Haiti: ICRC explains mandate to police
Almost 800 police recruits, 35 of them women, have recently undergone training to bolster the ranks of the Haitian national police force in the run-up to elections in the small Caribbean country. Before they were sent out to their units, the ICRC took the opportunity to talk to them about its role, since the paths of ICRC staff and police personnel often cross.
At 9 a.m. one morning last August, 160 trainees filed into the auditorium at the police academy in Port-au-Prince. There they sat silently, dressed in while polo shirts and blue shorts, until their superiors gave the signal that they were ready for a three-hour ICRC presentation on subjects such as the organization's work in Haiti and the legal obligation to respect those displaying the red cross emblem.
The session started with a film on the work of the ICRC that asked crucial questions such as " Is there still room in today's world for humanitarian action and concern over human dignity? " Raising such issues is intended to make an impression on these young people who are about to be sent to work throughout Haiti following their four months of training. ICRC delegate Jacob Charles spoke to them in Creole, explaining Red Cross history, basic humanitarian rules, and the principles of impartiality and neutrality. Then he talked to them about correct use of the red cross and red crescent emblems.
Respecting the emblem
" These emblems are very important, " said Charles. " They protect the injured and they protect Red Cross staff. " Taking the victims of violence to hospital can be a dangerous task in Haiti, especially in poor the neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince, where there have been widespread disturbances in recent years.
A major scene of ICRC work in Haiti is the Cité Soleil neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince, where it is repairing the water-supply system, carrying out sanitatio n work, and supporting first-aid workers from the Haitian National Red Cross Society, who regularly take gunshot victims to hospital.
The use of the emblem and evacuation of injured people from trouble spots was of particular interest to the police cadets. " Can we stop ambulances and check first-aid workers? " , asked one. Charles replied that the ICRC is not opposed to police controls, and in fact Haitian Red Cross first-aiders are sometimes checked by the police or United Nations troops on their way to hospital. Nevertheless, he pointed out, any injured person is entitled to receive care without delay.
Another cadet asked about measures that can be taken against anyone found misusing the red cross emblem. Others asked about various difficulties encountered in the field, means of preventing war, and how the ICRC is financed.
Another delegate pointed out that policemen and US troops do not always understand how the Red Cross operates. " We have to understand each other " , he said, " because we end up rubbing shoulders in situations that are often tense and even violent. "
The ICRC visits police stations in the capital to ensure that conditions of detention are in keeping with international norms, so it is necessary to prepare policemen to work with the delegates. " There is sometimes a degree of reluctance to accept the work of ICRC delegates in places of detention " , explains the inspector-general of the national police, who himself attended a course in international humanitarian law in Switzerland last August. " That's why we make sure they learn during training that the ICRC is acting with the authorities'consent and that it checks conditions for all detainees regar dless of their political opinions. "
Since the beginning of the year, the ICRC has organized seven such presentations for almost 1,200 police cadets. Courses have also been given to candidates for senior police posts as well as in police stations in Hinche and Mirebalais, north of Port-au-Prince, and in Cap-Haïtien on the northern coast.
The national police force is currently being restructured and faces shortages of equipment, personnel and officers capable of filling command posts. Soon this latest batch of trainees will sent out to work in this country plagued by repeated outbursts of violence and other disasters.