Since 1989, conflict has being tearing at the fabric of West
Africa with devastating consequences. It began in Liberia
followed by Sierra Leone and Guinea. Ghana, Togo and Nigeria
have all suffered from civil strife. And the most recent conflict
in Côte d'Ivoire threatens the stability of the entire
region. The violence has cost the lives of thousands of people,
driven millions from their homes and devastated local economies.
But you would be hard pressed to find news of those wars in
the world's media.
The crisis in Iraq has been centre stage for the past year,
distracting attention away from conflicts deemed too intractable
to solve. Pleas to stop West Africa's collapse are met with
a shake of the head as world leaders opt to follow the spotlight.
As this issue of the magazine shows, the crises in both West
Africa and Iraq are causing widespread suffering among civilian
populations. Inadequate public services, especially health
care, education, water and electricity, and the lack of law
and order are most often at the root of this suffering. In
each case, the ICRC has reminded all sides in the conflicts
that responsibility lies first with the occupying powers or
armed groups to ensure order and security, in conformity with
the provisions of the Law of The Hague and the Geneva Conventions.
In both West Africa and Iraq, the Movement is doing its best
to carry out its mission and to maintain vital services.
But it is also the job of the Movement to remind the international
community that suffering in West Africa requires as great
a response as in Iraq. In fact one of the themes of the upcoming
International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent
is forgotten crises. Yet, we too can confuse priorities as
we struggle to cover shrinking budgets. Calculations of different
Red Cross Red Crescent appeals show the amount allocated for
one beneficiary in Iraq exceeds 30-fold that of one in West
Africa. We, more than most, need to be consistent in our commitment
to protecting human dignity and alleviating suffering wherever
it is and on an equal footing.
In addition to West Africa and Iraq, other issues covered
in this edition of the magazine include the official opening
of the International Criminal Court whose success depends
on its capacity to act universally and a project in
which the Nicaraguan Red Cross is working with gangs fighting
their own kind of urban battle.