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Europe and the Americas - ICRC Annual Report 2009

19-05-2010 Annual Report No 2009

In 2009, the ICRC’s priorities were to contribute to better protection of people deprived of their freedom, to help clarify the fate of people unaccounted for from past and current conflicts, and to assist, and improve the protection of, people directly affected by ongoing armed conflict, including displaced persons, particularly in Colombia and the Caucasus. The ICRC also continued to promote IHL and to foster a deeper understanding of its role and activities among authorities, armed and security forces, universities and schools.

Europe and the Americas: Introduction 


In 2009, the ICRC’s priorities were to contribute to better protection of people deprived of their freedom, to help clarify the fate of people unaccounted for from past and current conflicts, and to assist, and improve the protection of, people directly affected by ongoing armed conflict, including displaced persons, particularly in Colombia and the Caucasus. The ICRC also continued to promote IHL and to foster a deeper understanding of its role and activities among authorities, armed and security forces, universities and schools.

National Societi es were the ICRC’s main operational partners in many domains, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Colombia, Georgia, Haiti and the Russian Federation. They continued to benefit from ICRC capacity-building support, in particular in the areas of disaster preparedness, the Safer Access approach, weapon contamination, restoring family links, and IHL dissemination. In coordination with the International Federation, the ICRC also helped National Societies adapt their legal bases and structures to Movement requirements.

The ICRC coordinated its activities with Movement partners, UN agencies and other humanitarian players as appropriate, in order to maximize impact, identify unmet needs and avoid duplication.

Across the region, delegates continued to visit detainees, particularly those held for reasons of State security, and sought access to others not yet visited. The detainees were able to keep in touch with their families using the RCM network. After conducting private interviews with those held, the ICRC submitted confidential reports to the authorities, recommending measures, where necessary, for improving the detainees’ treatment or living conditions.

The ICRC offered its expertise to governments acceding to IHL treaties and enacting national implementing legislation. It also introduced them to the Montreux document on international legal obligations and good practices for States related to the operations of private military and security companies during armed conflict, co-produced with the Swiss government. The ICRC worked with the armed forces to incorporate IHL norms into military doctrine, operating procedures and manuals, while helping them to achieve autonomy in conducting IHL training. A similar approach was employed regarding police training in international human rights standards and humanitarian principles applicable to the use of force.

The ICRC encouraged academic institutions and secon dary schools to integrate IHL into their curricula. It further consolidated its network of media contacts to spur journalists to highlight humanitarian concerns when reporting on conflicts around the world.

The region covered in this section comprises three sub-regions: Eastern Europe and Central Asia; North America and Western, Central and South- Eastern Europe; and Latin America and the Caribbean. The main ICRC activities in each sub-region in 2009 are summarized below.

 Eastern Europe and Central Asia  

The ICRC continued to deal with the aftermath of the 2008 international armed conflict between Georgia and the Russian Federation, notably by helping IDPs and returnees get back on their feet and restoring severed family links. It further developed its dialogue with the Russian authorities on humanitarian concerns worldwide. The ICRC stayed actively involved in ongoing efforts to address the issue of people unaccounted for as a result of the various conflicts in the northern and southern Caucasus. It worked with relatives of missing persons, authorities, forensic institutes, National Societies and others to determine the fate of missing persons, ensure support for their families and promote legislation to this end. At a regional

seminar in Moscow, Russian Federation, experts from Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation received training in the use of ICRC anteand postmortem data-management software.

In the southern and northern Caucasus, vulnerable households, including the displaced, living in areas affected by armed conflict, violence and/or weapon contamination benefited, as appropriate, from emergency relief, vocational training, agricultural supplies, grants, or access to credit to regain economic self-sufficiency. Health facilities and local water boards received support, and IDP centres and wa ter supply systems were refurbished.

In Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and, with occasional disruptions, Kyrgyzstan, the ICRC visited people detained in connection with armed conflict or for reasons of State security. The national authorities worked with the ICRC to screen and treat tuberculosis (TB) in prisons and to build the necessary national capacities to do so by themselves; in Armenia, responsibility for TB control was handed over to the authorities. POWs and civilian internees held in connection with the Nagorny Karabakh conflict were visited by the ICRC, in accordance with its mandate. In the Russian Federation, where visits to detainees remained suspended owing to the authorities’ disagreement with its standard procedures, the ICRC continued to organize family visits for sentenced detainees held far from their homes. In Uzbekistan, visits to people detained by the penitentiary department of the Interior Ministry resumed in September. Negotiations regarding access to detainees continued in Turkmenistan, and were suspended in Tajikistan after an unfavourable reply from the authorities.

In the southern Caucasus, the Russian Federation and Tajikistan, amputees, including many mine victims, were properly cared for and rehabilitated thanks to the ICRC’s support to medical facilities, prosthetic/orthotic centres and training for medical professionals. The ICRC, together with National Societies, also worked to heighten awareness of weapon contamination and the need to assist the victims, for example through mine-risk education, data-gathering and advice to the authorities.

Efforts were maintained to promote IHL and other norms applicable to situations of violence among the authorities, armed and security forces and academic target groups. The ICRC signed a protocol of intent with the Secretariat of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. In Central Asia, a highlight was the ICRC’s international forum on contemporary cha llenges to humanitarian norms, which brought together representatives of the region’s 12 countries in Kazakhstan.


