Overview of the ICRC's operations in 2005
This document outlines the global operational priorities identified by the ICRC in 2005. It is based on the yearly internal review and planning process conducted primarily by the 80 field delegations and missions.
On the global landscape, two central features stand out. The first is economic: growth in many countries is highly dependent on a stable and affordable supply of critical resources, notably energy. The issue of access to natural resources such as oil and water, to name but two, has a strong potential to generate tensions or violence between or within countries or communities.
The second feature is the ongoing global confrontation – the so-called “war on terror” – between a number of countries and diverse and diffuse groups of non-State actors. It is characterized by its near worldwide impact, its inherent asymmetry and the absence of a clear front line or single set of actors.
This confronta tion has contributed to a marked polarization and radicalization in the world. It has bred fear and vulnerability, primarily among the populations that have suffered the direct consequences of deliberate acts of terror – the targets of which have been mostly civilians – but also beyond. The polarization has also affected other populations that feel humiliated by unresolved political disputes or what they perceive as long-standing injustices, leading to political or social exclusion or cultural alienation. States’ response to acts of terror or resistance has included a range of repressive means, including torture – which has become a cause for real concern – and the denial of basic rights.
The radicalization is manifested not only in acts but in words. Attempts to reduce individuals or communities to a single defining characteristic or identity are commonplace. It forces people and countries to choose a side.
These global trends co-exist with other, more localized causes of conflict: the age-old struggle for power or control of resources, ethnic- or identity-driven tensions, religious fault-lines, the disaffection of minorities or other marginalized groups, disputes over land reforms, and economic and social inequalities.
The single largest crisis in humanitarian terms in 2004 was the conflict in Darfur, Sudan. The roots of the conflict are varied: historical, political, social and community-related. It confirms what experience has often shown - that local dynamics have the greatest influence on the evolution of a conflict in a given context. Yet the impact of the broader global trends on these context-specific factors can not be underestimated.
In a polarized world, the risk of rejection of humanitarian actors is high, as is the risk of their becoming, or being perceived as, the instruments of others’ designs. While in 2004 the ICRC did not suffer attacks comparable to those in the preceding year, other organizations were not so fortunate, with the killing or kidnapping of colleagues in various contexts. Against this backdrop, the ICRC has continued to work on the integra-tion of global and regional threat indicators into its context-based and decentralized security management system.
Another major challenge for the ICRC lies in its capacity to engage in meaningful and sustained dialogue with all actors who have an influence on a given situation. This is an intrinsic part of the ICRC’s operational philosophy, which is vital if the organization is to live up to its responsibility to protect and assist people affected by armed conflict or violence wherever they may be. A concerted effort has been made in strengthening networks both with State authorities and with civil society and non-State actors across the globe.
The current world climate engendered by the aforementioned radicalization, also poses new challenges for the ICRC and international humanitarian law (IHL). Asserting the relevance of IHL to contemporary forms of armed conflict and, more critically, ensuring respect for its provisions by parties to armed violence of whatever kind is more important now than ever, yet it is also under threat. The pressures on IHL have come from a variety of sources: from those groups whose deliberate acts of terror against civilians or execution of hostages show a complete disregard for humanitarian rules and from States which claim that the rules are not applicable to the “war on terror”, which they describe as a new kind of war.
The ICRC is fully conscious of the importance of addressing these issues. It recognizes that States have a responsibility to ensure the security of their citizens. However it is also the ICRC’s firm view that it is possible to do this while upholding the rules designed to protect human dignity and by living up to the obligations set forth in international conventions. This is a not an easy message to get through in an environment marked by hostage-takings in schools and images of beheadings on television. The suffering of the families concerned is incon-ceivable. Yet it is precisely in situations like these that a set of basic rules and elementary considerations of humanity must be applied at all costs, for example with respect to people deprived of their freedom regardless of how one defines their legal situation.
As fast as these events unfold and are reported across the world, so increases the level of scrutiny of humanitarian action. The scandal surrounding the treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq illustrated this phenomenon most tellingly, raising questions about the ICRC’s operational decision-making and throwing the spotlight on its traditional confidential approach and manner of communicating publicly.