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Annual Report 2004: press conference with President Kellenberger

17-06-2005 Press Briefing

The ICRC's President, Jakob Kellenberger, has publicly launched the organization's Annual Report 2004 at a press conference at the body's Geneva headquarters.

At the press conference, President Kellenberger said the ICRC remained committed to its core principles of neutrality, independence and impartiality. These, he explained, were not an end in themselves, but the working modalities that remain the best way of ensuring access to those affected by armed conflict.

He said the ICRC remained the benchmark humanitarian organization for reaching the greatest number of people in areas affected by armed conflict worldwide.

 Africa/Sudan  

The President pointed to Sudan, the ICRC's biggest field operation, as an example of what could be achieved through the rigorous application of these principles.

" The ICRC is the only organisation with a presence in all parts of Darfur and that has only been possible by a systematic networking with all parties to the conflict. "

Darfur, he continued, was one of the organization's biggest logistical challenges as it strives to distribute food to between 300,000 and 350,000 people, including those in the remotest parts of the province.

He said the conflict in Darfur was a typical example of an armed conflict where a low intensity of fighting still caused a high intensity of suffering. 

The continent of Africa accounted for 43% of the ICRC's budget for field activities in 2004, with five out of the top ten most important operations located there.

At the press conference, it was pointed out that even in countries such as Liberia and Democratic Republic of Congo, where peace processes had begun, there were still significant humanitarian needs.

 Security  

    

President Kellenberger said security remained a key issue for the ICRC in 2004.

In Iraq, ICRC activities remained severely limited by security constraints. The organization focused on visits to those detained by the Iraqi authorities, as well as US and coalition forces in connection with the ongoing violence.

It also strived to maintain contact between those deprived of their freedom and their families through the exchange of Red Cross Messages and continued emergency rehabilitation projects.

Apart from Iraq, the organization experienced difficulties in gaining access to northeastern parts of Democratic Republic of Congo and to rural areas of south and southwestern Afghanistan.

    

 Detention  

    

President Kellenberger informed journalists that the ICRC had been able to increase its presence in places of detention during 2004. It visited more than 2,400 places of detention holding some 570,000 people in almost 80 countries worldwide. 

However, he did not hide his disappointment that, in certain countries, there was insufficient access to those deprived of their freedom.

In Sudan, for example, he said that the organization was still trying to negotiate access to those held by the government in relation to the conflicts there. He also reminded the media that visits to those detained by the Russian Federation in connection with the con flict in Chechnya had been suspended in September 2004.

Talks with Moscow continue to ensure that the ICRC can resume visits in conformity with its usual modalities.

Replying to questions about the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, President Kellenberger said the ICRC continued to carry out its visits on a regular basis. He said the ICRC pursued its confidential dialogue with the US authorities and that its recommendations had been implemented in part, as in many other contexts.

 Respect for international humanitarian law  

    

During the press conference, the President also called for a greater consideration of international humanitarian law.

" My main concern is the poor respect accorded to international humanitarian law in internal armed conflicts in particular, though not exclusively, by non-state armed groups. "

He said that the ICRC was currently carrying out a study focusing on how this situation could be improved.

He also highlighted the significant ICRC study on Customary International Humanitarian Law completed in 2004 and published in early 2005 as a useful tool in clarifying the practice and interpretation of International Humanitarian Law by States.