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"In some ways, the ICRC in Nepal is the spokesperson for all those protected by international humanitarian law"

24-06-2005 Interview

Friedrun Medert, head of the ICRC delegation in Nepal, describes the organization's work in the country and explains the reasons for its involvement. The conflict in Nepal flared up again in 2004, affecting the civilian population across the country.

 What does the ICRC do to help the victims of armed violence in Nepal?  

 
 
 
© Kantipur Publications / Prakash Mathema / np-e-00035  
 

Katmandu airport, 2004. 37 policemen and civil servants previously held by Maoist insurgents are freed under the auspices of the ICRC.

   
    It plays its traditional role, acting as a neutral intermediary between the parties to the conflict with a view to obtaining the greatest possible respect for those affected by the violence.

More specifically, our delegates visit people detained in connection with the conflict. For the time being they do this in civilian prisons a nd in police stations, checking that the conditions in which detainees are held and the treatment they receive comply with international norms.

As part of our protection activities, we also help detainees to get back in touch with their families by means of Red Cross messages. It is a great relief for people just to know that their relatives are alive, and once they learn where their loved ones are being held they can look into the possibility of visiting them.

A conflict on this scale always has repercussions for the civilian population. When fighting breaks out in the countryside, villagers are often forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in the district capital. We provide these displaced people with basic necessities, in cooperation with the Nepalese Red Cross.

At a more basic level, we hold a series of training courses for Nepalese military officers so as to remind them of the obligations they have under humanitarian law towards civilians and detainees in time of conflict.

 
 

 In a context of growing strife, what does it mean to be a neutral and impartial intermediary?  

 
 
 
© ICRC / Jon Björgvinsson / np-e-00064  
 

Tila valley. Two ICRC delegates on an assessment mission cross a river on their way to a remote village.

   
    First of all, it means that we must have contacts with all the parties involved in the conflict. At present, I believe that the ICRC is the only humanitarian organization in Nepal that can travel freely between areas under government control and areas where there is no central authority to speak of. ICRC teams travel through the country on foot since this is the only way to reach very remote areas. Each team comprises a delegate and an interpreter and regularly meets with representatives of the Maoist insurgency.

These meetings provide an opportunity to remind the rebels of their own obligations under international humanitarian law, especially as regards respect for the civilian population and the protection enjoyed by those who are not or are no longer taking part in the hostilities. This is our most important role. In some ways, the ICRC in Nepal is the spokesperson for all those protected by international humanitarian law. We continuously bring both parties face to face with their responsibilities.

 What are the ICRC's objectives in supporting the work of the Nepalese Red Cross?  

 

© ICRC / Jon Björgvinsson / np-e-00099 
 
A Nepalese Red Cross volunteer delivers news from a relative out of touch for a year and a half. 
    With no prior experience of armed conflict, the Nepalese Red Cross was poorly prepared to deal with the one that broke out in 1996. Its major asset is its presence on the ground: it has branch offices in the country's 75 district capitals and sub-offices in more than 1,000 villages. We are seeking to increase its ability to act in time of conflict and to convince the parties involved that the National Society is a valid organization based on the same principles as the ICRC – neutrality, impartiality and humanity, among others.

It is important for everyone to understand that the red cross flag is one and the same, whether it is used by the ICRC or the Nepalese Red Cross, and that in time of conflict we all wish to obtain the same results: better protection and assistance for those in greatest need.

In practical terms, items essential for the survival of the population are distributed jointly with the National Society. An important role is also played by those volunteers who, by collecting and distributing Red Cross messages, help us maintain vital links between people separated by the conflict. It would be impossible to provide this particular service without them.