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Safer access

Every day Movement staff and volunteers risk their lives to access victims of armed conflict, internal strife and sudden violent events. To better prepare National Societies for the challenges of working in a conflict environment, the ICRC has developed, with support from the International Federation and several National Societies, a programme to ensure the safety of all Movement personnel as far as possible.

To work closely with the communities affected by a conflict and to be accepted by them is crucial. A unit of the Mexican Red Cross distributing clothes in Chiapas.
©Emiliano Thaibaut / ICRC / 1994

IN the past ten years, security incidents against Movement staff and volunteers have increased resulting in injury and even loss of life. The ICRC felt it was time to better prepare National Societies for working in conflict environments. Angelo Gnaedinger, director general of ICRC, explains: “The ICRC felt compelled by the increasing challenges faced by Movement staff and volunteers, who are in harm’s way during a conflict, to respond by ensuring our National Society conflict preparedness approach was comprehensive and specifically designed to meet today’s challenges. Hence, the Safer Access Framework for National Societies was born.”

Following a two-year interactive field-based research process consisting of numerous consultations with experienced National Society personnel involved in conflict responses, ICRC personnel, working closely with these National Societies and the International Federation, launched the Safer Access Framework for National Societies in late 2003.

What is the Safer Access Framework?

“We never thought that conflict would affect our entire country,” says Dev Ratna Dhakhwa, secretary general of the Nepal Red Cross Society. “We have a fairly good system of disaster response within the Nepal Red Cross and thought we would be prepared for anything. However, it has become dangerously apparent that working in a conflict environment is very different from that of disaster and, therefore, we made drastic changes in our approaches so as to be acceptable in all kinds of hostile situations. However, we were not adequately prepared.”

What the Nepalese and other National Societies have learned is that they need to adjust their disaster preparedness and response approaches considerably when responding to a conflict situation. The Safer Access Framework helps them to do that.

The framework is not a security training programme, but rather an ICRC approach to better prepare National Societies to respond to conflict situations. It can also be used as a management tool for National Societies operations aimed at improving access to victims of conflict. Only in exceptional circumstances will the ICRC offer individual safer access workshops.

Subjects covered in the framework include: the incorporation of conflict-related Movement policies and guidelines into operational response plans; understanding the basic precepts of international humanitarian law and its applicability to the particular conflict; and developing the expertise to manage operational security in conflict situations to increase the protection of Red Cross Red Crescent staff and volunteers, as well as of those being assisted.


Elements of the safer access framework

National Societies in a conflict environment should incorporate the nine elements for safer access into their operations. These elements are:
Conflict environment
Understanding the general characteristics and trends of conflict, as well as the factors which comprise the existing conflict, is critical knowledge for a National Society to have in order to maintain its safety and have continued access to beneficiaries.
National Society legal and policy base for action
Knowing the legal base of a National Society to provide humanitarian assistance and protection in all types of conflict is crucial foundational knowledge for any National Society.
Acceptance of organization
One of the most important and essential actions is for a National Society to work towards positioning itself in such a way that all potential stakeholders will accept it to fulfil its mandate in conflict response, should the occasion arise.
Acceptance of individual
Individual staff and volunteers of all components of the Movement are viewed as representatives of the organization for which they are working, on and off duty.
Inappropriate use and protection of the Red Cross or Red Crescent emblems in peacetime can seriously hamper the image and acceptance of the National Society and other Movement components during conflict.
External communications
National Societies must have a clear external communication plan and guidelines, and train their personnel accordingly in order to avoid anypotential use of information as propaganda, any misinterpretation and/or confusion.
Internal communications
Efficient information collection, analysis and management systems are fundamental to the effectiveness of a humanitarian conflict response operation, not only to determine what actions are required where, but also in facilitating safer access to beneficiaries.
Security regulations
All National Societies, even in peacetime, should have security/safety regulations to protect their personnel and assets. These regulations are one important aspect of an overall security management approach.
Protective measures
Protective measures can be described as additional security means to ensure the physical protection of people, goods or places against identified threats or dangers.

From theory to practice

In Nepal, the National Society, using the framework as a guide, developed an analysis tool of the various security incidents they were facing and made numerous statute, institutional and behavioural adjustments intended at improving its staff’s safety in the field.

John F. Mamoedi, head of the disaster management division of the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI), reflecting on the practical implications of applying the framework there, says: “Using the Safer Access Framework as a base has made us realize that there are things that can be done by PMI before conflict actually happens, like disseminating information about the PMI and the Fundamental Principles, and building integrity and acceptance of the PMI as a neutral institution. Today, the Safer Access Framework, as an approach, is in the process of being inserted into the PMI Conflict Preparedness Strategic Plan.”

Currently, the framework is in the first phase of application, meaning ICRC delegations are using it as a guide for their conflict preparedness work with National Societies.

Fanny Awaliana, ICRC cooperation assistant in Jakarta, observes, “The staff and volunteers of the PMI branch in Aceh seem to highly appreciate our approach in helping them identify ways of increasing their security and access to beneficiaries and have expressed appreciation of ICRC’s genuine concern for their safety. This in turn has led to an increasingly open and constructive working relationship between ICRC and the PMI in Aceh and Indonesia as a whole.”

Following a two-day seminar for Bulgarian Red Cross (BRC) branch directors, Jassen Slivensky, head of the disaster preparedness department of the BRC, stated, “Without a doubt, elements from the framework will serve as essential components in the design and elaboration of the national conflict preparedness strategy, which is going to be developed in order to face the new challenges of conflicts.”

An important consideration is to harmonizethe framework with the International Federation’s approach towards disaster management, which is set to take place over the next two years. Eva von Oelreich, head of disaster preparedness and response at the International Federation, states: “To work together with ICRC and National Societies on this project is very rewarding. The Safer Access Framework will contribute to making preparedness and response guidance more complete for National Societies. And, it will improve the skills and understanding of Red Cross Red Crescent work in general.”

Sick and disabled Rwandese evacuated in Goma by volunteers from the Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
©Bo Mathisen / Verdens Gang / 1996

Leslie Leach and Cedric Hofstetter
Leslie Leach and Cedric Hofstetter are ICRC cooperation programme advisors in Geneva.


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