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In Brief

Quakes Rattle Indonesia

Just 90 minutes after an earthquake struck the province of Aceh in September, 70 Indonesian Red Cross Society volunteers went to work, driving ambulances, setting up a temporary field hospital and gathering information. The earthquake was one of a series of strong tremors that struck at the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, killing at least 23 people along the western coast of Sumatra and triggering a three-metre tsunami, according to media reports. In the weeks following the quakes, volunteers distributed hygiene kits, hurricane lanterns and medicines. They also began assessing the need for psychosocial support and a water and sanitation programme.



Death of a unifying figure

Professor Jovan Patrnogic died in Geneva on 6 May 2007 aged 85. His memory will remain inextricably linked with international humanitarian law (IHL).

After serving as a colonel in the Yugoslav federal army, Jovan Patrnogic became a professor at the faculty of law in Belgrade and secretary general of the Yugoslav Red Cross. He then joined the International Federation in Geneva, where he was in charge of statutory matters and issues concerning the recognition of new National Societies. He also served as head of the protection division of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) before devoting himself full time to his first love: IHL.

Jovan Patrnogic was cofounder of the Institute of International Humanitarian Law in San Remo, Italy, in 1973. He proposed original forms of dialogue to codify IHL and, most importantly, launched training courses in IHL for military personnel from every corner of the globe. He was also instrumental in bringing together representatives of East and West on behalf of UNHCR and the ICRC to discuss implementation of IHL and refugee law before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Later, he would apply those same unifying skills to organizing meetings on humanitarian issues on neutral territory between the parties to the conflict that were tearing his native Yugoslavia apart.

All those who knew him will remember the determination and commitment of a man who gave his all to gather together in San Remo diplomats, military personnel and experts in every field to promote IHL and to increase understanding of its interrelationship with refugee and human rights law.




Reuters deal

The International Federation is revitalizing its global agreement with the Reuters news agency. The move will allow the world’s largest humanitarian organization to exchange photographs with the world’s most respected news agency.

Under the agreement, photos taken by Red Cross Red Crescent photographers in the field will be offered to thousands of publications and web sites worldwide. A recent example, during floods in China, was the widely publicized photo (right) taken by the International Federation’s East Asia disaster management coordinator, Qinghui Gu, of a woman receiving rice and a blanket. In return, the International Federation will have access to the Reuters Pictures Archive, allowing it free use of images in the Reuters database. In addition, the International Federation will inform Reuters offices about field assessments and other photo opportunities, and Reuters photographers will be able to accompany missions on field visits. The agreement also covers joint training and the donation of used camera equipment to National Societies.

International Federation information delegates and National Societies will work together to pitch ideas to Reuters. For more information, contact




Art from adversity

This object carved from a bar of soap by a Myanmarese detainee in 1999 featured on the back cover of Red Cross Red Crescent issue 1-2007. The sculpture of a prisoner in his cell was given to an ICRC delegate by its creator during a prison visit in Myanmar.

Since the image was published, we have received news of the sculptor, Htein Lin. He was released in November 2004 after six and a half years in prison, during which he created numerous works of art using any scraps he could lay his hands on. His love of art has blossomed since his release and has gained him wide recognition. In June 2005, an exhibition of Htein Lin’s work produced in prison and entitled “00235”, his ICRC detainee registration number, was held in Yangon. The works have since been on display in Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Italy, Poland and, most recently, at Asia House in London.

For more information, visit



Worst-case scenario in Central Asia

Imagine a major earthquake in a city of 500,000 people in Kazakhstan. How would the five Red Crescent Societies in Central Asia respond to reports of many deaths and injuries, displaced people, lack of communications and transport, and freezing temperatures? This scenario was posed in Almaty, the capital of Kazakhstan, as an exercise to develop and refine a Central Asia Regional Contingency Plan for responding to big quakes, landslides, floods, droughts and dust-storms. “We all know that the first few hours are crucial,” says Zhanna Andagulova of the International Federation’s Almaty office. “That is not the time to begin searching for crucial contacts or figuring out where relief supplies are located. We must be ready to act at a moment’s notice – especially in a rapid-onset disaster like an earthquake.”


Violence in Myanmar

In August and September, after an increase in the price of fuel, there was wide-spread unrest, culminating in major street demonstrations, mainly in Yangon and various other cities. The protests ended with the intervention of the security forces resulting in the official death of 13 people and the arrest of several thousand. “The ICRC is deeply worried about the fate of thousands of people who have reportedly been arrested in connection with recent events”, said Pierre Krähenbühl, director of operations. The ICRC has asked the government of Myanmar for access to all persons in detention and, in particular, those arrested in relation to the events of August and September.

In June, the ICRC denounced violations of international humanitarian law committed against civilians and detainees by the government of Myanmar and demanded that the government take urgent action to end these violations and prevent them from recurring.



Moot Court in Delhi

The 3rd South Asian Regional Moot Court competition took place in New Delhi from 26 to 28 October 2007. Jointly organized by the Indian Society of International Law and the ICRC, the competition brought together teams from Bangladesh, India, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Acting alternately as defense and prosecution, the teams argued a factious case in which various levels of international humanitarian law violations had taken place. Offenses such as disproportionate use of force, war crimes and crimes against humanity were extensively debated in front of a professional panel of judges. “Moot Court is our best dissemination asset amongst students”, stressed Benarji Ch., ICRC New Delhi legal advisor, in charge of IHL implementation in the Indian university system. Eventually, the Indian team from Hyderabad College won the final ahead of the team from Sri Lanka.



