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Annual Report 2003: Independent and neutral humanitarian action still vital for victims of armed conflict

28-06-2004 News Release 04/44

Geneva (ICRC) – Despite increased security threats, independent and neutral humanitarian action continues to help and protect millions of people affected by armed conflicts. As illustrated in the 2003 Annual Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), this fact holds true for armed conflicts such as the one in Iraq, which attracted most public attention over the year, but also numerous other war zones across the globe where the ICRC was active.


Presenting the report, ICRC director of operations Pierre Krähenbühl said that the organization’s determination to protect the lives and dignity of people affected by war had prompted it to continue working during the period of active hostilities in Iraq and at the height of the battle for the Liberian capital, Monrovia. However, the same insecurity that caused untold misery for the victims of conflict also affected humanitarian organizations; five ICRC staff were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan last year.

Despite its firm commitment to help the people of Iraq, the ICRC at no time neglected its responsibility towards people affected by armed conflicts elsewhere. As in previous years, a significant portion of ICRC activities took place in Africa, including large-scale efforts to help prevent famine in Ethiopia, restore family links in the Great Lakes region and carry out life-saving medical work in Liberia. Commenting on another important area of ICRC operations, the northern Caucasus, Mr Krähenbühl explained that in Chechnya lack of security remained the major problem for civilians in 2003. This, he said, had also made it increasingly difficult for humanitarian organizations to reach people in need. The director of operations also drew attention to the continued suffering of the population in Colombia owing to the prolonged conflict there and the means and methods used to conduct hostilities.

Mr Krähenbühl pointed out that the ICRC's ability to help victims of conflict depended on the willingness of all the warring parties to respect its independent and neutral approach to humanitarian action. He warned that events in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003 had led to a blurring of lines between humanitarian action on the one hand, and political or military operations on the other. Mr Krähenbühl stressed that if it was to be accepted by all, ICRC humanitarian action must be seen as addressing needs effectively and be perceived as distinct from broader political and military agendas.

The director of operations argued that the ICRC's activities in 2003 clearly demonstrated the organization’s commitment to standing by the victims of war. He added that this would remain the organization’s overriding objective, to be achieved through its work in conflict areas and through its contacts with all those who determine the fate of people caught up in conflict. The director of operations stressed that in an increasingly polarized world, independent and neutral humanitarian action is more necessary than ever to help and protect those who suffer because of armed conflict.

 For further information, please contact:  

 Florian Westphal, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 22 730 29 30 or +41 79 217 32 26