Humanitarian organisations must be able to engage with influential groups – ICRC DG

KUALA LUMPUR: Humanitarian organisations need to have the ability to engage with the relevant influential groups to make them understand the scope of humanitarian action, said International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Director-General, Yves Daccord.

Citing the Daesh (ISIL) militant group as an example, he told the Malaysian news agency Bernama recently that such an engagement was crucial, not because the humanitarian organisations “like or agree with them but to make them understand what humanitarian action is”.

This will also make it easier for humanitarian organisations to be able to respond to a humanitarian crisis, especially when there is a difficult situation such as violence, tensions or war, he explained.

He said that in the case of the ICRC, the Geneva-based organisation was very much involved with promoting International Humanitarian Law (IHL).

“But the question is how do we implement the law, including how to bring non-state armed groups into compliance,” he said, adding, “We want to make sure that the people, governments and non-state armed groups behave well.” IHL is a set of rules, which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It protects persons who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare.

One of the functions of the ICRC is to ensure that IHL continues to be relevant to today’s conflicts and protects the most vulnerable. The organisation actively seeks to achieve better respect for IHL by engaging with fighters and those who influence their behaviour.

Daccord said that where the ICRC was concerned, its ability to engage with the relevant parties depended on the situation and its ability to know “the people and situation well”.

For example, currently it was easier for the ICRC to engage with the parties in Afghanistan or in South Sudan compared to those in Iraq, Syria or Ukraine.

“For us, (what is) more complicated now is how to engage in a situation like Syria or Iraq when you have very violent groups that we don’t know, maybe at the same level like the Islamic State militant group or extremist group Jabhat al-Nusra, but you will see ICRC is also willing to engage the people, the government and the non-state armed groups,” he explained.

On maintaining good relationship with locals when carrying out humanitarian work, one of the challenges, he said, was to understand that their needs had changed in the last few years and become more complex.

“Needs can be related not only to an emergency but also to long-term problems such as poverty or displacement or migration. So, when you intervene, you really have to understand what they tell you about their needs closely enough,” he pointed out.

He also said that the 32nd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, which will be held in Geneva from December 8th to 10th next year, will discuss a new element called “compliance mechanism” of the IHL.

The conference will bring together 196 states and governments which have signed the 1949 Geneva Conventions.