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ICRC action outside the context of non-international armed conflicts and internal disturbances


Extract from an article published in the International Review of the Red Cross, May-June 1993, No 294

Finally, outside the context of non-international armed conflicts and internal disturbances, the ICRC retains the option to take action, without having any obligation to do so, when it identifies a problem of humanitarian concern which it might help to solve by virtue of its special character.  It may offer its services on the basis of Article 5, para. 3, of the Statutes of the Movement, which stipulates that " the International Committee may take any humanitarian initiative which comes within its role as a specifically neutral and independent institution and intermediary, and may consider any question requiring examination by such an institution " .  This right of initiative, founded on custom, does not depend on the type of situation prevailing in the country concerned, but on characteristics pertaining to the ICRC itself: independence, which guarantees that the ICRC will never see its policy dictated by pressure groups and will thus retain an objective view of the humanitarian problems to be solved, and neutrality, which signifies that the ICRC will not take part in any hostilities or controversies and will refrain from making any partisan judgements. [In this connection, see Yves Sandoz, " Le droit d'initiative du Comité international de la Croix-Rouge " , German Yearbook of International Law, Duniker & Humblot, Berlin, 1979, Vol. 22, pp. 352-373. ]

These features of the ICRC are particularly valuable in situations of political or social tension which have not yet degenerated into internal disturbances, but nevertheless cause suffering of the type described in the first section.  For instance, the enforcement of order by repressive measures intended to prevent op ponents from taking any action (internment of individuals without any grounds for charging them with an offence, invasive presence of police forces or the army, etc.) may prompt the ICRC to offer its services in order to ease tension.

As in the case of internal disturbances, the ICRC can refer to the universally acknowledged humanitarian principles and, where it considers it advisable, invoke the inalienable human rights, or even other human rights.