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ICRC hits back at US accusations

The ICRC hasn't spared the US government for its detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba Keystone

The International Committee of the Red Cross has dismissed as false and unsubstantiated a report from United States Republicans questioning its impartiality.

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said the Geneva-based organisation would remain neutral, and expressed confidence the US would remain its top donor.

He was responding to comments by a policy adviser for the US Senate Republican majority, who earlier this week said the agency had lost its impartiality and was advocating positions at odds with US interests.

“The paper’s purpose appears to be to discredit the ICRC by putting forward false allegations and unsubstantiated accusations,” Kellenberger told a news conference.

The humanitarian agency has visited foreign terrorism suspects held by US forces in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as part of its regular operations.


Kellenberger denied his staff had compared US soldiers to Nazis and that the ICRC had leaked confidential reports on its prison visits.

“The ICRC has never leaked to the public or the media any of the confidential reports submitted to the US authorities,” he said.

A confidential ICRC memorandum which appeared in the New York Times last November accused the US military of tactics “tantamount to torture” on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay – an accusation rejected by the Pentagon.

The ICRC regularly pays extensive visits to Guantanamo Bay, which holds 520 people detained during the 2001 war in Afghanistan and in other operations in the US-led war on terror.

It also visits inmates in Iraq, and a few weeks ago visited deposed leader Saddam Hussein.

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Kellenberger, a former Swiss diplomat, stressed that relations with the US government were “good and trustful”, despite “differences of view”.

He said he had had “quite a long meeting” with President Bush in February, and that he had also had two meetings with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

Washington contributed SFr167 million ($131 million) towards the ICRC’s budget of SFr940 million last year, making it the largest contributor.

“It is even likely that the American contribution will be higher this year than last year,” Kellenberger said.

The report was written by Dan Fata, who directs national security studies for the Republican Policy Committee.

It accused the ICRC of reinterpreting international law “so as to afford terrorists and insurgents the same rights and privileges as the military personnel of countries like the United States, who have signed the Geneva Conventions”.

But Kellenberger said the ICRC’s independence was key to getting access to civilians and detainees caught up in conflicts. It deploys 12,450 aid workers in 79 countries.

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The ICRC’s budget in 2004 was SFr940 million.
The United States was the largest donor, contributing SFr167 million.
Switzerland was the second largest, donating SFr92 million.

The Geneva-based ICRC was founded in 1863 by Henri Dunant, a Swiss.

It works mainly to protect the victims of conflict by providing humanitarian assistance and conducting prisoner of war visits.

It monitors compliance of the Geneva Conventions, which outline the rules of law in times of war and occupation, including the treatment of PoWs.

The ICRC’s 12,450 aid workers visited more than 570,000 prisoners detained in around 80 countries last year.

Switzerland is the depository state of the Geneva Conventions.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR