NEW ICRC Photo Gallery : Improving Living Conditions for Inmates in Haiti
In this photo gallery, we share with you a recent detention success story. Working closely together with Haiti 's prison administration, the ICRC has just completed major repair and refurbishing work on the "Titanic" wing of Port-au-Prince prison, the largest place of confinement in the country with a capacity of over 2,000 people. The completion of this project provides improved living conditions for hundreds of detainees.
In this picture, an ICRC engineer explains the new water system to prison guards.
For more pictures of this project, click here.
UPDATED ICRC Publication
: Restoring Links Between Dispersed Family Members
|This new leaflet summarizes the problems faced by families who have been separated by conflict. It includes a description of the methods used to restore family links, reunite separated families and ascertain the status of detainees and missing persons.
NEW ICRC Film
: Broken Family Ties
Under international humanitarian law, detainees held in an armed conflict must be treated humanely and allowed contact with their families. In June 2007, Israeli authorities suspended family visits for detainees from Gaza. The decision was made a year after Palestinian armed groups captured the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit , who has been in captivity without family contact for over 5 years. Family visits are an essential lifeline to the outside world. See the recent ICRC press release demanding proof of life of Gilad Shalit and to allow family contact. This film portrays two cases of broken family ties in Gaza and the importance of family visits for detainees.
The ICRC follows the same standard procedures for all visits to persons deprived of liberty, listed below. For more information on the history, purpose and characteristics of detention visits, we encourage you to read Protection of Detainees: ICRC Action Behind Bars, by Alain Aeschlimann's, former head of the ICRC's Central Tracing Agency and Protection Division.
- In confidential discussions with the authorities before and after each visit, delegates raise concerns and make recommendations where appropriate.
- ICRC delegates must have access to all cells where detainees are held and other facilities used by detainees, such as kitchens, showers, infirmaries and punishment cells.
- ICRC delegates must be able to speak privately with each and every detainee of their choice.
- The ICRC registers detainees falling within its area of concern individually, so as to be able to monitor the situation of each person as long as he or she remains in captivity.
- The ICRC must be allowed to repeat its visits as frequently as it chooses.
Health Emergencies in Large Populations (H.E.L.P) Courses
A multicultural and multidisciplinary learning experience created to enhance professionalism in humanitarian assistance programmes conducted in emergency situations.
5th Annual International Humanitarian Law Dialogs
Co-sponsored by and held at the Robert H. Jackson Center at the Chautauqua Institution in New York, this event is a historic gathering of renowned international prosecutors from Nuremberg through present day and leading professionals in the international criminal law field. It will allow participants and the public to engage in meaningful dialog concerning past and contemporary crimes against humanity, and the role of modern international criminal law.
Call for applications: 16th course in IHL for humanitarian professionals and policy-makers
The ICRC regional delegation for Kenya, Djibouti and Tanzania calls for applications for its 16th course in international humanitarian law (IHL) for humanitarian professionals and policy-makers. Held in Naivasha, Kenya.
Become a fan today!
Follow us on Twitter!
Photostream with photos from Iraq.
Watch ICRC films on YouTube
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.
This month we focus on the issue of detention. As part of its mandate to ensure humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence, the ICRC visits both prisoners of war and civilians interned during armed conflict. The objective of its visits is to ensure respect for the life and dignity of the detainees. Detention-related activities are a central of the ICRC's work. In 2010, ICRC delegates visited 500,928 detainees held in 1,783 places of detention in 71 countries and in 5 different international courts.
First we present you with an interview with Edouard Delaplace, who advises the ICRC's Geneva-based Unit for Persons Deprived of Liberty. Last month, we shared the ICRC's new policy on torture. Here, Mr. Delaplace provides additional details on what the policy means for the detainees. We also take this opportunity to direct your attention to the results of a survey conducted by the American Red Cross this April on the views of Americans on torture.
Moving from global to local, we take a look at the work of ICRC Washington on U.S. detention related to armed conflict. Ralph Wehbe, Guantanamo Team leader from 2009 to 2011, shares his experiences in coordinating visits to the island.
Lastly, we highlight a key facet of the ICRC's work on detention, which forms a cornerstone of the organization's approach to carrying out its mandate: confidentiality. Our emphasis on bilateral dialogue enables us to engage substantively and directly with those who detain. Confidentiality, however, is often misunderstood. We take this opportunity to explain why the ICRC has chosen this method to achieve concrete results.
As always, please write us
with your thoughts and feedback.
The ICRC Washington Delegation
ICRC Policy on Torture: An Interview with Edouard Delaplace
Last month, to commemorate International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, we shared with you the ICRC's new operational policy on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment inflicted on persons deprived of liberty. With the adoption of this policy, the ICRC reaffirmed its strong commitment to the fight against this practice, all too widespread in detention facilities. In this interview , Edouard Delaplace, who advises the organization's Geneva-based Unit for Persons Deprived of Liberty, explains what the ICRC's approach aims to achieve for detainees.
First, could you summarize the ICRC's position on torture?
