Kuwait regional delegation

01-09-2011 Interview

The ICRC regional delegation in Kuwait covers the six countries belonging to the Gulf Cooperation Council, namely Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. The head of delegation, Gérard Peytrignet, presents the work carried out by the ICRC there, particularly in connection with the "Arab Spring" and during the recent outbreak of violence in Bahrain.

Under what circumstances was the regional delegation in Kuwait set up and what are its activities and priorities today?

When it was set up 20 years ago, in the aftermath of the 1990-91Gulf war, the regional delegation in Kuwait focused its work on applying international humanitarian law to the plight of prisoners of war, detainees, missing persons and displaced civilians. The search for those who went missing during the conflict continues. The ICRC chairs the tripartite commission created in 1991, which is made up of the Gulf war coalition countries, Kuwait and Iraq. It holds regular meetings to coordinate the gathering of information in order to find the remains of missing persons and arrange for them to be exhumed and identified.

We later expanded both our operational and non-operational work. In times of tension and crisis, the ICRC has visited security detainees and other types of prisoners in Kuwait, Qatar and, until 2001, Bahrain. The organization also strives to restore family links, trace missing persons, exchange news between prisoners and their families, and provide other services. Guantanamo detainees are able to hold telephone and video conversations with their families through the regional delegation and with the help of the National Red Crescent Societies, in Saudi Arabia for example.

The ICRC has for some years been running preventive programmes aimed at raising awareness about international humanitarian law and the role of the ICRC and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. These programmes are intended for the armed and security forces, senior government officials, academic circles, the media and civil society, and seek to create an environment conducive to humanitarian work and compliance with humanitarian standards and principles. We work with media in the region to familiarize them with issues of humanitarian concern. In fact we recently concluded a cooperation agreement for this with the Al Jazeera television channel.

The ICRC has also stepped up its interaction with Islamic circles through contacts with official religious institutions as well as research centres, charitable organizations and political and social movements. Our purpose is promote greater understanding and acceptance of the independent nature of our work and of our non-religious basis. The delegation is actively involved in fundraising aimed at generating a more substantial contribution from this part of the world to the work carried out by the ICRC with the National Societies of the region under our universal humanitarian mandate. Visits by ICRC leaders foster dialogue with the various leaders about current humanitarian concerns and deepen our roots in the region.

Does the delegation work with partners to implement its programmes? How does it prepare for potential emergencies in the region?

It's natural for us to work in partnership with the National Societies and we enjoy close links with them. At national level, they engage in disaster and other relief, provide health care and take social initiatives. Abroad, they work in cooperation with others, they help in emergencies, and sometimes they act as the humanitarian arm of their governments.

The recent events of the "Arab Spring" have highlighted the important role played by the National Societies, especially in Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria. We strive to ensure that the National Societies in the region are able to shoulder their responsibilities if required to do so and to work in a neutral and impartial fashion when caring for the injured or helping displaced people and refugees. We ran a three-week disaster-management course with the United Arab Emirates Red Crescent Society. And, in conjunction with the Qatar Red Crescent, we organized the first H.E.L.P. (Health Emergency in Large Populations) course in the region to boost the professionalism of staff responsible for running humanitarian aid programmes in emergencies. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is a key country for the ICRC, and we're endeavouring to strengthen cooperation with the Saudi Red Crescent in several fields.

Let's talk about the effects of the "Arab Spring" in the Gulf. How did the delegation respond to the escalation of violence in Bahrain, for example?

As it has in other Arab countries, the ICRC acted immediately to address the consequences of the violence from a humanitarian viewpoint. Wherever possible we played our specific role as a neutral intermediary in connection with internal violence. As soon as the first clashes between protesters and police occurred, we went to the scene and talked to senior officials, reminding them of the ICRC's role and appealing for their support in meeting our obligations vis-à-vis those affected, particularly detainees and the injured.

As always, we reminded the authorities of the laws governing the use of force, the way demonstrators and others must be treated, the obligation to allow access to health care, and the need to protect relief and medical activities. The ICRC also aided the Bahrain Red Crescent Society, helping it to be prepared if the situation worsened and to bring emergency supplies to hospitals if required.

Since February, the delegation has been conducting regular missions to Bahrain. We're endeavouring to pursue a constructive dialogue with the authorities there and to persuade them of the importance of complying with humanitarian standards and principles aimed at restricting the use of force and minimizing the suffering of the population. We've also been in sustained dialogue with the government for permission to resume visits to security detainees. A meeting with the interior minister and various senior police officers at the beginning of July confirmed the government's interest in authorizing the ICRC to visit detainees and check on their conditions of detention and treatment. We should soon be signing an agreement that will enable us to begin visits in the coming weeks.



Gérard Peytrignet