I: Neutral Intermediary
Colombia II: Release Operation in Photos
ICRC News from
Around the Globe
Israel and the Occupied Territorries 
Saudi Arabia
New ICRC Film -
Central African Republic: Searching for Safety   
Central Africa Republic
This new 8-minute film captures how around the town of Obo, in the south-east part of the Central African Republic, several rebel groups and bandits regularly attack civilians, causing killings, abductions, rapes and looting.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and found a safe heaven in already impoverished host communities. Trade has virtually stopped. Food is scarce and access to the fields to sow crops is very limited.
In 2009, the ICRC, in cooperation with the Central African Red Cross Society, provided over 55,000 conflict-affected people living in precarious conditions in the north of the country with food and essential household items.
The ICRC also helped some 68,000 people work towards regaining their self-sufficiency through agricultural initiatives.
The Need to Know: Restoring Links Between Dispersed Family Members 
Every year, armed conflicts, natural disasters and migration split up countless families. People suffer terribly from not having contact with, or any news from, their loved ones. People need to be able to restore contact with family members who have gone missing and to receive information about them. The ICRC and the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies work together all over the world to assist people separated from loved ones in both emergencies and other situations.
This publication explains how the Family Links network operates and why its services are so important. It describes situations in which family separations occur, and the many ways in which the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement supports dispersed families and families of missing people.
Working for the ICRC: Delegate
ICRC Delegate 
Have you ever wondered what do ICRC delegates do? How do they do it? This video can only present a fraction of the delegate's daily work, but it will highlight the importance of being committed and convinced.
Our World At War in the Lone Star State
DRC - Ron Haviv, Our World At War
Our World At War heads to Texas this month in collaboration with the American Red Cross Greater Houston Area Chapter (GHAC). The exhibit will be on display at South Texas College of Law (STCL), located at 1303 San Jacinto Street, downtown Houston, February 24 through April 4. 
The exhibit will be open to the public Monday through Friday 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM and Saturdays 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Groups of 10 or more should call (713) 646-2915 for a reservation.
For more information on exhibit events and details, visit the GHAC website and the STCL website. STCL events are available for CLE credit.
Upcoming Events
Check our website for the latest news, as ICRC commemorates the upcoming dates with special features, photos, and more:
February 25 - 26:
Teaching International Humanitarian Law Workshop at Emory University School of Law 
March 1: Deadline for submitting Florence Nightingale Medal nominations 
March 4 - 6: Harvard Humanitarian Action Summit
March 25 - 27: ICRC International Surgery Seminar - The Management of Patients with War Wounds

Become a fan today!

ICRC on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter!
ICRC on Facebook
Photostream with photos from Iraq.
ICRC's Flickr Photostream
Watch ICRC films on YouTube
ICRC films on YouTube
ICRC Mission
The ICRC is an impartial, neutral, and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence and to provide them with assistance. 
Join Our Mailing List
News and Notes
February 2011 

