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Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador - Activities of the Lima regional delegation

03-01-2007 Interview

The ICRC's delegation in Lima, Peru, opened in 1984 and became a regional delegation in 2003. Today the delegation, which covers Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, is mainly involved in prevention work. Below, Philippe Gaillard, who has recently completed a four-year assignment as head of the Lima delegation, answers some questions about the ICRC's concerns and the role played by the organization in this part of the world.


  ©CRB/ A. Rosa Boyán /PE-E-00104    
  Philippe Gaillard meets with a Bolivian farmer near Lake Titicaca.    

 What are the ICRC's concerns in the countries covered by the Lima delegation?  

While there is no longer any armed conflict in the region, manifestations of popular discontent are common owing to grievances arising from the unequal distribution of wealth. In the three countries covered by the delegation, between 50 and 70 per cent of the population live below the poverty line and survive on less than two dollars a day. The ICRC is mainly concerned with the consequences of this discontent, which has its roots in social exclusion, poverty and lack of access to education and health services.

One of the most dramatic examples of the kind of violence that can erupt in these countries was the Bolivian Gas War, which broke out in October 2003. Tens of thousands of demonstrators blocked the capital, La Paz, for weeks and the army was finally called out. In all, 70 people were killed and another 500 wounded by bullets as a result of this protest movement. At the time, the ICRC, working in close cooperation with the Bolivian Red Cross, distributed medicine to the main hospitals treating the wounded.


 What are the ICRC's main activities in these countries?  


The ICRC is mainly involved in prevention work. First of all, it supports programmes to provide the police and armed forces with training in international humanitarian and human rights law. In this regard, I would like to commend the authorities of the three countries covered by the delegation for their great openness. All the armed forces in the region now include humanitarian law in their doctrine and their courses of instruction.

The ICRC is also active in universities, in the faculties of law and political and communication sciences in particular. Today, very few journalism stud ents in the region are without some basic knowledge of the provisions of international humanitarian and human rights law applicable in the event of internal disturbances. And the press, as everyone knows, can make a great difference when crisis looms.

ICRC delegates also visit prisons in Bolivia and Peru. In this area of work, we have radically changed our approach and adapted it to current conditions. For almost 20 years, the ICRC monitored, on a case by case basis, the situation of thousands of people arrested in connection with the conflict in Peru. We took an individual approach that focused mainly on protection issues. The situation is completely different now. Two years ago a high-ranking combatant was captured after being wounded in the hip and his captors took him to a hospital for treatment. Before, this would have been unthinkable.

In its detention-related work, the ICRC has thus gone from an individual to a collective approach. Together with the prison authorities, we are striving to improve the system, that is to say everything that has to do with the management of prisons and their infrastructure.

 What about the people who are still missing as a result of the conflict in Peru?  

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up in 2001 to investigate what happened during the " black years " in Peru. Its final report was presented to the authorities and published in August 2003. The people still reported missing in connection with the conflict are among the unresolved issues dealt with in the report, which contains a list of 4,500 names. This list has now been expanded to 13,500 names. Today, hundreds of thousands of people still live with the anguish of not knowing what happened to their fathers, mothers, brothers or sisters. The Commission also drew up a list of 4,500 places where the bodies of people who went mis sing during the armed conflict are buried. A huge amount of work remains to be done and it could take years to complete it.

The ICRC is striving to have a distinction drawn between the humanitarian and judicial aspects of this issue. For humanitarian reasons it is vital to accelerate the process and not demand that a formal investigation be opened – with all the slow and cumbersome judicial procedures this entails – whenever bodies are exhumed so that they can be identified and returned to the families. The ICRC is encouraging all those in charge of following up the recommendations made by the Commission to work together on resolving this issue. The process is under way now and I don't think it is presumptuous to say that the ICRC has a moral authority and expertise in this field that has enabled it to act effectively.