We were speaking earlier about humanitarian diplomacy. There is also a need for diplomacy within the Movement. What do you see as the most important issues in this regard?
An important part of our interaction with National Societies and the Federation is about coordinating our operational efforts. But our interaction is also diplomatic in that we reflect together on how to cooperate in order to influence governments on issues that are important in the humanitarian agenda.
During our statutory meetings in Sydney last year, for example, the Movement was very much engaged in this kind of humanitarian diplomacy in that we were finding agreement on nuclear weapons, on how to push states on implementing the Arms Trade Treaty, on ensuring support by National Societies to further develop support for IHL in their countries, and on processes mandated by the last International Conference (mechanisms of implementation of IHL and expending norms for detainees in non-international armed conflicts).
So there is a wide range of issues that I consider important for cohesion, cooperation and coordination within the Movement, and also for the standing of the Movement in the international political arena.
In terms of the challenges associated with coordinating Movement relief actions, what is your take on the idea that National Societies should play a greater role as lead agencies, even during conflict, and that some aspects of the Seville Agreement should be revisited?
The Seville Agreement and supplementary measures continue to be important frameworks to orient our work. There are situations of armed conflicts and other situations of violence for which ICRC has a body of experience that makes it a natural leader on those issues. And there are natural disasters where logically the National Society and the Federation should take a lead.
That said, present-day challenges are occurring increasingly in a complex and diverse way.
Meaning that conflicts, violence and natural disasters are increasingly intertwined?
We have seen it in Pakistan with the floods a couple of years ago. We have seen it recently in the Philippines. We have seen it in Haiti, where under-development, violence or conflict, as well as natural disaster are interlinked. Such developments offer new opportunities to galvanize the potential and capabilities of the Movement to respond more meaningfully.
New realities demand new, more subtle, flexible and innovative ways of cooperating. If the assumption from the climate science is correct, we will see more hurricanes and natural disasters over the years and decades to come. It is likely that these disasters will affect more seriously countries in situations of conflict. Therefore we have to find the best way to respond in a more coordinated way.
I have always been very reluctant to advocate for conference-room-negotiated frameworks of cooperation between the Federation, National Societies and the ICRC. That is why I appreciate the way we discussed these issues during the Sydney statutory meetings. Instead of having abstract principles, we focused on some specific contexts to draw lessons and best practices.
The times we are living in are times of transition. We don’t know yet how the different agendas and actors — development, social, conflict, peace, disarmament, human rights and IHL — will be linked and how they will exactly interact in the future. Taking a bottom-up and experimental approach instead of top-down coordination and cooperation has therefore a lot of advantages.
Can you elaborate on that?
Every context is different. The Syrian government, for example, has decided that the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) is the key entry point for humanitarian action in Syria. And so we have engaged over the last three years with the SARC in a mutually beneficial way. In bringing international and national perspectives together, we engaged in capacity-building and enlarged our mutual understanding on how best to operate in a difficult environment.
But the Syrian case is not the Iraqi case. It is not the Mali case. Each situation is very different. So we need to find formulas that allow us to respond swiftly and accurately in each and every context, to have good combinations of national and international capabilities and skills.
There are many who propagate the dogma that National Societies should be in the lead all the time and everywhere. But this is not a realistic approach in cases when National Societies do not have the capacities or are caught-up in conflict environments.
National Societies are particularly close to their respective governments. This is very positive and a major element of the Movement’s strength. But when national governments are part and party to an internal armed conflict, this may limit the possibilities for delivering aid neutrally, impartially and independently. So the ICRC, with its international mandate, can enhance or strengthen the credibility of a neutral and impartial Movement response.
At the same time, the ICRC is investing more in its relationships with National Societies in part because there are many conflicts where international aid workers are not accepted.
I believe that external actors, whenever possible should focus on building the capacities of National Societies. But the Syrian conflict, and many others, have also shown that the presence of international aid workers can help enhance the security of the National Society volunteers.
A completely remote-control operation in which the National Society, is the only one delivering assistance during a conflict, does not offer the best protection for the National Society itself. It is tragic that the National Society in Syria has lost more than 36 volunteers during that conflict already. But I fear that the number of those killed would be even higher if we hadn’t had international participation in delivering aid on the ground.