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The passing of a humanist

Jean Pictet died earlier this year at the age of 87. Always sensitive to the victims' suffering, this great and discerning ICRC lawyer was the principal instigator not only of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (in particular their precious common Article 3, setting forth the minimum rules of humanity to be respected in the case of internal conflict or civil war) but also of their Additional Protocols of 1977.

For several decades, Jean Pictet was the Movement's undisputed authority on doctrine and law. According to Jacques Moreillon, member of the ICRC and former director general, Pictet's legacy is exceptional: "By proposing that the Movement adopt the seven Fundamental Principles, which it did 100 years after its founding, Pictet created the binding force that held the Red Cross together throughout the cold war and prevented it from becoming politicized."

Angolans in desperate straits

Paradoxically, since the ceasefire accord on 4 April ended the conflict which has torn Angola apart for more than two decades, needs are on the rise. The gradual return of security - a relative security, no doubt, given the presence of mines and bandits on the roads - has enabled humanitarian organizations to reach fomerly inaccessible areas. Many people suffering from severe malnutrition and a variety of health problems have recently emerged from the bush to seek help. There have been massive movements of internally displaced people searching for food and hoping to locate long-lost family members.

With a budget of over 20 million Euros, the ICRC is assisting the population through the distribution of supplementary food and medical aid, in particular in the province of Huambo. It is also working to re-establish family links in some 15 other provinces in close cooperation with the Angola Red Cross. Given the scale of the crisis, humanitarian organizations present in the country are holding daily consultations in order to coordinate their activities and to save as many lives as possible.

Garden of violence

Social violence is the theme of an exhibition entitled the "Garden of Violence" organized as part of Expo.02, the Swiss national exhibition, in cooperation with the ICRC and the Swiss Red Cross. Situated in the town of Morat in the canton of Fribourg (Switzerland), the garden is a place of awareness, the expression of differences and opposition of every kind, which shed a stark light on violence in all its guises.

To illustrate the problem, the ICRC has developed a teaching file called The exploitation of violence, the violence of exploitation, which highlights the violence inflicted on children through the abuse of their vulnerability and non-respect for their dignity, both in times of peace and in times of war.

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In touch with families

Soon after its delegates began visiting prisoners captured in the conflict in Afghanistan and held by the United States military, the ICRC was able to offer them its traditional Red Cross message (RCM) service, establishing a precious link between the prisoners and their next of kin. Following a necessarily lengthy process involving censorship by the detaining authorities, these messages have provided families in a number of countries with the first reliable information regarding the whereabouts of their loved ones. By the end of June, 316 RCMs had been collected from prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay and an additional 160 from prisoners held by US forces in Afghanistan. In return, 202 and 58 messages respectively had been delivered to US-held prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and in Afghanistan.

The largest number of RCMs addressed to these prisoners have come from the Middle East, Asia and Europe.

Learning about about IHL in Kyrgyzstan

"Per humanitatem ad pacem" ("Through humanity to peace") is the title of a textbook for secondary school students in Kyrgyzstan, the former Soviet republic straddling the Russian and Chinese worlds. The textbook, produced by the ICRC together with the Kyrgyz Ministry of Education and Culture, will be distributed to 60,000 adolescents at secondary schools as part of their civic studies course.

The textbook makes reference to the Manas and Er-Toshtuk epics, two collective works dating from the 12th century which form part of the Kyrgyz cultural heritage and which describe the mythical adventures of ancestral nomads, warriors and horsemen. It also relates contemporary historical events, with the focus on the universality of the humanitarian ideals, aimed at raising the students' awareness of the basics of humanitarian law and the Fundamental Principles.


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