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The ICRC's approach to contemporary security challenges: A future for independent and neutral humanitarian action

30-09-2004 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 855, by Pierre Krähenbühl

The author reflects on contemporary security challenges and how they have changed the environment in which humanitarian work is carried out. Deliberate targeting is but one example of how humanitarian operations are challenged today. On the basis of this analysis the author provides an insight into the ICRC assessment of these developments and provides an outlook for the parameters for neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian action in the future.


Pierre Krähenbühl
The author is the Director of Operations of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The article   is an adapted and extended version of an address by the author at a humanitarian forum on “Challengesto Humanitarian Security”, held at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on 31 March 2004. 

The first years of the 21st century have undoubtedly been difficult - and often dramatic - for the conduct of humanitarian operations. Renewed and hardening polarisation in the world, the " war on terror " and the diversification of actors involved in the world's conflicts, have changed the environment in which humanitarian work is carried out. Added to the concept of integrated international response to crises, this brings along the risk for humanitarian workers to be rejected or instrumentalized by parties to conflicts.

New security threats - and in particular the globalisation of the nature of the threats, conflict dynamics no longer being solely geographically circumscribed - challenge the modes of operation of humanitarian organisations. The deli berate targeting of aid organisations and their personnel raises questions about the ability of these organisations to fulfil their mandate in certain situations and has generated a broad debate on the future of humanitarian action.

The ICRC obviously has important stakes in this debate. In this article, its Director of Operations sets out some thoughts and indications about how the ICRC assesses the recent developments in the humanitarian space and how it plans to address some of their most significant implications, both on a security and on an operational level. They range from security management, to identity and perception, to the continuing relevance of the principles underlying the ICRC's modes of operation. The author concludes by setting out the parameters and conditions for the future of neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian action.


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