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Access to war victims in Iraq: humanitarian corridors and access to victims of war - interview

03-04-2003 Interview

Balthasar Staehelin, Delegate General for the Middle East, explains the ICRC's strategy to reach Iraqi civilians in need of assistance as well as the institution's stand on the controversial issue of "humanitarian corridors".

 What does the ICRC think about the idea of "humanitarian corridors" to supply aid to the victims of the Iraq war?  

I would like to start by saying that the ICRC is already present and operational in Baghdad, in Basra in the south and also in the north of Iraq today. Of course, the parties to the conflict have an obligation under international humanitarian law to allow the humanitarian organizations access to the victims and to provide protection and assistance to victims of armed conflict. Humanitarian corridors, by definition, are limited in time and in geographical scope. In this sense, they are not an ideal solution for the ICRC which wishes to be able to work wherever and whenever necessary. Humanitarian corridors also need to be negotiated with the belligerents and that can be a difficult exercise. In this sense, I don't think that the ICRC is promoting this concept for its own operations but humanitarian corridors might become necessary for other humanitarian organizations. But the feasibility of humanitarian corridors is certainly a difficult objective.

 How does the ICRC organize access to the victims of war when delivering aid?  

I think that a very important precondition is of course the acceptance and the trust of all belligerents, who must realize and understand that the ICRC is an impartial and independent humanitarian organization, with a mandate to provide protection and assistance to victims of armed conflict, a relationship which we have to construct with the authorities. In Iraq we have been present for 23 years without interruption. In this sense I think the Iraqi authorities know the ICRC and its role extremely well from previous wars. As regards the allies, they also know the ICRC and its role from a variety of theatres of war. Technically speaking, it would certainly be necessary to notify our movements in certain instances; we will notify our premises, we will work in absolute transparency with all belligerents, and I think that it is important to have the necessary trust from all sides.

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