Colombia: ICRC provides logistics for release of five people

27-01-2011 Interview

Acting in its capacity as a neutral intermediary, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is facilitating the release in Colombia of three members of the government security forces and two civilians. The release was announced by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP) in December 2010. Christophe Beney, head of the ICRC’s delegation in Colombia, explains the ICRC’s role.

The ICRC is taking part in another operation to release persons deprived of their freedom. What role is it playing?  

In this case, as in all such operations in which it has taken part in the past, the ICRC is acting as a neutral intermediary. We are helping to establish the security conditions necessary for the humanitarian operation and to coordinate the logistic aspects.

Who decided that the ICRC would take part in the operation?

As in similar operations that have led to the release of hundreds of people held by parties to the armed conflict in the past, the Colombian government, the FARC-EP and other armed groups have all agreed to the ICRC’s participation. The ICRC’s special role as a neutral intermediary is clearly accepted by all sides.

This is the third operation for which Brazil has provided logistic support. How important is this?  
Since we carried out our first joint humanitarian operation in 2009, the Brazilian government has proved a steadfast and reliable partner, a fact that has been recognized by both the Colombian government and the FARC-EP. On 7 January, the ICRC and the Brazilian authorities signed a memorandum of understanding concerning the provision of helicopters and crews for the present operation. All the logistic aspects have been planned and we are ready to step in and swiftly carry out the operation as soon as the mediator, Piedad Córdoba, receives the necessary details concerning where the handover is to take place.

Once all the agreements have been signed, what happens next?

Both the security protocol that we are finalizing with the Ministry of Defence and the memorandum of understanding that has already been concluded with the Brazilian government are preconditions to completing the logistic arrangements and setting out the ground rules for the operation. As soon as we know exactly where the handover is to take place, we will inform the Ministry of Defence so that it can suspend military operations in the area for 36 hours. The release operation will then be launched, with the help of two helicopters provided by the Brazilian government. The helicopters will bear the protective emblem of the red cross to demonstrate the humanitarian nature of the operation.

What is the difference between this operation and previous operations?

The preparations for this operation have gone especially smoothly. The first positive sign was the government’s prompt response to the announcement made in December 2010 by the FARC-EP.
For the first time, the ICRC is providing psychological support for the families of those being released. What does this consist of and why is it important?
We have realized that, during these humanitarian operations, all the attention is focused on the people being released and that nothing is done ahead of time for the family members, who are in a state of heightened emotion. In order to prepare them for the impact of the reunion to come and provide them with the support they need, we provide the services of an ICRC psychologist. This ongoing contact with an ICRC staff member also helps to keep them informed about the details of the operation and to receive accurate information about its progress. We also offer psychological services to the former captives and their families after the release.

Will the ICRC continue to take part in such operations?

The ICRC is ready to act as a neutral intermediary whenever required. Its main aim is to pursue its neutral and independent humanitarian action for the victims of armed conflict unhindered. It is currently working in more than 20 conflict-affected regions in the country, where its teams maintain a constant presence and stay in contact with government security forces and all armed groups with a view to promoting compliance with the provisions of international humanitarian law and urging the parties to fulfil their obligation to spare the civilian population.



Christophe Beney


March 2010. A soldier’s family welcomes him after he is released by the Farc, under the auspices of the ICRC.
© Reuters / J. Vizcaino

March 2010. Sergeant Moncayo's little sister welcomes him on his release from 12 years in captivity. 

March 2010. Sergeant Moncayo's little sister welcomes him on his release from 12 years in captivity.
© Reuters / J. Vizcaino

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