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Nepal: responding to growing humanitarian needs - end of 2002

03-01-2003 Operational Update

In response to the escalation of hostilities in Nepal during 2002, the ICRC developed and expanded its activities.

It increased the number of both expatriate and national staff and the range of its activities, particularly in medical assistance and support to Nepal Red Cross (NRCS) activities in conflict-affected areas. During 2003 it plans to intensify its field work wherever necessary and will set up sub-delegations in Nepalganj and Biratnagar to allow a closer follow-up of these activities.

Protection of detainees 

By the end of September, delegates had visited a total of over 1,600 detainees in 67 jails and police stations. In 2003 it will continue to seek access to persons held under the authority of the army, as well as to those allegedly held by the CPN-Maoists.

Action for war wounded 

In 2001, the ICRC set up emergency medical stocks, carried out a survey of medical facilities serving conflict zones and organized a seminar on war surgery. When the fighting intensified in 2002, causing unprecedented numbers of casualties, ICRC reinforced the capacity of key surgical facilities by providing them with medicines and materials to treat 400 war-wounded. It also supported NRCS training and the setting up of first-aid programmes in four insurgency-affected districts, and distributed first-aid booklets and materials to fighters. These activities will be expanded in 2003 to four other districts. An evaluation of rehabilitation facilities for the physically disabled, planned for 2002, has been deferred until security conditions improve.

Helping the civilian population 

Restrictions on access to areas affected by fighting hampered the ICRC’s efforts to strengthen the protection of civilians, but in some areas delegates collected allegations and followed them up with the authorities concerned; contacts with CPN-Maoists were interrupted by the upsurge in fighting, but by late June had been re-established to allow some discussion of issues such as respect for medical personnel and facilities. The escalation of fighting created new barriers to civilian communication and transportation, and the ICRC supported the NRCS in developing a Red Cross message (RCM) network to serve dispersed families; by August, 28 branches were setting up RCM services, and the delivery of messages had begun. The ICRC will continue to work with the NRCS to extend this network in 2003.

In October and November ICRC delegates carried out an extensive survey in remote areas, reached only by foot, to find out more closely how the population was living and what people's greatest needs were. As a result of this it will step up its efforts to persuade the parties to the conflict ensure greater freedom of movement for civilians, so as to guarantee their economic independence. However, the ICRC will remain ready in 2003 to increase and adapt its support as necessary.

Protecting the emblem 

Widespread misuse of the red cross emblem threatened the effectiveness of all Movement partners working in conflict areas. With the support of the ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the NRCS launched a medi a campaign against misuse of the emblem, and branches in insurgency-affected areas effectively reduced the problem through visits to pharmacies and medical centres. The ICRC and the NRCS prepared and submitted a draft law that would provide better legal protection for the emblem.

Promoting respect for humanitarian law 

To establish a basis for recommending national measures to implement IHL, the ICRC commissioned a study on the compatibility of Nepali legislation with the requirements of the main IHL treaties. Moves by the armed forces to integrate IHL into standard training programmes, initiated in 2001, were slowed by operational demands, but the delegation provided the army with IHL materials, sent an officer to an international training course in Italy, and held a series of IHL training courses for operational commanders. It also held an IHL course for 22 officers of the new Armed Police Force (APF) formed to fight insurgency. The ICRC promoted the study of IHL by proposing an IHL curriculum for the law department at Tribhuvan University and providing materials to enable the university to establish an IHL documentation centre. These activities will continue in 2003.

A Movement approach 

The Federation and a number of national societies work with the NRCS in a broad range of activities ; the ICRC functions as lead agency to coordinate a unified Movement response. When the Federation and the NRCS mounted extensive assistance to flood victims, the ICRC provided financial support to fill the operational gap before donors could respond to a joint appeal. Led by the UNDP, numerous UN agencies work in Nepal, mainly in the field of development. Many NGOs, both Nepali and international, are als o active there. The ICRC maintains close contact and coordinates its operations with other organizations working in related fields.