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On Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) published its Annual Report 2011. I have only had time to dip into it so far – as it is over 500 pages – but as always tne report provides a fascinating insight into the ICRC’s work in the field. In doing so, it has the dual effect of capturing a detailed ‘high-definition snapshot’ of modern conflict and a graphic analysis of its key actors, characteristics, legal challenges and the humanitarian response it triggers. This is extremely valuable for practitioners and researchers working on issues relating to armed conflicts.
For those working specifically on issues relating to armed groups and international law, the section by the International and Cooperation Department is of most direct interest. This confirms the outcomes of the 31st International Conference at which the resolution presented by the ICRC on “Strengthening protection for victims of armed conflict” was adopted by consensus. This resolution sets the basis for further work to be undertaken in 2012 on strengthening the legal framework in relation to (i) persons deprived of their liberty in relation to armed conflicts and (ii) international mechanisms to monitor international humanitarian law. After researching and consulting on these issues, the ICRC is due to submit a report to the 32nd International Conference in 2015 for consideration.
Other legal projects on the International and Cooperation Department’s agenda include its continued work on the customary international law database, research on the legal and humanitarian implications of cyberwarfare and research on the legal framework relevant to law enforcement versus that relating to conduct of hostilities. It is also continuing with its project, started in 2011, to update the commentaries to the Additional Protocols.
The ICRC confirmed that in addition to conducing dialogue with armed forces in 161 countries, police and security forces in more than 80 countries, it also held dialogue with armed groups in more than 30 countries. These groups ranged from armed gangs, to insurgent groups, to pro-government militias. The ICRC’s aim was to ensure better respect for the rules of international humanitarian law and ensure better respect for its own operational capacity.
In addition to the legal section, the operational sections of the report are worth a read for the insight that they give into the countries where the ICRC is present and the typology of modern conflicts that they identify. Of particular interest for readers of this blog, is the ICRC’s observation that the many internal armed conflicts in the world are becoming increasingly protracted. One of the consequences of this is that the fighting is no longer driven by ideological motives, but instead is driven by economic – or even criminal – interests. The long duration of such conflicts has plunged whole swathes of the country into a kind of lawlessness where the State can no longer provide security, health or social services. As a result, such regions fall prey to extremely diverse and often fragmented armed groups which impose a brutal control over the civilian population (see p80).
One cannot help but read the report and be awed at the incredible work that the ICRC is doing around the world, in so many conflicts. Coincidentally, an elderly lady came to my frontdoor this evening collecting for the Netherlands Red Cross and when I told her that the Red Cross was one of my favourite causes, she answered that she thought that the ‘world would be a much worse place without it’. Reading the ICRC 2011 Annual Report, you cannot help but agree.
In 2011 alone the figures are dizzying:
– ICRC delegates visited 540,828 detainees, 28,949 of whom were monitored individually, held in 1,869 places of detention in 75 countries and in 5 different international courts
– The ICRC collected 148,347 Red Cross Messengers and distributed 127,109 thereby allowing separated family members to communicate
– The ICRC facilitated 219,925 phone calls between family members
– An estimated 6,854,000 people benefited from ICRC supported health facilities
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.