This month the ICRC Regional Delegation for the United States and Canada highlights the importance and value of neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian action for the victims of armed violence. 
We begin with an opinion piece by ICRC Director of Operations Pierre Krähenbühl published in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes last January. Mr. Krähenbühl details the challenges faced by humanitarian organizations in contemporary armed conflict and explains the way the ICRC operates in conflict zones. He also encourages civilian and military leaders to ensure that the lines between counter-insurgency strategies and humanitarian aid are not blurred.
We were honored to participate in a recent panel discussion at the Brookings Institution on the problems of accessing those in need during humanitarian crises.  We include a description of this important event, as well as a link to the transcript.
We further illustrate the ICRC's brand of neutral and independent humanitarian action by showcasing the neutral intermediary role played by the organization during the recent release of persons held by the FARC in Colombia.
We would be remiss not to mention the extraordinary events unfolding in Egypt.  Please read this interview with Dr. Hassan Nasreddine, a senior ICRC medical specialist, about his recent mission to Egypt in which he gives his first-hand impression of the humanitarian situation and describes the work of the Egyptian Red Crescent.
Finally, we send our warmest wishes to our colleague (and main author of this newsletter) Sara Schomig. She and her husband Keith welcomed their son Everett to their family earlier this month. 
As always, please write us with you thoughts and feedback.
Kind regards,
The ICRC Washington Delegation
The Militarization of Aid Is Perilous
Pierre KrähenbühlTo address the issue of the transforming role of humanitarian actors in today's conflicts and other situations of violence, Pierre Krähenbühl, ICRC Director of Operations, wrote the following Op-Ed piece entitled "The Militarization of Aid is Perilous" published in Stars and Stripes on January 15:
"The rise in the killing of aid workers last year points to profound questions that confront aid agencies. As attacks on humanitarians increase and aid becomes more politicized and militarized, I believe we are witnessing a set of paradigm shifts that will deeply affect how organizations provide life-saving aid in war. The stakes could not be higher for humanitarian agencies and the victims of armed-conflict.
Over the past decade, deliberate attacks against humanitarian personnel have become commonplace. They are clearly illegal and unacceptable and must be condemned in the strongest terms. The rejection of humanitarians is, however, also the byproduct of policies that integrate humanitarian aid into political and military strategies. For some time now, this has been known as the "blurring of lines" debate: Is it appropriate for armed forces to be involved in humanitarian activities?
For the International Committee of the Red Cross, the question is not whether the military can contribute to humanitarian efforts; it, for example, has an obligation under international humanitarian law to evacuate wounded civilians. Aid becoming part of counter-insurgency strategies, however, is much more problematic. I have never forgotten a press statement issued by international forces in Afghanistan a couple of years ago emphasizing that humanitarian assistance was helping them and Afghan forces win the "fight against terrorism."
Such developments lead parties to conflicts and affected populations to associate all humanitarians with specific political and military goals in Afghanistan and beyond. When humanitarian action becomes part of strategies aimed at defeating an enemy, the risks for aid agencies in the field grow exponentially. This is when a bright red line must be drawn.
Heightened security concerns mean reduced access for humanitarian organizations in places where the population may be in dire need of strictly humanitarian assistance. Looking at countries in which the ICRC runs some of its larger operations - Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia or Yemen - I am struck by how few aid agencies are actually able to gain regular access to populations and run independent operations. Some may question the value of independent, neutral and impartial humanitarianism in today's wars. However, as an organization present and active in conflict for close to 150 years, including in those fought by insurgents, we know that these very principles enable us to reach, assist and seek to protect those caught in armed conflict.
A little known facet of our activities in Afghanistan illustrates the value of independent humanitarian action. Since 2007, the ICRC has been able to organize safe passage for Afghan Ministry of Health and World Health Organization workers who carry out polio vaccinations for children in the south of the country. This safe space is negotiated with the Taliban and respected by U.S., NATO, and Afghan security forces. The ICRC regularly facilitates the transfer of wounded and handover operations for released hostages in Afghanistan. Operations of this kind are only possible because all parties to the conflict know that the ICRC does not take sides and intervenes on strictly humanitarian grounds.
The time-tested modus operandi of the ICRC is not that of all humanitarian actors. The aid community is very diverse in its approaches and an honest review of its various practices and their effects is needed. I note a growing pessimism in the aid community and nostalgia for what is often called a shrinking " humanitarian space. " In fact, our experience tells us that there is simply no such thing as a pre-established, protected " humanitarian space. "
Today ' s armed conflicts are protracted and fragmented. In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the ICRC interacts with 40 different armed groups or factions. In such situations, the space needed for action is created daily and over time: by building relations; by not taking acceptance for granted; by matching words with deeds; by adopting a principled approach and following it with great discipline. The ICRC, for one, believes in consistent neutrality and independence as a way to build trust.
This is not the only way to engage in humanitarian action but aid agencies cannot have it both ways: asking for armed escorts to reach populations in need one day and criticizing those same military forces for blurring the lines the next cannot be a solution. In fact, this very inconsistency creates further problems in terms of perception and trust. Humanitarians cannot simply point fingers and exclude their own choices and actions from the debate.
Given the stakes, I believe it is essential that political and military decision makers seriously confront the far reaching consequences of making humanitarian aid an integral part of counter-insurgency operations. Humanitarian organizations for their part must debate the consequences of their choices in a more self-critical and honest fashion and genuinely decide how they wish to operate. Failure to do so will continue to weaken the security of humanitarian workers and, more significantly, further isolate and endanger the victims of armed conflict."
Access During Humanitarian Crises: Barriers to Protection and Assistance
Access to vulnerable communities and populations in times of armed conflict often poses great difficulties for humanitarian actors, including the ICRC, as different circumstances may prevent them from providing assistance and protection. At times aid groups are blocked by authorities, at times by non-state actors. Thus, humanitarian agencies are confronted with the difficult task of protecting their staff while reaching out to others in need. 


