ICRC activities in Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia – 2009

02-03-2010 Operational Update

An overview of the ICRC's main activities during 2009 in the countries covered by the Tunis regional delegation: visiting detainees, restoring family links, supporting efforts to establish the fate of people who went missing during the conflict in Western Sahara and assisting mine victims from the same conflict.


 Visiting detainees  



During visits, ICRC delegates look at detainees' physical conditions of detention and the way they are treated, from arrest right through to release. In particular, the ICRC monitors the individual cases of people accused of offences against State security, those who have been condemned to death and those who are especially vulnerable, such as minors. In accordance with its standard operating procedures, the ICRC shares its conclusions – and any recommendations – with the detaining authority bilaterally. 

Since 2005, the ICRC has been visiting facilities run by the ministry of justice and human rights, plus those people held in interior ministry remand facilities who have been notified to the ICRC.

During 2009, the ICRC visited over 26,000 detainees during some 50 visits to 37 detention facilities run by either the ministry of justice or the ministry of the interior. ICRC delegates held individual interviews with around 550 detainees.

In Mauritania, the ICRC has been visiting people in remand facilities and civilian prisons since 2005. Delegates met 1,200 detainees during 28 visits to 12 justice ministry facilities. The ICRC monitored the cases of 70 of these people individually.


 Restoring family links      

The ICRC facilitated the exchange of 560 Red Cross messages in the countries that its regional delegation covers, providing a service to people who have lost track of family members due to conflict, detention or migration.

The ICRC continued to enable people held in Guantanamo or Bagram (Afghanistan) to talk to their families by phone. In all, 35 detainees were spoke to family in Libya, Mauritania, Morocco or Tunisia. On average, the calls lasted one hour. The ICRC also set up video conferences enabling four detainees in Guantanamo to exchange news with their families in Mauritania and Tunisia.

During the course of the year, the ICRC received 73 new tracing requests concerning people who had become separated from their families or had disappeared in connection with a conflict or another situation of violence, bringing to 123 the number of such cases the ICRC is currently handling in the region. The ICRC succeeded in tracing 11 people during the same period.

At the request of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the ICRC issued 14 travel documents to refugees in Libya who had no papers and were waiting to travel to another country.


Clarifying the fate of people who disappeared during the Western Sahara conflict     

Acting in its role as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC has offered a structured working framework to Morocco and the Polisario Front, in order to help them establish what happened to people who disappeared during the 1975-1991 Western Sahara Conflict. The two parties have set up systems to collect and centralize all information that could elucidate the fate of these m issing persons, and to respond to the administrative, economic and psychological needs of the families concerned. As in other contexts where the same problem arises, families suffer because they do not know what has happened to their relatives and are unable to begin the grieving process. They remain in a painful state of limbo, sometimes for many years, and this has a serious impact on their daily lives.


 Helping mine victims    


©ICRC/M. Ben Ahmed/tn-e-00114 
Two disabled people learn to walk at the ICRC orthopaedic centre in Tindouf. 

    The Western Sahara conflict left behind antipersonnel mines and explosive remnants of war. As part of its response to the humanitarian consequences, the ICRC runs a physical rehabilitation centre for handicapped people living in Sahrawi refugee camps in the region of Tindouf, south-western Algeria.

The centre ensures that people who have lost limbs, or suffer from a handicap affecting their limbs, can obtain the services they need locally. The aim is that these people regain a degree of autonomy and a quality of life that will allow them to rejoin society and maintain their dignity.

During 2009, the ICRC rehabilitation centre provided both care and mobility aids (artificial limbs, orthotic devices, crutches and wheelchairs) for over 200 patients, of whom 65 had lost limbs.


 Promoting international humanitarian law      

With the support of the ICRC, the armed forces of Libya and Tunisia finished revising their national programmes to include the rules and principles of IHL in their military doctrine, education and training. A first series of training workshops for judge advocates and IHL instructors took place in Libya in cooperation with the ICRC. In both countries, cooperation between the ICRC and the armed forces will continue via the national IHL committees.

A training workshop took place in Mauritania on the legal framework applicable to the use of force. The workshop involved officers from various corps and, for the first time, students from the national staff college.

The ICRC continued to provide legal and technical support to the Moroccan and Tunisian committees whose role it is to promote and support the integration and implementation of IHL at national level. This cooperation aims to render the national committees autonomous, and has already enabled members to undertake several courses at national and regional level. Tunisia, for instance, now has a cadre of six magistrates trained to teach IHL.

Dialogue between the ICRC and academic circles has extended beyond Mauritania and Tunisia to include Libya where, for the first time, the organization held a seminar on the complementarity between IHL and Islamic law at Benghazi University's sharia department, in partnership with the Libyan Red Crescent. Fes (Morocco) was the venue for the first North African colloquium on protection and human dignity during armed conflict in Islamic law and IHL. The ICRC ran this event in cooperation with Al-Qarawiyyine University, and the colloquium opened the way for the possible integration of IHL into the curricula of universities in North Africa.

In connection with the future inclusion of the ICRC's " Exploring Humanitarian Law " programme in the Moroccan secondary school curriculum, the ICRC continued to provide technical support to the ministry of education, particularly during a course for teachers who will be using this programme with young people aged from 13 to 18.

On 8 May 2009, as part of the Our World. Your Move. campaign, the Tunisian Red Crescent launched a series of events related to the time that Henry Dunant spent in North Africa, especially Tunisia. Some 30 volunteers took part and events included the Our World – At War photo exhibition, augmented with portraits of volunteers from the region's National Societies. The ICRC re-issued an extract from a book by Dunant that had first appeared in 1863: the Notice sur la Régence de Tunis (Note on the Regency of Tunis). Please see our report on the event for more details.


 Cooperation with Red Crescent Societies    


©ICRC/S. Beltifa/tn-e-00114 
Tunis. An IHL meeting convened by the ICRC and the Arab Red Crescent and Red Cross Organization. 

    The ICRC has continued to support the efforts of the region's Red Crescent Societies to re-establish contact between people separated by migration, detention or armed conflict.

Working in cooperation with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the ICRC ran training sessions for National Society personnel on IHL, emergency preparedness and mines/unexploded ordnance.

As part of efforts to promote IHL and the Fundamental Principles of the Movement, all of the region's Red Crescent Societies attended a meeting on IHL run jointly by the ICRC and the Arab Red Crescent and Red Cross Organization in Tunis last October .

Finally, the ICRC contributed its expertise to a regional disaster management exercise in Libya. The exercise was organized by the International Federation and the Libyan Red Crescent, and involved volunteers from all the North African National Societies.