Explaining how the Red Cross can be neutral and independent in today’s world is one of the main challenges of his new job, says International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Peter Maurer, who has been in office for just 100 days.
Maurer, a former diplomat, told several Swiss newspapers and Swiss national radio that it was not easy to get this idea across “in the current climate where humanitarian action is being politicised and politics is being ‘humanitarianised’.”
“The case of Syria is a good example of the different interpretations that can arise.”
And at a time when “there hasn’t been a week without an attack somewhere or other”, another major issue is keeping a balance between security and the need to have a presence on the ground.
This means that one priority will be to encourage effective partnerships with United Nations agencies and local players – like the Syrian Red Crescent, he explained.
A third challenge is to raise funds at a time of austerity. “The next few years are likely to be difficult,” he warned. “We have to regard improvements in efficiency as a constant challenge.”
Looking back on his period in office so far, he praised his predecessor Jakob Kellenberger, whom he succeeded on July 1 for a four year term in office.
“I’m very grateful to my predecessor that he handed me over keys to an organisation that functions well and where the staff are motivated and committed and the financial situation is healthy,” he said.
“In comparison to what I was doing before, there is a special attraction to becoming ICRC president: you are closer to action which has an impact and which makes a difference,” he explained.
He added that this was sometimes lacking in his previous post as number two of the Swiss foreign ministry, “sandwiched between the government and administration”.
Maurer expressed his pride at heading the humanitarian organisation which is “seen by others as setting the standards”.
"My ambition is that the ICRC remains a key organisation in the humanitarian system that is not afraid of cooperating with others but remains faithful to its identity and specific mandate," he commented.
During his first 100 days he made field visits to Syria and Afghanistan, attended the summit of non-aligned states held in Tehran and the last United Nations General Assembly session in New York, meeting some 40 heads of state and foreign ministers. His next travels will take him to Brussels, Paris, Ethiopia, Niger and Mali.