On February 15, the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement hosted a discussion to explore the challenges of access during humanitarian crises.
First, Ambassador Claude Wild, Head of the Political Affairs Division IV with the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, opened the discussion with introductory remarks by illustrating the Swiss perspective on the topic. Switzerland has always emphasized the importance of humanitarian engagement on the ground and worked to address the critical issue of access.
Then, Martin de Boer, Deputy Head of the ICRC Washington, Buti Kale from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Gerry Martone from the International Rescue Committee, and Ashraf Hadari from the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs offered their take on the challenges of humanitarian action when barriers exist to provide protection and assistance to vulnerable people. The discussion was moderated by Elizabeth Ferris, co-director of the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement and it was followed by a Q&A session.
For a transcript of the discussion, please click on the following link
Colombia I: Neutral Intermediary
In Colombia, the ICRC - with the logistical support of the Government of Brazil - has been facilitating the release of people whom the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) are handing over to the former Colombian senator Piedad Córdoba. Earlier this week the FARC released Guillermo Solórzano, a police officer and SalÍn Antonio Sanmiguel Valderrrama, an army officer, in a rural area situated between the departments of Cauca and Valle del Cauca. Michael Kramer, the deputy head of the ICRC delegation in Colombia, is taking part in these humanitarian operations. He talks about the ICRC's role in releases, the form they take and about the psychological support the organization offers to the families of former captives in the following interview:
Hostage Release Colombia
Why does the ICRC take part in these release operations?

With the prior consent of the parties, the ICRC takes part in releases because they are part of its humanitarian activities in Colombia to assist victims of the armed conflict. In addition to providing logistical support, we take care of the human aspect of releases. Spending months or even years in the jungle without any social or emotional contact is a traumatic experience for any human being and it marks them for life. That is why we try to provide all-round psychological support for both the released person and his or her family. While release is a huge relief for everyone, it also has a deep emotional impact.  
How is the human aspect approached in the first meeting with released persons?

When we receive them, we talk to them for a while at the place of the handover in order to prepare them for a return to their usual environment. The first person to be released was Marcos Baquero, a municipal councilor, who was freed on Wednesday, 9 February. We are waiting until the ICRC doctor has examined him and has talked to him about his captivity, his family and his expectations. What is striking is the feeling of time loss experienced by people who have been in the hands of an armed group, not to mention the psychological after-effects and the exhaustion caused by captivity.
What form does the psychological support of families take?
We have come to realize that preparing a former captive's family for his or her release is a vital element of the psychological support given that person.  Ever since December 2010, when the FARC announced the releases which would take place this week,  a psychologist  has been visiting the families in order to prepare them for this meeting. She has discussed with the closest relatives of the persons about to be released various aspects of captivity and the changes that it would bring in family life. This support has been a great comfort for all the families.  
Is this the first time that you have participated in a release as an ICRC delegate?
Release operations are part of the ICRC's usual activities, not only in Colombia, but in other parts of the world where there are armed conflicts. During my first tour of duty in Colombia from 2002 to 2003, I took part in various handovers of civilians by armed groups in the north of the country. When I was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2009 and 2010 I also participated in humanitarian missions related to the handover of various soldiers who were being held by an armed group. The ICRC is also involved in this kind of operation in countries such as Afghanistan, Niger, Mali, Sudan or Chad.
Colombia II: Release Operation in Photos
As Michael Kramer, Deputy Head of the ICRC Delegation in Colombia, explained, the role the ICRC plays in hostage release situations in Colombia is part of its humanitarian mandate to offer protection and assistance to people vulnerable in armed conflict and other situations of violence.

Colombia Release Operation

In this photo, we see one of the helicopters fly over Brazilian Amazonia at a speed of almost 240 km per hour. This operation started at 10:00 AM, February 6, 2011, when the helicopter set off from Manaos, Brazil. The helicopters are carrying the 22 crew members, two ICRC representatives, one of whom is Michael Kramer, the deputy head of the delegation in Colombia, the former Colombian senator Piedad Córdoba and two members of Colombians for Peace.
Click here for more photos of this operation.