Eye on the principles
by Yves Sandoz
Sandoz, ICRC Committee member, focuses on the role of the Red
Cross and Red Crescent in the current world crisis to combat
terrorism. To tackle the root causes of this phenomenon, Sandoz
promotes the Movement's Fundamental Principles as a way of fostering
solidarity in an increasingly polarized world. For who is better
placed than the Movement, open to all races and all religions,
to combat racial and religious prejudice - against the "demonization"
of the other - through dialogue between members of National
Societies from all over the globe?
Unloading food supplies for people caught on
the front line of the conflict in Colombia.
You cannot mention terrorism today without referring to the
attacks against the United States. The date - 11 September
2001 - will go down as one of history's darkest days. The
response was incisive: war against Afghanistan. The Afghan
government, implicated in the attacks, was overthrown following
swift military action that mobilized massive resources and
also cost many lives.
Yet terrorism is not a new phenomenon and divergent views
exist on what it actually is. Some say that the emphasis should
be on the desire of certain groups to destabilize institutions
by the use of arbitrary violence; others say you cannot condemn
without qualification a violence often used to oppose evil
regimes. To put it simply, one person's terrorist may be another's
freedom fighter. The differing views on what is known as "state
terrorism" is adding to the confusion, and one of the
main obstacles to the adoption of a universally accepted definition.
The arguments over semantics, however, should not impede
the fight against those acts that are undeniably of terrorist
intent, i.e., violence deliberately aimed at civilians or
arbitrary violence, acts that are prohibited by international
humanitarian law even in times of war, whatever the cause
The battle against terrorism
Terrorism is an insidious threat, against which there is
no sure refuge. How do you keep a whole population safe from
people who are ready to strike at any moment, in any place
and by any means? Although the goal of dismantling the terrorist
networks is perfectly legitimate, it is not in itself sufficient
to eradicate terrorism. That would be to strike at the tip
of the iceberg in an attempt to destroy the whole iceberg.
As the laws of physics demonstrate, the iceberg will soon
reappear if we do not also tackle what lies below the surface.
In fact, if this war focuses solely on destroying the visible
"tip" of terrorism, it could actually favour the
growth of the submerged part. This could happen in four ways:
firstly, it would reinforce the prejudice and distrust between
different groups, cultures or countries. Prejudice and distrust
breed hatred; hatred breeds violence. Secondly, it is likely
that a good part of the enormous cost of defence measures
will be at the expense of aid and development budgets, increasing
poverty and enlarging the pool of potential terrorists. Thirdly,
favouring cooperation with unjust, corrupt and undemocratic
governments in order to obtain their assistance in tracking
down terrorists in the four corners of the globe will erode
even further the confidence of thousands of young people not
only in their own authorities, but also in international institutions
and justice. Lastly, the core values of humanitarian law risk
being undermined on the pretext of combating terrorism more
You cannot effectively defeat terrorism without dealing with
its root causes. Given the diversity of situations in which
it manifests itself, a precise analysis of the evils that
lead to terrorism is a long-term undertaking. Yet, it seems
immediately obvious that the millions of young people who
live in poverty, with no real prospect of improving their
lot and with no confidence in their authorities, provide a
huge reservoir of potential recruits from which the proponents
of fanatical doctrines - be they ideological, religious or
political - can draw.
The fight against terrorism, if it is to have a long-term
impact, must be conducted with a view on all of the world's
problems. Solidarity isn't a one-way street. Many rich countries
are making this fight and their own security an absolute priority.
But they will not have full and universal support without
also tackling the profound problems that put humanity at risk
- hunger, poverty, AIDS, conflict, environmental degradation,
natural disasters, refugees, crumbling public services, corruption
and widespread crime.
Brcko, Bosnia and Herzegovina, August 1999.
Promotion of international law to American peacekeepers.
Kenneth Roth is executive director of Human Rights Watch,
a non-governmental organization dedicated to protecting the
human rights of people around the world. He offers some brief
reflections on the war on terror and the role and significance
of international humanitarian law in this conflict.
Terrorism is difficult to define. Do you have a definition?
Terrorism is the triumph of a logic that the ends justify
the means. It is an offence to the standards of human rights
and humanitarian law. There is no more fundamental breach
than to try deliberately to kill civilians. It is important
to stress that terrorism is something that can be committed
not only by armed groups but also by governments.
At the same time, it is essential to remind governments that,
as they legitimately try to combat terrorism, they must do
so in a way that not only respects human rights but reaffirms
the values of human rights because in the long run that would
be the best antidote to terrorism.
In which contexts should this reminder apply?
Respecting humanitarian law in places like Afghanistan when
war is conducted or respecting the Geneva Conventions when
it comes to detainees in Guantanamo or not joining forces
with governments that use torture or arbitrary detention as
their way of addressing challenges to their authority.
