The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has paid tribute to staff who lost their lives while assisting victims of war. The ICRC is currently helping transport injured people out of the eastern part of Syria's war-torn city of Aleppo.
Forty-five relatives of 26 ICRC staff members who died while working for the organisation, as well as former ICRC delegates and other Red Cross officials gathered at the Place des Nations in Geneva on Thursday before taking part in a symbolic ‘March of Remembrance’ to the nearby ICRC headquarters.
This was one of a series of commemorative events being organised this week.
“On this day of remembrance we pay tribute and offer our deepest respect to families and colleagues,” ICRC President Peter Maurer told the 300-strong group in front of the ICRC’s distinctive white ‘Carlton’ headquarters building.
“We carry forward the core message of the ICRC that every life saved and every smile regained is a powerful tribute. Let’s transmit this strength to those who follow. Hope and life is our guiding force.”
December 17, will mark 20 years since six ICRC staff - Fernanda Calado, Hans Elkerbout, Ingeborg Foss, Gunnhild Myklebust, Nancy Malloy and Sheryl Thayer - were brutally killed by unidentified gunmen at an ICRC hospital in Novye Atagi, Chechnya. It was one of the worst tragedies in the organisation’s historyexternal link.
The hospital had only opened 14 weeks earlier, but its staff had already extremely busy taking in over 300 patients and performing almost 600 surgical interventions.
Commemorative events will also be held in Novye Atagi and in Moscow on Saturday.
1996 was a particularly tragic year for the institution. Earlier that year, three delegates - Cédric Martin, Reto Neuenschwander, and Juan Pastor Ruffino - were brutally killed at Mugina in Burundi.
A total of 46 ICRC staff have been killed in the line of duty since 1996.
On Friday, the city of Geneva plans to pay tribute to ICRC staff members by awarding the ‘Genève reconnaissante’ (Grateful Geneva) medal of honour. First presented in 1932, it is given every year to individuals or organisations that have contributed to the influence and prestige of the Swiss city.
The ICRC, which is on the ground in over 80 countries, providing humanitarian aid to victims of conflict and violence, is currently in Aleppo, Syria, working alongside the Syrian Red Crescent.
The ICRC said in a Tweet on Thursday that the operation to evacuate around 200 wounded people from rebel-held Aleppo areas, part of a wider ceasefire deal, had started.
The organisations had been on standby after requests by the parties to facilitate the evacuation.
Conditions on the ground remain extremely dangerous, however. Earlier, ambulances trying to evacuate people came under fire from fighters loyal to the Syrian government, who injured three people, a rescue service spokesman said.
But other buses and ambulances later started moving into rebel-held areas of the city under a deal to evacuate civilians and fighters following rapid advances by government forces, while the Russian defence ministry said the evacuation of 5,000 rebels and their family members had begun.
ICRC’s regional director for the Middle East Robert Mardini said ICRC teams were ‘safe and doing all they can on the ground’.