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A good example

Liberia uses football to convey a humanitarian message

Who remembers the 1998 World Cup football tournament? Even if you are not a devoted football fan, it was difficult to avoid the images broadcast around the world.

Who remembers the massacres, the hundreds of thousands of displaced people and countless civilian victims of the conflict in Liberia between 1990-1997? Probably far fewer people — for cameras were hardly welcome in this hostile and pitiless environment.

Today a fragile kind of peace exists in Liberia, with a friendly football match between the country’s top two teams, the Invincible Eleven and the Mighty Barolle, bringing former enemies together on a quiet evening in May. But this was no ordinary match, it was a match with a message. Organized by the ICRC, with support from the International Federation and the Liberian and Belgian Red Cross Societies, this game also promoted respect for the rules of war.

Before 15,000 spectators, and many more watching on television or listening to the radio, the referee signalled the kickoff and the players ran riot on the field. The crowd was dumbfounded. The players disregarded all the rules of the game and ignored the referee’s instructions.

After ten minutes, the match was interrupted and the Liberian football idol, George Weah, spoke. He explained to the spectators that what they had just witnessed was a “set-up” to show that if the rules of football — or for that matter in any situation in civil society — are not respected, chaos and anarchy will ensue. This is also true in times of conflict, only with more deadly consequences.

“You can see how impossible it is to follow what is happening in such a chaotic confrontation,” Weah told the crowd. “Rules must be followed and respected whether it be in conflicts, in civil society or in sport.”

A relieved crowd then sat back to watch the game as it should be played.

A video of the event is available.
For details see p. 27.

A great loss

Dr Guillermo Rueda Montaña dies

There was immense sadness throughout the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement upon learning of the death of Dr Guillermo Rueda Montaña, on 16 May, at the age of 75. He was “a mighty pillar of strength and love and leadership for many, many years. Others will (...) take up (his) work, but none will ever replace him in our hearts,” said Federation Under-Secretary General for Disaster Response and Operations Co-ordination Margareta Wahlström.

The first heart surgeon in Colombia, Dr Rueda followed in his father’s footsteps when he became President of the Colombian Red Cross Society in 1978. He began volunteering for the Red Cross at the age of 12, and eventually his career stretched far into the Movement. He worked both for the Federation and the ICRC in several capacities, and most recently was a member of the Standing Commission. In his letter of condolence to the Colombian Red Cross, Federation Secretary General George Weber wrote: “In both his professional and Red Cross life he embodied the spirit of the Red Cross and Red Crescent and his commitment was an example
and inspiration to others.”

Fair play!

A calendar produced by the ICRC’s delegation in Bogotà, Colombia, has also taken the football theme as a means to convey to the public the importance of respecting the law of war. Colombia is in the throes of a murderous internal conflict and a recent report by a human rights organization established that the vast majority of human rights violations are perpetrated by paramilitary and clandestine groups, in other words by people to whom the ICRC rarely has access.

Football is a hugely popular sport in Colombia and this being World Cup year, the sport was chosen as the vehicle for a nation-wide campaign to encourage respect for international humanitarian law. Along with the calendar, TV and radio spots have been broadcast on all the main channels, and newspaper ads, posters and stickers have been produced, all exhorting the population to “play by the rules” — in war as in football.

The legacy of Agent Orange

The Viet Nam war’s lasting effects

Millions of litres of the chemical defoliant, Agent Orange, were dropped throughout Viet Nam during the war from 1964-1975. Scientists have analysed and debated the consequences of exposure to this chemical with no clear results. While the research continues, the fact is that thousands of children born after the war suffer deformities due to gene mutation most likely linked to their parents’ or grandparents’ presence in areas sprayed during the conflict. Estimates of the number of victims range from 100,000 to a million; many have died already.

The Red Cross of Viet Nam (VNRC)officially began a programme last year to assist the Agent Orange victims. Today, Red Cross chapters in most provinces take part in the programme, supplying victims with clothing, funds, training and medical care. The National Society also intends to build “peace villages” throughout the country providing housing and rehabilitation for children born with deformities linked to Agent Orange. One such village already exists in Hanoi. The Thanh Xuan Peace Village was built in 1991 by a German organization, but last year the Red Cross chapter of Hanoi assumed responsibiltiy for it. More than a hundred children from North Viet Nam receive education and vocational training in the village.

A garden to remember

Since the end of the Second World War, all too many ICRC staff members have been killed while carrying out humanitarian work. In the last five years alone, 30 of them have lost their lives. In its search for a fitting memorial to these men and women, together with members of all humanitarian organizations who gave their lives in attempting to alleviate the suffering of others, the ICRC decided to dedicate a special corner of the grounds at its headquarters in Geneva as a garden of remembrance.

“I chose a garden,” said ICRC President Cornelio Sommaruga in a communiqué to his staff, “because I wanted it to be somewhere open, peaceful and conducive to reflection, where anyone can go and take a quiet stroll with due respect to the departed.”

A garden is a living thing, changing with the seasons, ephemeral yet lasting. Here, the predominant colours are black and white, both sober and neutral, evoking the Red Cross’s strong commitment to the humanitarian cause. Young trees have been planted, as yet frail, but powerfully symbolic of life and strength.

On 8 May, on the occasion of World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day, the President inaugurated the garden in the presence of the families of the delegates who had died and representatives of other humanitarian organizations based in Geneva.

Culminating his inauguration speech, he said: “May this garden of remembrance help us to find in ourselves the strength and wisdom to continue our endeavour so that the people whose memory we honour did not die in vain.”

Helping hand

Responding to the crisis in Indonesia

Volunteers and ambulances of the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) worked around the clock during the uprisings in Jakarta in May. With ICRC support, they evacuated the first casualties among the student protestors and assisted hundreds of people trapped and burned during the looting of a number of supermarkets in the capital. Currently, the National Society has 16 ambulances, 40 trained volunteers, 100 first-aiders and 10 instructors in Jakarta.

Breaking all the records

Tragic year for Tajikistan

“I have lost count,” answers Hamdam Hamidov on being asked how many disasters have occurred this past winter and spring in Tajikistan, the poorest of the former Soviet republics. When pressed, Mr Hamidov, the Disaster Preparedness Officer at the Tajikistan Red Crescent, estimates at 19 the number of disasters. The situation did not improve with the onset of summer. He and his team worked day and night to cope with floods caused by the heaviest rains for decades and with devastating landslides provoked by the spring thaw of an exceptionally thick snow cover. More snow fell in the Tajik mountains this year than in the last ten years combined.

“The number of disasters was very high, and the devastation was much more widespread. It has been a challenge for us. We have helped as many as we could,” says Dr Jura I. Inomzoda, the President of the Tajikistan Red Crescent. “We responded to the emergency situation but now it is time to rebuild,” he adds.

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