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India: more than just prison visits

25-09-2009 Interview

Located at the heart of this gigantic country (over 1 billion inhabitants), the delegation is a constant hive of activity. While detention work remains at the top of the list, the ICRC is also supporting the Indian Red Cross in its work with people affected by violence. Head of delegation François Stamm talks about the wide range of activities the ICRC conducts in India and the challenges ahead.

In India, the ICRC is best known for its detention visits to the Kashmiri militants. What are you doing for the victims of violence in the rest of the country?  

The ICRC’s activities in India will remain focused on its detention work related to Jammu & Kashmir. Those activities started in 1995 and are conducted within the framework of a memorandum of agreement between the Indian government and the ICRC. The delegation is also active in other areas of India affected by armed violence and has stepped up its support to the local branches of the Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS), especially in the north-east and in the states affected by the Maoist Naxalite movement.

In the remote villages of Eastern Maharastra, the ICRC is supporting an Indian Red Cross mobile clinic that dispenses health care to the most isolated villagers and enables the sick and wounded to be evacuated to a proper hospital. Aid has also been distributed in the state of Chhattisgargh. In Assam, IRCS and ICRC teams have provided household items, together with water and sanitation facilities, for people displaced or otherwise affected by ethnic violence. The delegation will continue to support the IRCS in these areas, especially in the field of health.

Our delegation promotes IHL and related international standards among the armed forces, the police and students. It also conducts campaigns aimed at raising media awareness of humanitarian issues. Finally, our legal department advises the national authorities of south Asia on ratifying and implement ing IHL treaties. We are definitely a busy delegation!

 You have just completed your first year in India. What have been your main challenges so far?  

Our teams have assessed the health and other humanitarian needs of people affected by violence in the north-eastern States of Assam and Nagaland, as well as in the regions where the Naxalite (Maoist) movement is active. In the near future, we hope to be able to start working with the IRCS to help the most vulnerable victims of this violence.

The Indian government has strongly validated the ICRC’s neutral and impartial approach to helping the victims of conflict, in that during the Sri Lanka conflict India donated goods to the ICRC worth nearly $5 million, to be distributed in accordance with our modus operandi. This is an important and encouraging step towards increased cooperation between the ICRC and the Indian authorities.

 What are the issues you wish to address?  

The ICRC is aiming to strengthen its dialogue with the government on operational matters affecting India directly, while at the same time developing a wider relationship that would reflect the growing international role of India as an emerging power. We have already started exchanging views on issues like Sri Lanka and Afghanistan and we look forward to deepening our contacts and exchanges on other multilateral issues.