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Baghdad attack: "...We need a non-politicized environment for humanitarian work..."

26-01-2004 Article, L'Humanitaire Maghreb, by Harald Schmid de Gruneck

Following the attack on the ICRC’s Baghdad delegation on 27 October 2003, Harald Schmid de Gruneck, an ICRC regional delegate based in Tunis, sought to highlight the importance of the ICRC’s mandate in an open letter published in "L'Humanitaire Maghreb".

By deliberately targeting the Baghdad delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on 27 October 2003, using a car bomb displaying a protective emblem recognized by 191 States, what message were you sending us? How should we, indeed how could we respond?

 If we could engage in dialogue with you, we would attempt to convince you that:  


We are neither allies of nor dependent on Coalition forces or the United Nations. We try to conduct our humanitarian activities in an impartial and independent manner. I say “try” because the politicized world in which we find ourselves can cause us to be perceived in a biased way. While there are some who would like to be perceived to be doing humanitarian work so as to further their political aims, the ICRC is apolitical and humanitarian – or perhaps I should say that it takes part in “politics” – in the original, noble sense – so as to further humanitarian aims.

We are neither with you nor against you. We are trying – again, trying – now as in the past, to relieve the suffering of the Iraqis. Since 1980, we have responded as far as our means allow, and in accordance with our mandate, to the tragic consequences of the Iraq-Iran war and the 1991 Gulf war; we also tried to ease the hardships and isolation of the Iraqi people when international sanctions were in place, from 1991 to 2003, by maintaining a basic level of water and health-care services. During the latest conflict, we stayed in Iraq for the so le purpose of bringing the victims the assistance and protection to which they are entitled.

All our activities are based on dialogue, and on a relationship of trust between us and the people we deal with; therefore, in order to safeguard our independence and neutrality, we refuse military protection of any kind.

It is our desire to go on working in Iraq even though our activities there have had to be reorganized in the wake of the attack of 27 October.

To continue to carry out this work effectively and to visit detainees in Iraq as we do in many other places throughout the world – from Guantanamo to Colombia, from Algeria to Madagascar, from Israel and the occupied territories to Yemen, from Russia to Azerbaijan, from Afghanistan to the Philippines – we need a non-politicized, non-militarized environment, that is recognized and respected as such, in which to perform our humanitarian tasks.

 What lesson should be drawn?  

In all humility, but with determination, we will champion such an environment for humanitarian work. We will do our utmost to ensure that the rights of the Iraqis are respected, in accordance with international humanitarian law and in particular with the Fourth Geneva Convention for the protection of civilians.

The ICRC’s determination is not a matter of blind enthusiasm, but a responsibility imposed by its mandate and by respect for three principles dating back to the 1860s, when the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement began:

 humanity, impartiality and neutrality.  

Editorial by Harald Schmid de Gruneck , ICRC Maghreb regional delegate, which appeared in L'Humanitaire Maghreb , No. 6, December 2003, a publication of the ICRC’s regional delegation in Tunis.