The ICRC has to adapt to incredibly diverse situations
Yves Daccord is the ICRC's new director-general. He explains why it is important for the organization to be ever more effective not only in its activities in conflict zones but also in its relations with G20 governments.
What are the main challenges facing the ICRC today?
Nowadays, the ICRC carries out its activities in conflicts that last for years, or even for dozens of years, in incredibly diverse situations. From Afghanistan to Yemen, through Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or even Brazil, Georgia and India, our staff must respond to extremely diverse humanitarian concerns. Sometimes they have to meet needs where people's immediate survival is at stake – I'm thinking for example of people who are at risk of vanishing after being arrested, or of woun ded people in urgent need of vital care. Sometimes our staff need to take action to preserve the dignity of people harmed by conflict – I am thinking in particular of people deprived of their freedom, and of displaced civilians.
We have to constantly adapt our activities to make them effective and take into account the vulnerability but also the toughness and stamina of those afflicted. Our organization, often working in partnership with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, must be capable of responding very swiftly when required to do so by an emergency situation, as it did recently in Kyrgyzstan. It must also be able to carry out its work in so-called " early recovery " periods, i.e. immediately post-crisis, when people need a boost to resume living a relatively normal life. This is what we are doing in certain parts of Pakistan, for example, for people displaced by the violence who have recently returned to their home villages.
Another permanent challenge is to enter systematically into dialogue with all those who can have an influence on a situation – a dialogue aiming to secure access to the victims, to make us better accepted, but also to get them to alter certain things they do that are not consistent with international humanitarian law or with certain rules of human rights law.
Does this mean that there will be radical changes in the way the ICRC is managed and in how it operates in the field?
The ICRC is quite capable of doing what it says it will do. It is entirely geared to achieve what it sets out to do in the field. This strength needs to be used as a basis, together with our energies and skills, for raising our work in the field to an even higher level. In order to achieve this aim, we need to develop our ability to make better use of local knowledge by giving greater responsibility to certain locally recruited staff. This is essential if we want to better understand local dynamics and ensure continuity in our work. I also expect that activities will be developed requiring logistics and working methods that vary greatly from one context to another.
Traditionally, the ICRC's activities centre on "armed conflicts and other situations of violence." Do you think that ICRC activities should be expanded to cover urban violence, for example?
The ICRC must fulfil its responsibilities in armed conflicts and other situations of violence. It must take action to address humanitarian concerns relating to urban violence if that violence is armed and organized, if there is a substantial need for humanitarian aid and if what the ICRC can do will really make a difference for the victims. Our staff will strive to do what best fits the situation: they may provide medical aid, they may step in with support for water and sanitation services, or they may conduct detainee-welfare or tracing activities.
What is your vision for the ICRC?
I see the ICRC as persistent, and as brave when necessary. I see it as pragmatic, as efficient, but also as generous. The ICRC must be where things are happening, completely focused on bringing aid to those who need it most and constantly striving to enhance their protection. What the ICRC does – whether for the war-wounded in S omalia, in its contacts with the Taliban in Kandahar, Afghanistan, or in its relations with G20 governments – must have an impact.