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Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru: institutional priorities for 2007

02-03-2007 Feature

In this article, Christoph Martin, ICRC delegate for Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, outlines the main priorities of the ICRC in the region.


    The ICRC has been working continuously in Peru for over two decades, and some may wonder what it does now that the internal armed conflict, waged in the country until several years ago, is over.
The answer is simple: the ICRC, in fulfilment of its mandate and principles, works not only in countries affected by situations of armed conflict, but also in countries suffering the aftermath of such situations or, as is increasingly the case, facing scenarios involving internal disturbances and tensions.
The activities carr ied out by the ICRC are therefore planned according to the specific situation in a particular place and the humanitarian needs it creates.
Between 1984 and 2002 the ICRC delegation in Lima acted as an operational office, mainly focusing efforts on providing direct assistance and protection to people affected by the internal armed conflict. In 2003, the Lima office became a regional delegation.
Now that the Andean region is experiencing a period of relative peace and calm, albeit punctuated by episodes of violence caused by political, economic and social factors, the focus of ICRC prevention activities has shifted towards action to promote the dissemination, teaching and integration of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law and efforts to support National Societies, aimed at increasing their capacity to address humanitarian needs when they arise.


It is in peacetime that efforts to incorporate IHL in all levels of society prove most successful. The ICRC regional delegation in Lima has therefore planned a series of activities for 2007, framed in a strategy seeking interaction with decision-makers whose actions affect the life of the country, those responsible for enforcing and upholding the law (authorities, armed forces, police force), those who inform and shape public opinion and, last but not least, those who fulfil the all-important mission of nurturing and educating future generations.

The prime aim is to ensure that society as a whole knows, adopts, respects and disseminates the fundamental rules that protect people both in times of peace and war, making every citizen keenly aware of the humanitarian problems that can arise in situations of war and internal violence and capable of taking the initiative to provide whatever assistance is necessary and formulate effe ctive solutions.

An important pillar of the strategy is the incorporation of the rules of IHL, which seek to restrict the means and methods of warfare used in armed conflict and protect the lives and integrity of people who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities, as a necessary and essential subject in military doctrine and training manuals for the armed forces. In the same way, the integration of human rights principles and rules in the training and instruction systems of police forces seeks to ensure that they respect these standards in their day-to-day work and when dealing with internal disturbances.

Another essential strand of this strategy involves working in coordination with the national commissions responsible for implementing IHL in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, with a view to promoting the enactment of laws to give domestic effect to international conventions concerning IHL. To this end, the ICRC provides a permanent specialized technical assistance and advisory service.

ICRC efforts also focus on encouraging universities in the region to include the teaching of IHL in the curricula of the faculties of law, social science and communications and forming groups of lecturers, who are qualified in this subject area and have received training from the ICRC regional delegation in Lima, to act as exponents of IHL knowledge in their respective countries. It is important for these experts to spread and use their knowledge of IHL outside the academic sphere, for example, in State institutions where specialists in this subject are needed.

Another component of the strategy is educating and increasing the awareness of children and adolescents of school age about respect for humanitarian principles. To this end, the delegation implements programmes to train teachers to convey the concepts on which these principles are based to future generations of citizens. The ICRC also promotes t he inclusion of IHL in the curricula implemented in educational establishments in the region.

Lastly, the ICRC works to strengthen the response capacity of the National Societies of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. In order to achieve this, the delegation develops tools and operational security manuals and provides training, so that they can be used in the deployment of relief teams in internal disturbances, for example. The ICRC also works with these National Societies to train their members in how to handle communications with the general public and the media, as circumstances require.

However, although prevention activities are being carried out in various spheres, in the case of Peru, certain operational components continue to be implemented to deal with the lingering effects of the violence engendered by the armed conflict waged between 1980 and 2000.

The first of these components addresses the need to clarify the fate of people who went missing during the armed conflict in Peru. To this end, the ICRC intends to continue its work to mobilize and raise the awareness of both the authorities and civil society, with a view to stepping up efforts in such areas as exhuming, identifying and returning remains, where possible, to the family. The ICRC contributes to this process by giving funding to institutions specialized in gathering information on missing persons and providing psychosocial support for the families, enabling them to participate and play an important part in the search and clarification process.

The other component of ICRC work in those parts of the world that are or have been affected by armed conflict involves visiting people deprived of their freedom.

One of the ICRC’s traditional activities is to visit people detained during international or internal armed conflicts, who are in a particularly vulnerable situation because they belong to opposing military or political forces. In Peru, visits to prisons to check on the conditions and treatment of people detained during the armed conflict began in 1984. Now that the conflict is over, however, all the prisoners in the country are treated in the same way, regardless of why they were arrested or detained. The work of the ICRC in prisons, particularly in Peru and Bolivia, therefore focuses on supporting the prison administration system and improving the conditions of the prison population.

These are the broad objectives and strategies on which the work of the ICRC in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru is based. Through these efforts, it seeks to reach all segments and strata of the population, to ensure that society as a whole is aware of and always takes into consideration the existence, beyond the rules and standards, of an inherent respect for the human being, enshrined in the principles advocated by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement for over a hundred and fifty years.