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Do wars ever end? The work of the International Committee of the Red Cross when the guns fall silent

30-09-2003 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 851, by Marion Harroff-Tavel

This article explores how the International Committee of the Red Cross defines its policy with regard to its activities in the delicate and often very difficult transition period following the end of an armed conflict. Addressing the multiple and varied needs of the population after such a conflict raises several questions at the policy level. These are reflected upon and analysed in this contribution.


Marion Harroff-Tavel
is the ICRC Deputy Director for international Law and Cooperation within the movement.The original of this article is in french 

A delicate transition period begins when the guns fall silent following a ceasefire or a peace agreement. The plight of the most vulnerable gets worse, often much worse, while others, no longer wishing to be perceived as “victims”, struggle to regain their autonomy and defend their rights. Different people have different needs: a need for security in the face of the threats posed by former combatants, crime and landmines; a need for protection from authorities who abuse their power and a hostile population bent on revenge; material needs (water, food, housing, health); and, finally, a need for truth, justice and recognition.

The challenge confronting the ICRC is to ensure that these needs are met, if possible by o r in cooperation with those who experience them. The guidelines which the organization has recently adopted for its humanitarian work in transition periods is the result of an in-depth study conducted not only in Geneva, but also in the Balkans, the Caucasus, Africa and Central America. What are the obligations of former belligerents under humanitarian law? How to ensure a smooth transition between emergency activities and development work? What limits should a humanitarian organization set on its aid policy? What are the possibilities for working in partnership with States, civil society and other international players, while preserving the specific identities of all concerned? These are some of the questions discussed in this article.


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