Peter Maurer, president of the Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), has called on member states to work for political solutions to today’s armed conflicts.
“The one way to end the suffering of people in war is to end wars,” he said in his opening address to the 32nd International Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference in Geneva on Tuesday.
Maurer said he believed in the capacity of the international community to invest its efforts – and the necessary resources – in producing more success stories “as proof that peaceful conclusions are preferable to embargoes, sanctions and violence”.
Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga, who also spoke at the beginning of the three-day event, called for better compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL).
“The law must not keep quiet during war,” she said, adding that Switzerland would work to strengthen the global humanitarian system in both pre- and post-crisis situations.
Maurer agreed. “On a daily basis, we see a widespread failure to respect IHL and we see a failure to ensure respect for IHL, as is the duty of all states and non-state actors, according to the Geneva Conventions,” he said.
“These rules are too often ignored and violated, while they are the only thing that can protect people during war. We must be honest with ourselves: collectively, we are failing to protect the most vulnerable from the impact of armed conflict and violence.”
He said a striking example of this failure was the frequency of attacks on healthcare facilities and personnel, globally, despite their specific protection under IHL.
“We need a renewed commitment to respect the law, the spirit of the law and its intent: maximum precautions in attack and zero tolerance for mistakes.”
Reaching out to IS
On Monday, the ICRC said it was trying to reach out to the Islamic State (IS) group to get humanitarian aid to people in areas under its control, the organisation’s director-general said.
Yves Daccord said the Red Cross is a “radically neutral” organisation trying to have “a relationship where we can do it” with the Islamic State group. He said it was very difficult in Syria because some IS-controlled areas were “pretty much off-limits for any humanitarian aid”.
The ICRC needed above all to focus on Syrians inside the war-torn country, where more than 250,000 have been killed and at least a million wounded since the uprising began over four years ago, Daccord said. That means reaching out to all possible sides in the conflict – including IS.
“We try to have some connections in Iraq, with maybe what I would call ‘medium-level’ people – people who are supporting Islamic State group,” he said. “We’re trying to find some solutions on a pragmatic basis.”
The reputation of the Red Cross as independent and impartial could help it achieve its end of getting through to the most vulnerable, Daccord believed, noting that as many as eight million people have been internally displaced in Syria, mostly the poorest people in the country who aren’t able to flee.
“We are just a humanitarian organisation – no more than that, no less than that,” he said.