The ICRC's position is very clear: torture constitutes an intolerable outrage upon the victims themselves and upon human dignity. It is and must be prohibited absolutely. Torture constitutes a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and the international human rights law. However, it is not only a reflection of the law - it is first and foremost our profound conviction based on ethical considerations and a sense of humanity. No grounds, be they political, economic, cultural or religious, can justify torture or other forms of ill-treatment. Nor can torture be justified on the grounds of national security.
Yet, torture is very widespread. There is no country, no society today that is entirely immune from this phenomenon in one form or another. In some cases, we may be talking about a single, isolated act in a police station or a prison, and in others a systematic, institutionalized practice.
After more than a century of visits to detainees, the ICRC possesses a large body of knowledge on the subject of torture. In recent years, over 500,000 people have been visited by the ICRC in some 80 countries. Every day we see the distress and dehumanization of thousands of people who have been physically and mentally damaged, sometimes beyond repair. It is this firsthand contact with torture victims that has forged our conviction and strengthened our will to actively fight against this scourge.
Practically speaking, what does the ICRC do to help torture victims?
The ICRC's work is based on the visits it makes to people deprived of their liberty to assess the conditions in which they are held and the way they are being treated. Of course, our presence alone is not always enough to stop or prevent ill-treatment, but people in detention often tell us that these visits provide them with a welcome respite.
For men and women detainees who have been tortured, a visit by an ICRC delegate provides reassurance that someone recognizes their existence and their suffering. Helping those people recover a sense of their dignity by speaking to them, giving them time and attention, is the first thing an ICRC delegate does when he meets someone who is in prison. These visits are sometimes an opportunity for a man or woman who has suffered ill-treatment to see a doctor. They also enable the ICRC to provide detainees with humanitarian services, such as the opportunity to contact and exchange news with loved ones through Red Cross Messages (RCMs).
Outside places of detention, the ICRC aims to act more consistently and on a greater scale to offer victims rehabilitation. It is increasingly working with organizations that specialize in this field. In addition, the organization also works with national authorities to help them improve the practices of their officials with regard to detainees.
Lastly, how can the ICRC help eradicate torture? Can you give us a few examples?
Torture is an extremely complex phenomenon. Its prevalence, or otherwise, may be influenced by a wide range of factors involving individuals, the law, the mechanisms of governance, and ethical convictions. The ICRC takes a comprehensive approach, the primary aim of which is to provide victims with protection, assistance and rehabilitation. At the same time, however, it works to create a legal, institutional and ethical environment conducive to stopping these practices, and where such an environment already exists, to bolster it.
In terms of the legal environment, the ICRC tries to ensure that the prohibition on torture and other forms of ill-treatment becomes an integral part of national constitutions and that these rules are incorporated at the various levels concerned. When it comes to the institutional environment, there needs to be monitoring and disciplinary measures in place, and these need to be effective. The ICRC works with a variety of entities to strengthen these mechanisms.
Bolstering the ethical environment is perhaps the biggest challenge of all. Where certain values are not deeply rooted in society, it is much more difficult to have an impact on the phenomenon of ill-treatment. For the ICRC, ethical arguments should therefore be at the forefront. It is vital to be able to influence the debate on torture if we are to have a chance of making a real impact.
ICRC Washington's Work on Detention
The ICRC has been visiting people captured in the context of armed conflict and the fight against terrorism who are being held at U.S. detention facilities in Afghanistan and in Guantanamo Bay since January 2002 and in Iraq since March 2003. When our Washington-based team conducts its visits at Guantanamo Bay, it adheres to the same detention procedures followed by the organization worldwide; for more information on these, see the side bar at left.
As of July 2011, the ICRC has carried out a total of 81 visits to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The 171 individuals currently being held on the island originate from 24 different countries.
To provide some insight into the work of ICRC Washington on U.S. conflict-related detention, we first share an interview with Ralph Wehbe, ICRC Washington's Detention Coordinator from 2009 until earlier this month.
Interview with Ralph Wehbe, outgoing Detention Coordinator for ICRC Washington
As Detention Coordinator for the Protection (PROT) team in Washington, Ralph Wehbe was in charge of our visits to Guantanamo Bay for the last two and a half years.
First, could you explain what the Protection department does in Washington?
The PROT department serves as the focal point with the U.S. Government for matters related to U.S. detention in Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq. It interacts with the relevant authorities on protection matters of ICRC concern.
The department focuses on visits to Guantanamo Bay, which are carried out four times a year on average. Up to 20 delegates, including Arabic, Pashto and Urdu interpreters, in addition to physicians, legal advisors and specialists, participate in each visit. These visits can last up to three weeks. They aim mostly at assessing the overall situation in the facility and providing humanitarian services to the internees, including maintaining contact between detainees and their families.
In addition, the team conducts ad-hoc visits. During my mission, I traveled to GTMO whenever needed, in case of transfers or resettlements to third countries. That is when we conduct pre-departure interviews to offer the internee a chance to express concerns, if any, about his safety, well-being or persecution in the country where he will be repatriated to or resettled in. Whenever appropriate, we then share these concerns with the authorities.
