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The ICRC gets closer to Indonesia

04-10-2011 Interview

The ICRC delegation in Jakarta has recently launched its own blog in Bahasa Indonesia, the official language of Indonesia, as well as opening a Twitter account. Vincent Nicod, head of the regional delegation, describes the role and work of the humanitarian organization in Indonesia.

Why has the ICRC launched a blog and a Twitter account in Bahasa Indonesia?

Indonesia's influence is becoming global, and so is the ICRC mission, which is present in 80 countries around the world. We therefore need to speak the same language. Our blog and the Twitter account is a way to launch a dialogue with an increasingly important regional actor, which the ICRC wants to mobilize to support its humanitarian initiatives.

Why does the ICRC maintain its presence in Indonesia?

Following the conflict resolution in Indonesia, the ICRC had to adjust its role in line with the evolving humanitarian situation throughout the archipelago, cooperating increasingly with relevant partners among government institutions. For instance, we recently signed a MoU with the TNI (Tentara Nasional Indonesia – the Indonesian National Armed Forces) on the dissemination of the basic rules of international humanitarian law and human rights to military audiences.

Indonesian officers have taken an active part in courses organized or co-organized by the ICRC in San Remo, Italy, in Switzerland and in South Africa. We recently sponsored the participation of one police officer in a course co-organized by the ICRC on the Portuguese island of Madeira.

Also, Indonesian law students did very well in the ICRC’s International Humanitarian Law Moot competition in the Asia-Pacific region, held in Hong Kong in March 2011, and we could multiply the examples of ICRC activities in a new Indonesian context.

How does the ICRC interact with the Indonesian Red Cross Society?

Cooperation between the ICRC and PMI (Palang Merah Indonesia – the Indonesian Red Cross Society) is excellent. The ICRC obviously considers the PMI its most valuable partner in the country. Since the 2004 tsunami, we have entered a phase of proactivity with PMI and the authorities in preparing for natural disasters, which unfortunately strike Indonesia frequently. This helps us to identify issues of national or global importance where the ICRC can lend a hand: issues such as migration, human trafficking, pandemic diseases, technological disasters, new sources of violence and new weapon technologies.

I should also mention that the ICRC provides technical expertise and funding support to PMI for various other activities, such as mortal remains management, re-establishing family links, first aid, assessments, and the dissemination of our common values through various training and support missions. Last year the ICRC assisted the PMI with emergency response operations following the natural disasters in Mentawa (tsunami), Wasior (flooding) and Merapi (volcanic eruption), in particular in the areas of restoring family links and water and sanitation.

It is also worth mentioning that in 2009 the PMI received donations from the people of Indonesia to provide assistance to the victims of the conflict in the Gaza Strip. With ICRC support, the PMI provided 2000 blankets to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, handed over directly by the PMI deputy secretary general.

Will the ICRC’s work in prisons continue?

In March 2011, the Directorate General of Corrections (Ditjenpas) of the Indonesian Ministry of Law and Human Rights formalized a Memorandum of Understanding and cooperation agreements with the ICRC for a new framework of assistance. Through these instruments the ICRC will provide expertise to the Ditjenpas in the areas of human and environmental health. This means that as well as training aspects, joint technical assessments of water supply, medical systems and living conditions will start soon, followed by rehabilitation work where needed. This is a very good example of the ICRC’s adaptation to new realities in Indonesia.

Indonesia being a country prone to natural disasters, how do you see the ICRC’s role?

We cooperate with the forensic unit of the Indonesian Police, exchanging experiences and consolidating joint work on human remains management after major disasters. Recently, Mr Marty Natalegawa, Indonesia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said, "We have to turn challenges into opportunities”. Disasters are challenges which bring opportunities to learn and adapt humanitarian techniques to deal with them, so that we can all be better equipped the next time a disaster strikes.

What are the obstacles facing the ICRC in Indonesia today?

The main obstacle is the ICRC’s image, built through long years of work during conflicts. Many people still remember the times when we worked in such contexts. Therefore they still see us as attached to conflicts, to bad news. They equate ICRC presence in a country with images of disorder and political trouble or tensions. Many, probably most, Indonesians are unaware that the ICRC can do much more than that.

It is therefore important to get the message across that the ICRC doesn’t only work in times or areas of conflict. Of course, it is our actions in conflict situations that receive the most coverage in the international media, as shown by our engagement in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, the Middle East and so on. In Indonesia the situation is different. Hence a different ICRC here as well!

How long has the ICRC been working in Indonesia?

The first ICRC intervention in Indonesia dates back to the 1940s, before the country's independence. Since then, with many interruptions, depending on the situation, it has developed a comprehensive range of activities, thanks to the support and facilitation of the Indonesian government.

During the periods of conflict in Aceh and Timor, and during political, ethnic or religious tensions, the ICRC has maintained a regular presence. We have therefore gained a good understanding of how people and communities in these areas were affected and how the ICRC could best address their problems, in partnership with different stakeholders. The Indonesian Red Cross is our closest partner, along with the authorities. A look at our photo gallery will show you what I mean.

We have signed two agreements with the government, one in 1977 relating to prison visits, and one in 1987 to establish the status of the ICRC, as an international organization, in Indonesia. We have been working in the country ever since.



Vincent Nicod