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Middle East & North Africa - ICRC Annual Report 2009

19-05-2010 Annual Report No 2009

In 2009, the ICRC maintained a strong presence and wide operational reach in order to meet the multiple urgent needs of thousands of victims of past and current conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. It did so through a wide range of protection and assistance activities accompanied by preventive action to secure stronger support for and stricter compliance with IHL. ICRC action varied according to the operational objectives in each context but in all cases was rooted in the organization’s neutral, independent and impartial approach to its strictly humanitarian mission.

Middle East & North Africa: Introduction 

 

In 2009, the ICRC maintained a strong presence and wide operational reach in order to meet the multiple urgent needs of thousands of victims of past and current conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. It did so through a wide range of protection and assistance activities accompanied by preventive action to secure stronger support for and stricter compliance with IHL. ICRC action varied according to the operational objectives in each context but in all cases was rooted in the organization’s neutral, independent and impartial approach to its strictly humanitarian mission.

In contexts experiencing ongoing or recurrent armed conflict, such as Israel and the occupied territories and Yemen, the ICRC sought as a priority compliance with the provisions of IHL relative to the conduct of hostilities and/or occupation by the parties directly concerned. It maintained relations with government authorities, armed groups, influential sectors of civil society, religious circles and militant groups. Its president’s visit to Baghdad in March contributed to its efforts to gain acceptance of and support for its work and to reassert the relevance of IHL in contemporary forms of armed conflict and violence. By nurturing these relations, the ICRC also aimed to enhance understanding of the humanitarian norms

common to both IHL and Islamic law insofar as they reflect the universality of certain basic principles of humanity.

The ICRC endeavoured to ensure that people directly affected by armed conflict or the consequences of occupation had access to food, water, sanitation and medical care and that those deprived of their freedom were treated humanely. Restoring family links and determining the fate of people unaccounted for from past and current conflicts also remained core activities in many countries in the region.

ICRC operations in Iraq and in the occupied Palestinian territory were again by far the organization’s largest in the region. Meeting humanitarian needs stemming from the recurrent armed violence in Yemen also remained at the forefront of ICRC operations.

The year began with an acute crisis when the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched a military operation against armed groups and the de facto authorities in the Gaza Strip. The intensity of the operation and the use of force in this densely populated area resulted in high numbers of casualties among civilians and widespread destruction. Civilians in southern Israel lived in fear of rockets fired from within the Gaza Strip. Both the IDF and Hamas received written representations from the ICRC regarding their conduct of operations in Gaza. The Palestine Red Crescent Society carried out life-saving medical evacuations, with the ICRC facilitating the smooth running of its ambulance service. In addition, the ICRC supplied hospitals and carried out critical repairs to keep water, electricity and waste systems running for over 900,000 people. Substantial human and material resources were required to address the severe crisis that had already been exacerbated by an 18-month Israeli blockade of the territory. To cover the cost of its emergency response, which also included the provision, in close cooperation with the Palestine Red Crescent, of shelter, basic necessities and livelihood support, the ICRC appealed for additional funds in a budget extension appeal launched in February.

Yemen experienced rising tension and conflict, notably in the north of the country. The growing need for humanitarian assistance thus generated compelled the ICRC to step up its activities there and to extend its budget accordingly. The worsening fighting at times hampered access to populations in need. By constantly adapting its presence to the extremely fragile security environment, the ICRC, together with the Yemen Red Crescent Society, nonetheless managed to provide emergency relief to some 100,000 and water and sanitation services to some 190,000 conflict-affected residents and IDPs.

Following improvements in terms of security, the ICRC gradually stepped up direct implementation of its activities inside Iraq, basing permanent expatriate staff in various locations, notably in Baghdad. It gave priority to activities for detainees, primarily those under Iraqi authority, the search for missing persons from past conflicts, and a training programme for emergency medical staff throughout Iraq. Water and sanitation facilities repaired and/or maintained by t he ICRC served some 3.8 million people. Monthly relief distributions to IDPs diminished progressively, while particularly vulnerable groups, such as IDPs living in collective settlements and households headed by women, continued to receive emergency

assistance and, increasingly, livelihood support.

In Lebanon, where the situation remained relatively calm, the ICRC continued to strengthen the capacities of the Lebanese Red Cross ambulance and first-aid services to respond to humanitarian needs should violence flare once again. It also worked to promote respect for IHL and the Movement, networking with influential circles, including weapon bearers and religious leaders, in potentially volatile regions to ensure safe and unhindered humanitarian access to victims in the event of recurring violence. The ICRC completed the first phase of its project to improve health services for the Palestinian refugee population in Lebanon, which consisted of providing five Palestine Red Crescent medical facilities in the country with training and up-to-date equipment.

ICRC delegates continued to visit people interned or detained in Algeria, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, the occupied Palestinian territory, Qatar and Tunisia. The largest number of detainees visited was in Iraq (some 46,300 people held in US-controlled internment facilities or places of detention under the central Iraqi or Kurdish regional authorities) and in Israel (about 21,200 people). Around 13,700 detainees in the region were monitored individually by ICRC delegates. Efforts were made to increase access to security detainees held in various countries in connection with the fight against “terrorism”. For the first time, security detainees held in Kuwait were visited by ICRC delegates pursuant to an

agreement concluded with the government of Kuwait at the end of 2008.