So, in that context, could you explain your work as Detention Coordinator over the past few years?
My main tasks as a "Co/Det," as I was known, in these visits can be split into three phases: before; during; and after. It is a continuous cycle. Preparations for the next visit start immediately at the end of the previous one.
Before the visit, my main task is to work on the administrative aspects. It takes a lot of preparation to make one visit happen. For instance, we must first identify the delegates who will take part in the visit. This is based on the languages and skill sets needed. Then we have to get these people to Guantanamo, no small task since we are talking about 20 people who live around the world.
During the visit, I brief participating delegates. I then monitor and guide our daily activities by supervising and leading the detention team. Throughout, I am the focal point for the detaining authorities on the ground. All this is done in close coordination with our management in Washington and Geneva.
The most important task of any visit is, of course, to speak with the detainees. That means listening to them and allowing them to benefit from a the wide range of humanitarian services we provide. Those include Red Cross Messages as well as phone calls and video tele-conferences with their families. Ultimately, we end the visit with a clear understanding of the situation in the facility, including material conditions, treatment, health situation, and legal developments. This allows us to engage in a confidential dialogue with the authorities and provide practical recommendations aimed at improving the detainees' overall condition of detention. After a visit, the reporting and writing begin; and then it is already time to start all over again.
How do you look at Guantanamo after two and a half years spent working on this complex file?
Over the years, there has been substantive dialogue between the ICRC and the U.S. on the issue of detention related to armed conflict and counter-terrorism operations. There have been differences of opinion, particularly regarding the legal framework applicable to persons detained in the fight against terrorism. We welcomed the three detention-related Executive Orders issued by President Obama on January 22, 2009 as an opportunity for a thorough review of the status of all detainees and of the conditions and procedures governing their internment.
We strongly believe that a detainee's welfare depends on his ability to stay in contact with his family members. We dedicate significant resources restoring and maintaining family links between detainees and their relatives. We have facilitated the exchange of thousands of Red Cross Messages between detainees and their families. We have set up a system that enables detainees to regularly speak to their families by telephone. This is facilitated by ICRC delegations and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world. It was implemented by U.S. authorities in April 2008. Over 1,300 telephone calls have been made since we started this program.
From a legal perspective, we maintain that persons captured or arrested within the context of the fight against terrorism must take place within a clear and appropriate framework. No person should be deprived of his freedom or interrogated outside a legal framework. For the ICRC, the detention of persons in connection with an international armed conflict is governed by international humanitarian law. In particular, the rules set out in the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions should be adhered to. The detention of people in connection with a non-international armed conflict is governed by Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions, the rules of customary international humanitarian law, Additional Protocol II where ratified, and applicable provisions of international human rights law and domestic law.
Historically in the context of U.S. detention, we have adopted a case-by-case approach to determine whether situations arising from the fight against terrorism amount to armed conflict or not. Today in GTMO, and elsewhere, we believe that the status of each detainee should be determined on the basis of the rules applicable to the situation in which he was captured.
As you look back, what are your best memories?
Being allowed to photograph the internees so that they could send their portraits to their families was important. The first video tele-conference between an internee in GTMO and his family in Tunisia was also a significant accomplishment. These services have an immensely positive impact.
Where are you heading next?
I will join our team in Colombo. A main task will be to clarify the fate of persons who went missing throughout the conflict years in Sri Lanka. The protection department in Colombo also works on detention and I will be involved in that. It is difficult to leave friends and colleagues in Washington, with whom I shared some very intense moments in the course of our humanitarian work, but I also look forward to this new mission.
|Confidentiality - A Crucial Approach for the ICRC|
Confidentialityis an essential tool that enables the ICRC to help people affected by insecurity, violence and armed conflict. As Dominik Stillhart, ICRC Deputy Director of Operations, explains, "the ICRC works in a lot of places and contexts where outside scrutiny and criticism are often unwelcome. Confidentiality is the key that enables the ICRC to open doors that would otherwise remain shut, giving us access to people in need and places that many other organizations cannot reach."
Wherever the ICRC visits places of detention, it uses this working method to discuss findings and observations about conditions of detention and treatment of detainees directly with the authorities in charge. ICRC visits to US detention facilities in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay are no exception.
The purpose of the ICRC's policy of confidentiality is to ensure that the organization obtains - and maintains - access to detainees around the world held in highly sensitive situations of armed conflict or other violence. The ICRC's lack of public comment on the conditions of detention and the treatment of detainees in the more than 70 countries where it visits places of detention can not be interpreted to mean that the organization has no concerns. Working outside the spotlight of media attention often makes it easier for the ICRC and the detaining authorities to achieve concrete progress in places of detention.
Furthermore, the ICRC fears that information divulged about its findings in places of detention could easily be exploited for political purposes. The ICRC deplores the fact that confidential information conveyed to US authorities has been published by the media on a number of occasions in recent years and reiterates that it has never given ICRC consent to the publication of such information.