 North America and Western, Central and South-Eastern Europe  

ICRC activities in the United States of America focused on detention-related issues, notably the new administration’s review policies, and dialogue on IHL and the conduct of hostilities. By visiting Washington in April, the ICRC president contributed to strengthening the constructive dialogue with the authorities, as shown by the decision of the US Department of Defense to notify the ICRC of all persons detained within two weeks of their capture. Dialogue with the US military was expanded to include the Office of the Secretary of Defense policy department and Special Operations Command. Delegates continued to visit people held by the US authorities in Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba, and in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Telephone calls between internees/detainees and their families were facilitated by the authorities in Guantanamo Bay, the ICRC and National Societies in the internees’/detainees’ countries of origin around the world. For the first time since their capture, internees/detainees were able to send photos to relatives and interact with them visually via video-conferencing.

In the Western Balkans, the ICRC monitored the detention conditions of people under investigation or sentenced for war crimes and visited people held by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Ascertaining the fate of the approximately 15,000 people still unaccounted for remained a priority for the ICRC, and it continued to remind all the parties of their obligations in this respect. As in the past, the ICRC provided support for exhumation and identification processes, engaged in dialogue with the families of missing persons, and furnished backing for their associations’ advocacy work and projects. It chaired sessions of the Working and Sub-Working Groups on Missing Persons, the only forum for dialogue between Belgrade (Serbia) and Pristina (Kosovo [1 ] ) on the issue.

The ICRC’s presence in Brussels (Belgium), London (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), Paris (France), New York and Washington (United States) provided a favourable environment to develop dialogue on IHL, the Movement and neutral and independent humanitarian action, in particular with intergovernmental organizations and their member States, and to enlist their support. The ICRC engaged with various European Union (EU) institutions, UN bodies and agencies and their member States on critical humanitarian issues. It supported initiatives to mark the 60th anniversary of the 1949 Geneva Conventions with a series of seminars on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. In Brussels, the ICRC shared its expertise to facilitate the implementation of the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid and EU Guidelines on promoting compliance with IHL. From Brussels and Washington, it pursued its dialogue on civil-military relations with NATO commanders and EU and US armed forces and participated in pre-deployment and training exercises, particularly for troops going to Afghanistan and Iraq. In New York, the ICRC contributed to debates and reports on the protection of civilians, coordination of humanitarian aid and weapon issues, and to the work of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations on best practices. Similarly, in Washington, the ICRC maintained close contact with inter-American

organizations such as the Organization of American States.

From these capitals, the ICRC also strengthened its network of contacts with NGOs, the media and think-tanks.

 Latin America and the Caribbean  

In 2009, the ICRC worked to address the consequences of the armed conflict in Colombia and its spillover into the border regions of neighbouring countries, resurging fighting between government forces and Shining Path members in Peru, and situations of violence related to social, electoral, economic or land issues in other countries.

In Colombia, the impact of the lasting armed conflict between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia was increasingly felt in remote border regions, notably in the south and along Colombia’s Pacific coastal areas. To mitigate the impact of the fighting on civilians, who remained at risk of abuse by weapon bearers, the ICRC made representations to the alleged perpetrators of IHL violations. It reminded the authorities and weapon bearers of their obligations under IHL, emphasizing the need to respect civilians and health services, and explained the ICRC’s neutrality and independence. This helped the ICRC facilitate medical evacuations, the release of people held by armed groups, and the recovery of human remains. It continued to advocate improved services for IDPs, while working with the Colombian Red Cross to provide direct assistance to over 52,000 IDPs and conflict-affected residents. This included improving water and sanitation facilities and access to health services, including physical rehabilitation, and reducing mine risks.

In areas bordering Colombia, notably Ecuador’s Sucumbios department, the ICRC worked to develop a dialogue with authorities and weapon bearers on humanitarian concerns. In Panama’s Darien region, it assisted remote communities together with the National Society and reinforced contact with the recently established border police.

In response to the political crisis in Honduras, the ICRC opened an office in the capital, Tegucigalpa, and visited people who had been arrested, as it did in Peru after clashes between police and indigenous protesters in Bagua and following arrests made in other violence-prone regions. Regionwide, the ICRC worked with armed and police forces regarding the use of force in law enforcement. With the National Society in Haiti, it developed health and water and sanitation activities in Port-au-Prince’s shantytowns and worked with the authorities to overhaul the prison system. In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in partnership with the Brazilian Red Cross, the ICRC expanded its medical and first-aid activities in seven violence-affected favelas and broadened its overall dialogue with the authorities. It worked with national mechanisms for missing persons in Chile, Colombia, Guatemala and Peru and encouraged better coordination between the authorities and among national organizations working on the issue. It provided authorities and forensic specialists with expertise for the exhumation and identification of human remains, and assisted families of missing persons.

The ICRC monitored the living conditions and treatment of over 16,000 detainees in 12 countries. It shared its findings and recommendations confidentially with the authorities and backed their efforts to upgrade penitentiary health care. In Mexico and Venezuela, the ICRC continued to discuss a comprehensive agreement on visits to detainees.

Cooperation on IHL progressed with the region’s armed forces. The dialogue engaged with the Conference of Central American Armed Forces facilitated discussions with the military on the use of force and human rights norms applicable to law enforcement.


1. UN Security Council Resolution 1244