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Colombia: the ICRC's role in the latest release of hostages

29-02-2008 Interview

Following the latest release of four hostages held by the FARC in Colombia, Maria Dos Anjos Gussing, the ICRC's head of operations for Latin America and the Caribbean, talks about the organization's role in the recent operation.

   

   
 
Maria dos Anjos Gussing    
     How does the ICRC see the release of the four hostages?  

It is excellent news – first of all for the hostages themselves, who were held for six years in very difficult conditions. It is also a huge relief for their friends and family, whose lives were on hold as they waited for news, not knowing where their loved ones were being held or in what conditions. However, we shoul d not forget that there are more hostages still waiting to be released. The ICRC reiterates that the taking of hostages is strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law and that all hostages must be released unconditionally as soon as possible.

 What is the role of the ICRC in the mission to release hostages in Colombia?  

   
©Reuters / H. New    
 
One of the released hostages, freed by FARC in the Colombian jungle, 27 February 2008.    
     

As a neutral and independent intermediary, the ICRC has a solely humanitarian role. We make this clear to all parties concerned from the very beginning, when we inform them of what we can and can’t do. We then secure the agreement of all parties involved (in this instance, the Colombian and Venezuelan authorities and the FARC-EP) to work in accordance with our standard procedures. As the release took place on Colombian territory, our delegation in Bogotá negotiated the nece ssary security guarantees with senior Colombian officials responsible for government forces in the area where the handover took place.
 

 Why has the ICRC been involved?  

    

First of all, we are an international humanitarian organization with a well-established track record in dealing with these situations and we are seen as an independent and neutral intermediary. Second, we are trusted by both the Colombian authorities and the armed groups, who respect and accept our role and our procedures. We have an extensive humanitarian operation in Colombia, helping people affected by the ongoing internal armed conflict. Furthermore, we are in almost daily contact with the commanders of the armed forces and with armed groups across Colombia.

 Was this an ICRC operation?  

    

Yes. This operation involved the governments of two countries and one armed group. It is essential to have the agreement and trust of all parties, and that is where we come in. In this particular instance, the aircraft that entered Colombian territory were Venezuelan, but they were being used for a humanitarian operation with the agreement of all parties, under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Before entering Colombian territory, therefore, we " neutralized " the helicopters by marking them with the red cross emblem, and there were also two ICRC delegates on board each helicopter. From that point onwards, the helicopters were considered to be flying under ICRC auspices, and were afforded the international protection of our emblem. Any security problems would have been resolved by our delegates, who were in constant contact with the delegations in Bogotá and Caracas.