Where does Human Rights Watch work?
We have a staff of 185 that works in 70 countries where there
is severe repression or abusive wars. We also do extensive
work in the developed world because we believe it's important
as a matter of principle to hold all governments to human
Terrorism and the Movement
The Movement is directly affected by terrorism. Delegates
and other staff have been deliberately killed, wounded, threatened
or taken hostage. These acts have paralysed protection and
assistance programmes, vital though they are to the populations
concerned. Since its very action depends on trust, the Movement
rejects the terrorism that makes it a target and thus seeks
to drive away a humanitarian actor or a witness who could
foil its deadly intentions. Yet the role of the Movement in
the fight against terrorism still needs to be defined. What
should it say and do? On what should it focus its reflection?
What example can it give?
Born of war, the Movement is a pioneer in the arena of international
humanitarian law, of which the ICRC is the "guardian".
As the journalist Michael Ignatieff wrote in this magazine
in 1999, "Indeed the history of the Geneva Conventions
in the 20th century is the story of a battle between the determination
of Red Cross and Red Crescent workers and the ingenuity of
However, Ignatieff points out that barbarism is inventive
and humanitarian law must be constantly reinterpreted and
clarified. This is particularly relevant to such fundamental
issues as the definition of military objectives or the use
of nuclear weapons. It is uncertainties like these that, in
real-life situations, can literally terrorize a population.
We must not forget that the use of nuclear weapons was recently
mooted in the conflict over Kashmir.
Today some people believe the Geneva Conventions should be
rewritten to include the war on terrorism. Caution is called
for here until states find a universally accepted definition
and understanding of terrorism and agree to rewrite the Conventions.
To move too quickly would mean calling into question the principle
of the equality of combatants under humanitarian law and taking
a step backwards to when the old theory of a "just war"
held sway. Fighting for freedom, rights or democracy does
not justify killing civilians, rape or pillage. The defenders
of the international order, and in particular United Nations
(UN) forces, owe it to themselves to be exemplary. As for
the authors of terrorist acts committed in armed conflicts,
there is no doubt that they are guilty of war crimes and must
be punished according to existing law. The recently established
International Criminal Court ICC illustrates the will of the
international community to bring such criminals to justice
and raises the hope that henceforth they will escape justice
Moreover, the concept of a war on terrorism, which is little
more than a "just war" under another guise, would
play into the hands of the terrorists, who in turn could find
arguments to justify their violent acts in the name of a "holy
On another front, the concept of a "preventive war",
which could increase global insecurity by reducing the UN's
role in regulating the use of force and prompt changes in
its charter, must also be reviewed and decided by the UN.
The principles under fire
In February, far from the war on terrorism, the president
of the Nigerian Red Cross, Emmanuel Ijewere, went into the
streets of Lagos together with 50 volunteers during violent
clashes between the Hausa and Yoruba communities. He and his
colleagues, using the principles as their protection, helped
stop the violence, and put the National Society at the forefront
of conflict resolution. They also entered the Movement archive
as another illustration of the potential of the principles
to heal divided communities, states or cultures.
Wearing a Red Cross uniform and with a megaphone in hand,
Emmanuel Ijewere approached the rioting crowd, appealing to
them to stop the killings. Asked why he had taken such a big
risk, Ijewere replies: "Even though I didn't know what
I was going to meet, I felt we had to act fast because the
killings had started spreading to other areas. Things would
have got worse and the whole city of Lagos would have been
He felt, nevertheless, he had an element of protection. "One
thing that gave me the courage to go between the rioting ethnic
groups was the Red Cross uniform I was wearing. I knew people
would at least listen to me before doing any other thing,"
Rival ethnic groups not only listened to Emmanuel Ijewere,
they allowed Red Cross volunteers from different ethnic backgrounds
to provide first aid and evacuate the injured. And the message
from that evening has had some results. Now, after the violence
has ended, people are living together.
"Apart from damaged buildings, which are a sad reminder
of the unfortunate event, one wouldn't know that such a terrible
thing took place in Lagos," says Abiodun Orebiyi, secretary
general of the Nigerian Red Cross. "We made people understand
that they have to learn to live together. They were surprised
to see our volunteers from different ethnic groups - including
the two rioting tribes - giving first aid to the wounded without
any discrimination. This was a big lesson for them,"
Recognition of the efforts made that night in February came
in other ways, too. The Lagos state governor commended the
peace-making efforts of the Nigerian Red Cross in a television
"Nigerians no longer see the Red Cross as an organization
that only gives first aid to disaster victims. They now know
that we are involved in various programmes. Many communities
now look to us to mediate in all kinds of misunderstandings
and conflicts because of our neutrality," adds Emmanuel
International law as the best weapon
In every respect, a clear, unequivocal and respected body
of international law is today an essential weapon in the battle
against the sense of injustice felt by those who, deprived
of even the most basic necessities, have lost confidence in
their institutions. One of the law's principal functions is
to protect the weak. In this respect, the Movement's efforts
to clarify and ensure respect for humanitarian law contributes
to building a more just international community and, consequently,
one that is less susceptible to terrorism.
