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Security in ICRC field operations

30-06-2002 Article, Secure 02, by Philippe Dind

Article by Philippe Dind, delegate in charge of security, retired, ICRC. Published in "Secure 02", a Finnish Red Cross publication, June 2002

 Philippe Dind is the retired delegate in charge of security at the International Committee of the Red Cross’s (ICRC) Directorate of Operations. His task was to ensure that field staff were able to carry out their humanitarian work in safe conditions. Before taking up his position the author held various other posts, both at headquarters and in the field.  


In any discussion about security, the primary consideration must be the need to preserve the neutrality, independence and impartiality of humanitarian action. This is the essential precondition for the ICRC’s ability to protect and assist the victims of conflict. Sooner or later, any humanitarian activity which runs counter to these fundamental principles either incurs the mistrust of the people it intends to assist or becomes completely paralysed. In the course of the last 20 years there have been many major changes both in the nature of conflicts and in the ICRC itself. The number of ICRC expatriate staff working in the field and the number of operations conducted by the organisation have increased tenfold, and the number of locally hired staff has risen in about the same proportion. Statistically, therefore, the probability of a security incident occurring is greater now than in the past. Moreover, the ICRC’s modus operandi has also evolved. As the activities of ICRC delegates take them closer to the fighting than before, their working conditions have become more hazardous.  

The conflict environment too has changed considerably. For example, it has become a platitud e to remark that the chain of command among combatants has weakened to the point where it is often difficult to distinguish between the armed forces and gangs of bandits. All these factors combined make it extremely difficult for the ICRC to adhere to its traditional working methods. The number of people who have to be contacted to ensure that an operation runs smoothly has risen sharply, without this having any favourable effect on security – quite the contrary.  

These developments have prompted the ICRC to focus even greater attention on matters relating to the safety of its field activities. What follows is an outline of the organisation’s general approach to security.  

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