Empress Shôken Fund

Established in 1912 by the Empress of Japan, the Empress Shôken Fund promotes peacetime relief work in the fields of disaster preparedness, health, blood services, youth, first aid and rescue, social welfare and the dissemination of humanitarian ideals. Over the past 13 years, the fund has supported 142 National Society projects with a total value of US$ 4 million. In 2007, recipients were the National Societies of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Honduras, Iran, Jordan, Lesotho, Sudan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Fund administrators are calling for applications for the 2008 grants by 31 December 2007.

For information, e-mail or




Heat sears Europe

In mid-2007, south-eastern Europe suffocated under the highest temperatures in many years. The situation was compounded by an outbreak of wild fires in Bulgaria, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia. Hundreds of forest fires burned in Greece. In Serbia, wheat and vegetable crops were scorched by the heat. Working with local authorities, Red Cross teams across Europe including in Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro and Romania were mobilized to distribute bottled water and provide emergency first-aid and other health services, especially for particularly vulnerable people such as the elderly. They also distributed vital information to the public about how to protect oneself from the heat.




Commonwealth holds IHL forum

The weighty issue of international humanitarian law (IHL) was the topic of discussion at the Second Commonwealth Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference held from 29 to 31 August in Wellington, New Zealand. Over 150 delegates from eligible Commonwealth governments, non-Commonwealth Pacific states, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and national IHL committees came together to share ideas and experiences on IHL issues.

New Zealand’s deputy prime minister, Michael Cullen, recalled the importance of IHL in protecting the innocent during times of conflict. “Its protection is for the basics of humanity – no more, and certainly not any less,” he said. Over the three days, the conference heard from speakers such as Hans Blix, head of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, who highlighted the need for renewed consensus on the elimination of weapons of mass destruction. Blix referred to frustrations that nuclear-armed states were not moving to disarm, a commitment made when they signed up to the non-proliferation treaty. “It is not a recipe for success to preach to the rest of the world that they must stay away from nuclear weapons. Disarmament and non-proliferation are two sides of the same coin,” he said.

Stephan Husy, commissioner of the 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, spoke about the upcoming conference in November, while Nils Melzer of the ICRC focused on the distinction between civilians and combatants and the protection accorded to each during times of conflict.




Floods in Ghana

Continuous and heavy rains fell in north-east Ghana in mid-2007, leaving at least 30 people dead from drowning, watery diarrhoea or when their mud houses collapsed on them. Sixteen other African countries were also badly hit by floods, with Burkina Faso and Togo particularly affected. Crops, food stores and livestock were washed away across many districts. International Federation experts worried about reports of cholera, watery diarrhoea and contaminated water. In addition, there was a risk of river blindness. An international appeal was launched but rescue and relief efforts were hampered by the widespread destruction of roads and bridges. The appeal aims at assisting 60,000 people for six months with tarpaulins, kitchen sets, jerrycans, blankets, soap, candles and water purification products, and health education.




Fighting in Kivu

The situation is extremely alarming for people everywhere in the Kivu provinces, Democratic Republic of Congo. Fighting intensified in North Kivu, particularly in the Masisi territory, at the beginning of September. The conflict then spread to other areas such as Rutshuru and northern Masisi. Fighting in Sake caused almost all the residents to flee to the Goma area, 30 kilometres away. Despite the ceasefire in Sake, people are not returning. Humanitarian organizations estimate their number at 50,000, but it is difficult to confirm this figure since many of the displaced are dispersed in host families, churches and abandoned lots. And many families seek a safer place to spend the night but return to their homes in the daytime. Like North Kivu, South Kivu has been affected by the fighting. The ICRC swung into action as soon as hostilities erupted. On 15 September, five health-care facilities in Goma, Kitchanga, Masisi and Matchumbi received supplies. At Katindo military hospital in Goma, an ICRC surgeon is assisting staff with the most serious cases. ICRC delegates registered and monitored a number of persons detained in Goma in connection with the conflict and has applied for access to all those detained in this connection



Hostage release

After more than six weeks of negotiations, 19 hostages from the Republic of Korea, who were seized by an Afghan armed opposition group in the province of Ghazni were freed on 29 and 31 August. They were handed over to the ICRC, which then delivered them to a South Korean delegation. The ICRC, which had earlier facilitated the release of two of the hostages on 13 August, served as a neutral intermediary at the request of the parties concerned. It also helped organize direct talks between the two parties at the provincial headquarters of the Afghan Red Crescent in Ghazni.

“The release of the hostages is a huge relief for their families,” said Reto Stocker, head of the ICRC delegation in Kabul. The 23 South Koreans were abducted on 19 July while travelling by bus on the main highway from Kandahar to Kabul. Two of the hostages were subsequently executed.




An item on page 29 of issue 2-2007 of Red Cross Red Crescent magazine stated that two Lebanese Red Cross volunteers were killed and a third wounded on 11 June when their vehicle was struck by shelling from inside a Palestinian refugee camp. This was incorrect. Two volunteers were killed near the Lebanese Red Cross first-aid post close to Nahr el-Bared camp where the Lebanese army had been fighting Fatah Islam. Their vehicle was not struck; no third volunteer was involved. The editors apologize for the error.


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