Discussions were pursued with the authorities in other c ountries in the region with a view to securing access to detainees, notably in Egypt, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Morocco, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen. Despite repeated requests, the ICRC had still not been granted access to an Israeli soldier held by Hamas by year-end.

The ICRC continued to engage in comprehensive and confidential dialogue with the detaining authorities, sharing with them its delegates’ findings, making recommendations whenever necessary, and offering and providing support to enhance detainees’ treatment and living conditions.

Detainees received direct assistance from the ICRC as required. As a priority, the specific needs of women were taken into account wherever possible. In Yemen, for example, in a project carried out with the National Society, female detainees received vocational training and literacy courses to enhance their prospects of reintegration after release, while in Jordan, the ICRC worked to ensure the safe reintegration into society of women detained for their own protection from so-called honour crimes. In many cases, detainees, including those held at the US internment facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba, informed their relatives of their imprisonment through a telephone call made possible by the ICRC and kept in touch with their families through the exchange of RCMs. For the first time, people held at Guantanamo Bay were able to send photos of themselves to their families and interact with them visually via videoconferencing. More than 16,300 detainees, mainly in Iraq and Israel, were able to receive family visits facilitated by the ICRC. This included families in Iraq paying their first visits to relatives detained in Kuwait’s central prison since the 1990–91 conflict. More than 22,000 former inmates or their families received ICRC certificates of detention, which sometimes qualified them to obtain State allowances.

In many countries, demand remained high for ICRC tra cing and RCM services as a means of restoring or maintaining contact with family members detained/interned in their home country or abroad or living in places such as Iraq, where normal communications had been disrupted. Several countries in the region, such as Egypt, Jordan, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen, hosted large and sometimes rising numbers of refugees, many of whom were able to locate and restore contact with their families by means of RCMs. Some 2,500 people, mainly refugees, were issued with ICRC travel documents to facilitate family reunification or resettlement in third countries. The ICRC also facilitated travel for Palestinians affected by

mobility restrictions wishing to visit or be reunited with family members living in other parts of the occupied territory or in Jordan, as well as contacts between Syrian nationals in the occupied Golan and their families in the Syrian Arab Republic.

Acting as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC pursued action to address unresolved cases of persons – both military and civilian – who went missing during past conflicts in the region, notably the numerous Arab-Israeli wars from 1948 onwards, the 1975–91 Western Sahara conflict, the 1975–91 armed conflict in Lebanon, the 1980–88 Iran-Iraq war and the 1990–91 Gulf War. Following the agreement signed by the authorities of Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Iran and by the ICRC in 2008, the rules of procedure for the Tripartite Committees aimed at clarifying the fate of former POWs and Missing and Human Remains of the 1980–88 Iran-Iraq war were drafted and made ready for signature and implementation. The ICRC facilitated

the repatriation of remains of Iranian and Iraqi combatants and provided both countries with forensic expertise, for example by advising Iraqi experts on identification of human remains and providing Iranian experts with DNA material. In Lebanon, where hundreds of families were still without news of relatives missing as a result of the armed conflict, associations and NGOs were provided with specially designed ICRC software for the management of data on missing persons. The Lebanese security forces received forensic training abroad, arranged by the ICRC. Dialogue continued with the Moroccan authorities and the Polisario Front to resolve the cases of combatants and civilians from both sides still missing in connection with the Western Sahara conflict.

The ICRC also acted as a neutral intermediary to facilitate a number of repatriation operations in the region, notably between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq and between Israel and Lebanon. ICRC technical and material support was maintained for physical rehabilitation centres in Algeria, the Gaza Strip, Iraq and Yemen. In Iraq, where the number of disabled people continued to rise, physical rehabilitation centres either run or supported by the ICRC remained the major structures providing such services in the country. The Red Crescent Society of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the ICRC co-organized a workshop for Iranian National Society experts on polypropylene technology, and an international seminar on physical rehabilitation.

Promoting greater knowledge, acceptance and implementation of IHL throughout the region, in cooperation with the Cairo-based League of Arab States, remained the main task of the ICRC in Egypt. To this end, it pursued efforts to encourage adherence to IHL and its incorporation into military training and doctrine and into school and university curricula. The Cairo delegation organized seminars and briefings on IHL and produced written and audiovisual materials on IHL translated into Arabic for distribution to governments and civil society audiences, including key media, in the region. Governments received assistance from the ICRC Advisory Service in assessing the compatibility of national legislation with IHL and

adapting it accordingly. The Arab League’s Military Affairs Department co-organized a regional seminar with the ICRC, providing a forum for highranking officers from 12 Arab States to discuss the integration of IHL into military training. This was followed up by support missions to the various countries. The Cairo delegation was also the focal point for the promotion of the ICRC’s “Our world.Your move.” communication campaign across the region.

National Societies were the ICRC’s main operational partners in several countries of the region, and cooperation with them therefore remained a key component of ICRC activities. The primary aim was to strengthen the National Societies’ emergency-response capacities, particularly with respect to ambulance services, first aid, tracing, restoring family links and mine action, and to spread awareness of IHL.

Close coordination was maintained with Movement partners, UN agencies and other humanitarian players, particularly in conflict zones, in order to maximize impact and identify unmet needs for relief aid.