The actions of the Movement give full weight to its words.
In speaking of terrorism, we think first of its victims, for
whom the Movement has sprung into action on innumerable occasions,
as seen recently after the attacks of 11 September in the
United States or in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However,
terrorism directly affects only a small number of individuals
and so activities on their behalf, as necessary and justified
as they are, are still peripheral.
You do not need to be a victim of the war on terror to be
terrorized, as the millions of people who are starved, raped,
harassed or sexually exploited in many regions can attest.
The Movement has a responsibility to speak out on behalf of
these vulnerable groups, especially children who live by their
wits in shanty towns or on the street, who are forced to work,
sexually exploited or recruited as docile but reckless combatants.
Our mission is foremost a duty to these people, but it is
not without its links to the fight against terrorism, for
the victims of today will be more receptive to those who would
lure them into crime or fanaticism - indeed anything that
will enable them to escape their lot.
Under the aegis of the Federation, the Movement must also
reflect continuously on new ways to intensify its programmes
of internal solidarity towards the National Societies in poor
countries, to strengthen operations and to encourage states
to follow in its wake.
One aspect of the Movement's work which may appear paradoxical
in the fight against terrorism is visits to detained suspected
terrorists. The attention paid to individuals who are suspected
of having committed the most heinous of crimes is often misunderstood
and deserves explanation. First, it stems from the ICRC's
concern to avoid any distinction being made among the categories
of detainees it visits. Whenever governments are confronted
by situations of armed conflict or internal troubles, they
have a tendency to "pin a terrorist label" on all
opposition, in the words of ICRC lawyer John Murphy. The ICRC's
action in the prisons would be of little value if the organization
were only to visit those detainees considered "worthy"
in the eyes of those who detain them. There is another good
reason for these visits.
Terrorism does not respect the universally recognized fundamental
values of which humane treatment and judicial guarantees are
a part. The ICRC's visits are a guarantee of respect for these
values by those who, if they chose to dispense with them,
would actually be playing the terrorists' game by helping
to weaken their values. Lastly, these visits have a moderating
influence on the escalation of hatred and violence: real or
alleged torture of presumed terrorists has always deepened
the divide between adversaries.
|Spotlight on IHL and protection
Today almost all states - 189 out of 193 - are bound
by the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, which, in times
of armed conflict, protect wounded, sick and shipwrecked
members of the armed forces, prisoners of war and civilians.
Two Protocols additional to the Geneva Conventions
were adopted in 1977. Protocol I protects the victims
of international armed conflicts, while Protocol II
protects the victims of non-international armed conflicts.
More than three-quarters of all states are now bound
by the Protocols, 159 being party to Additional Protocol
I and 152 to Additional Protocol.
A summary of ICRC protection efforts in 2001
Detainees visited worldwide
Prisoners of war visited
Red Cross messages collected
Red Cross messages distributed
People reunited with their families
Tracing requests still being handled
at 31 December
Cases of unaccompanied or separated
children still being handled at 31 December
Cases of missing people still being handled at
The Movement can inspire the international community on the
shape the world should take. International law is built on
the basis of the "principle of indifference" of
states towards their neighbours. Now states are realizing
their ever-growing interdependence. The fight against terrorism
has brought this to the fore, but interdependence touches
many other areas: refugees who flee poverty or war destabilize
neighbouring states, and frontiers are no barrier to the massive
pollution of the air and water. Indifference must therefore
give way to solidarity, a concept rooted in the Movement since
its inception through its Fundamental Principles of humanity
The requirement for an action to be free from self-interest,
embodied in the principle of voluntary action, implies integrity,
and there, too, the Movement can show the way. The corruption
that is rife across the globe is today undermining the confidence
of vast segments of the population in their leaders and in
the judicial system, stoking the frustrations that fuel terrorism.
It is solidarity, a sense of belonging to a global community
and integrity in all things that are at the heart of the message
the Movement can send to the international community through
its Fundamental Principles. These principles and values are
essential to reinforcing the international community's cohesion,
a vital component in its fight against terrorism and beyond.
This message will be all the more powerful if the Movement
can itself get even closer to the ideal embodied in its principles,
for it is by action and by example that the message will be
most persuasive. More than ever, it is the Movement's duty
to do everything possible to surpass itself, while remaining
true to itself - for its structure and principles, thanks
to the clear-sightedness of its visionaries, are well suited
to meet the demands of the world in the 21st century. The
Movement must seize the opportunity in 2003 on the occasion
of the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent
to engage states in a dialogue on these burning issues.
Yves Sandoz is a member of the ICRC Committee.
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