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ICRC plays its humanitarian role in military exercises

20-09-2012 Interview

On 15-19 September, for the first time ever, the ICRC attended military exercises held by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). A cooperation programme for 2012-2014 links the two organizations. Laurent Corbaz, the ICRC's head of operations for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, explains.

Why do you seek interaction with organizations of this type?

Because the ICRC has a mandate to carry out humanitarian activities in armed conflicts and other situations of violence, it has to deal with everyone – including regional political and military authorities – who could become involved in such situations. It is important that the ICRC establish and maintain a constructive dialogue with them so as to be able to enhance protection for potential conflict victims.

At the political level, we strive to share views on humanitarian issues in order to make sure that the humanitarian dimension is taken into account in policy making. At the field level, we feel it is essential that we be in contact – and make clear our mandate and working procedures – so as to ensure adequate coordination and communication prior to, during and after any conflict or other violence. We also offer to help ensure that the norms of international humanitarian law and other applicable international standards are taken into account in the rules of engagement and the rules on the use of force.

While the ICRC believes that it is natural, and essential for its work, that it have good working relations with the armed and security forces in any situation of armed violence, it also firmly believes that a distinction must be maintained at all times between military and humanitarian activities. Humanitarian organizations must preserve their neutrality towards parties in a conflict situation, their impartiality towards the victims and their independence.

Regional organizations, for their part, recognize the importance of humanitarian organizations such as ours, and the need for transparency and coordination. This forms the basis for a substantive and constructive dialogue. We are glad to have such a dialogue with the CSTO. The fact that we were invited to be on hand for the recent military exercises would seem to indicate a certain level of trust and recognition.

What exactly was your role in the exercises?

The main objective was to establish interaction with the command of the Collective Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF), comprising member States' military contingents, in order to make sure that the operations were conducted in accordance with international humanitarian law and other applicable international standards. Together with the CRRF, we also organized briefings on the ICRC's mandate and activities for the participants in the exercises. Furthermore – and this is probably the most interesting part – ICRC staff participated directly in practical exercises, doing just what they would do in real-life situations, such as monitoring needs and visiting arrested persons. Generally speaking, we are quite satisfied with the outcome. This is an experience to be repeated in the future.

What are other areas of interaction with the CSTO?

After signing a protocol of intent in 2009, the two organizations later drew up a plan of action that includes various activities such as briefings, joint events, and training. Our relations have developed significantly over the past two years. In 2011, the ICRC made a presentation at a regular session of the CSTO permanent council attended by representatives of the organization's member States. High-level CSTO representatives, including a CSTO deputy secretary-general, were invited to ICRC headquarters in Geneva for a series of briefings and meetings with ICRC senior management. In November 2011, the CSTO secretariat and the ICRC regional delegation in Moscow jointly held a round table on humanitarian problems and the legal framework regulating the use of force. The ICRC director-general travelled to the Russian capital to attend the event and to meet with the CSTO secretary-general. We are in regular contact with CSTO representatives to discuss humanitarian issues and to exchange views. We are quite satisfied with the level of our relations with this important regional organization and hope that they will develop further.

Are there other organizations of this type the ICRC interacts with?

The ICRC has also developed its relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). We often share the same theatre of operations, and it is crucial that the ICRC's mandate, activities and working procedures be well understood by NATO.

Over the past few years, the ICRC has developed a constructive dialogue with NATO all along the chain of civil and military command, from theatre level to regional command headquarters and up to NATO headquarters and other command components and structures.

The ICRC provides messages and suggests topics for NATO courses and exercises through that organization's educational and training institutions, such as the Joint Warfare Centre in Stavanger, Norway, the Joint Forces Training Centre in Bydgoszcz, Poland, and the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany. Recently, the ICRC has also had exchanges on lessons identified and lessons learned with the NATO Joint Analysis and Lessons Learned Centre in Lisbon, Portugal. In addition, the ICRC has expanded its dialogue with NATO on the basis of a revised memorandum of understanding involving the two strategic commands of the alliance.

The ICRC's practical input in command and field-post exercises is crucial for ensuring that military personnel conduct themselves in accordance with legal norms under the realistic operational conditions simulated in such exercises.


Photos

Laurent Corbaz, ICRC's head of operations for Eastern Europe and Central Asia 

Laurent Corbaz, ICRC's head of operations for Eastern Europe and Central Asia
© ICRC

Armavir, Armenia. Training ground of the Armenian Armed Forces. Getting ready to enter the exercise area. 

Armavir, Armenia. CSTO rapid deployment force. Training ground of the Armenian Armed Forces. Getting ready to enter the exercise area.
© ICRC

Armavir, Armenia. CSTO rapid deployment force. Training ground of the Armenian Armed Forces.  The ICRC humanitarian convoy approaches the village affected by the military action. 

Armavir, Armenia. CSTO rapid deployment force. Training ground of the Armenian Armed Forces. The ICRC humanitarian convoy approaches the village affected by the military action.
© ICRC