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Images of armed violence

The ICRC recently hosted a workshop of experts in Rolle, Switzerland, who studied the psychology and anthropology of armed violence. The Humans and Weapons workshop posed many questions pertinent to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. For example, is the distance between the user of a weapon and its victim a factor in international humanitarian law (IHL) violations? The participants concluded that this must be so; any natural resistance felt about killing our own species diminishes with distance - something that seems obvious given news images of modern wars.
One participant demonstrated a strong association of violence in films and video games with violent crime. Computerized simulators are used to train soldiers and the police to shoot when required; the same simulators are marketed as video games. Children and teenagers can become addicted to this form of screen violence and can condition themselves to shoot to kill even if they have never handled a real gun before. However, the players of video games are not subjected to the same rigid discipline as soldiers; films give them Rambo-style role models. What is the influence of screen violence on combatants and therefore their potential to violate IHL? Obviously this question deserves more in-depth analysis and further concern.

A new face

Didier J. Cherpitel became the Federation's new secretary general at the beginning of this year. Cherpitel worked with the global financial bank, J.P. Morgan, for much of his career. He has an extensive background in developing management systems that are accountable and transparent, essential qualities for earning the trust of governments and donors. A man of energy and enthusiasm, he has a strong commitment to people development and performance. "The power of humanity is providing the direction for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement," says Cherpitel. "The power of the people within the Movement will make it
possible."

A home in every village

Le Thi Mich was little prepared for the magnitude of the disaster and the relief effort that followed when severe floods hit central Viet Nam last November. The disaster which killed over 600 people and affected one million others was the worst in Viet Nam in five decades. A month later floods struck the same region again killing another 120 people.

"It was a double disaster...we had hardly finished the emergency phase of relief operation when the floods struck again," says Mich, vice-chairman of the Thua Thien Hue provincial chapter of the Viet Nam Red Cross.

Mich was suddenly called upon to supervise relief operations in the Thua Thien Hue, the worst hit of seven affected provinces in central Viet Nam. "I had to step in and take charge at short notice. The conditions were extremely difficult and the damage extensive. Even the Red Cross office was flooded and all its equipment damaged," she says. Temporary headquarters were set up in a hotel room.

A phone in one hand and a hefty file in another, Mich was up early in the morning, directing relief operations, making crucial decisions and cutting through the bureaucratic jungle. Her dynamic energy was infectious.

Today, she is a much wiser person having learnt some hard lessons. "Flexibility and timely decisions are crucial to ensure emergency relief reach the most vulnerable people immediately. Speed is everything in emergency relief. Any delay is intolerable," she says, adding that despite major logistical problems the Red Cross succeeded in delivering the assistance where it was most needed.

She sees the need to enhance and expand the Viet Nam Red Cross grass-roots network in tandem with the increasing frequency and severity of disasters. There is also an urgent need for the Viet Nam Red Cross to build on the capacities of local communities, she says. "The Red Cross must not just exist but live in every village in Viet Nam," she says.

Women's work

The inter-ethnic war in Burundi has claimed not only thousands of lives but also cut a swathe through the country's agricultural production - since so many men have either fled or become involved in fighting. Women, who now make up 70 per cent of the agricultural workforce, have borne the brunt of the conflict, facing up to lost relatives and livelihoods with astonishing stoicism. One example is a women's cooperative agricultural group just outside the capital, Bujumbura, started two years ago by 37-year-old Constance Ndayizigiye.

She and her invalid husband fled the north with their eight children, to find shelter and support in the south. "It was a tough journey," she recounts, "we were dodging armed men, hardly eating and hiding in the bush." Constance approached the Burundi Red Cross to help her find land to grow crops so that she and other women like her could feed their families and earn a small income. The association cultivates several hectares, growing peanuts, rice, beans, carrots, cassava, cabbages and onions. Two-thirds of the produce is sold in the market to pay the local authorities rent for the land, the remaining third is distributed among the 100 women members. Two of the oldest women, Véronique, 86, and Elizabeth, 65, regularly walk 15 km from their "regroupement site" - one of about 325 into which the government has moved the rural population away from rebel activity. "We're still capable of working," says Véronique, "and we meet friends here."
 
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