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
©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.
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
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
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
• 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
• 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
• 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.
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.