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Privatization of war

“Ideally, states should not task private contractors to take an active part in combat operations,” said Philip Spoerri, ICRC director for international law. “Combat functions in armed conflicts should remain the responsibility of governments and should not be outsourced to private contractors.”

So far, 17 countries (Afghanistan, Angola, Australia, Austria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Iraq, Poland, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States) have agreed on the Montreux document, named after the town on Lake Geneva where government experts met from 15 to 17 September 2008 to discuss how to better regulate private military and security contractors. The Swiss foreign ministry launched the initiative in 2006, and the ICRC has been closely associated with it since the outset. The private military and security industry was regularly consulted during the process, as were non-governmental organizations.

The Montreux document reaffirms the obligation of states to ensure that private military and security companies operating in armed conflicts comply with international humanitarian and human rights law. The document also lists some 70 recommendations, derived from good state practice. These include verifying the track record of companies and examining the procedures they use to vet their staff. The ICRC underlined the benefits of this document for countries and people affected by armed conflict. “The paper provides an excellent basis on which the ICRC can discuss issues of humanitarian concern with all countries where private military and security companies operate, or where these firms are based,” Spoerri pointed out. “Because of its very practical recommendations, it will be especially useful for states with weak governments or those struggling with the impact of armed conflict, but which want to regulate such companies on their territory.”



Floods sweep India

In August and September, an estimated 2.6 million people were displaced by devastating floods in India that killed more than 50 people. Isolated between the original course of the Kosi River and a new channel that formed when its banks were breached in Nepal, people struggled to survive. Humanitarian organizations — including the Red Cross Red Crescent — assisted in spite of massive logistical challenges. In Bihar alone, nearly 300,000 homes were destroyed.

“The rising waters destroyed many of the bridges and roadways that would otherwise have been used to access nearly 1,600 villages that desperately need help,” said Peter Ophoff, head of delegation for the International Federation in India. “As a result, the Indian Red Cross Society and others involved in relief efforts are relying on boats and helicopters.”

The Indian Red Cross distributed tents, tarpaulins, mosquito nets, basic food and kitchen sets. It also helped move people to safety, provided first aid and deployed three water and sanitation units to provide vital clean water for drinking and improved hygiene. The International Federation coordinated the procurement and delivery of 10,000 tents and supported detailed assessments longer-term needs.

“It is important to recognize that, while the situation in Bihar is the focus of international attention, this year’s monsoon has caused additional distress across the nation,” said Ophoff. “Throughout India, nearly 500,000 homes have been destroyed and more than 18 million people have been affected by flooding.”

Officials said flood waters in Bihar might not fully recede for months. Submerged villages could remain unreachable and displaced people dependent on relief for the foreseeable future.



Americas’ storms

Thousands of National Society volunteers across the Americas were deployed in August and September to prepare for and respond to storms Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike.

In the north of Haiti, tropical storm Hanna caused havoc just days after the country was hit by Hurricane Gustav. Haitian National Red Cross Society staff and volunteers, working with partners in search-and-rescue missions, gave early warning information to communities, encouraged people at risk to move to safer ground as water levels rose, provided first aid and helped shelter displaced people.

When Hurricane Ike passed over the Caribbean, hot on the heels of Hanna, the sheer volume of water it dumped on Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, proved too much. The floods unleashed by the torrential rains, gushing unimpeded through the deforested hills, led rivers to burst their banks, change their courses and wash away many lightly built homes. The storms killed an estimated 700 people and forced 200,000 to evacuate.

Meanwhile, in Cuba, early warning saved many lives during Gustav, the worst hurricane in 50 years, when thousands of people were rapidly evacuated. But the damage to homes and infrastructure was immense, with an estimated 100,000 homes destroyed by the hurricane. “Around 2,500 volunteers were called into action to address relief needs arising from Fay, and 4,000 volunteers had to be mobilized to deal with the damage caused by Hurricane Gustav,” said Luis Foyo, director general of the Cuban Red Cross.

Across the Americas, volunteers worked around the clock to evacuate people, care for them in emergency shelters, distribute food, provide first aid and psychological support, and trace missing family members. In some places, rains made delivery of aid hazardous and reduced the ability to conduct assessments. The efforts of the Red Cross were backed by international technical expertise and emergency appeals launched by the International Federation.




Dunant’s wife

At 78, Klaudia Famina is long past retirement. But having spent 53 years in an environment that has no equal in the world, she is not about to leave the ‘oil rocks’. Started under Stalin in 1949 to pump oil from the Caspian Sea, it was the world’s first offshore drilling site. Before the days of helicopters, the most reasonable thing to do was to link one platform to the next with bridges. A freshly graduated engineer, Famina was brought in to build these bridges. In the end she and thousands of other workers had created a labyrinth of over 200 kilometres of roads in the open sea, a whole town with nine-storey-high buildings, gardens, a theatre, shops, a hospital and most other utilities that a community of 5,000 workers needs.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Famina decided to stay in this unique world she had helped to build. She decided to put all her effort into the small Red Crescent representation on the oil rocks that she had been dedicating herself to part time. “My real husband is Henry Dunant,” Famina explains laughing when asked why she never married. Pictures of the founder of the Red Cross prove her profound admiration for the man. Her seventh-floor living room doubles as the Red Crescent headquarters in this artificial island community. “My role is to help my co-workers here in any way I can,” says Famina, who is always at hand to help in social and material emergencies. Famina brings small gifts, welcoming newcomers or looking after the elderly. It is obvious why she has earned her place in the history of what is now the Red Crescent Society of Azerbaijan as ‘The grandmother of the Caspian Sea’.





Cairo rockslides

Egyptian Red Crescent Society intervention teams and volunteers helped rescue people buried under rockslides at a shanty town on the edge of Cairo on 6 September. Up to 200 people were feared to have been buried when huge boulders fell on Manshiyet Nasr neighbourhood, which is home to 1.2 million people. Red Crescent staff and volunteers also helped transport injured people to hospitals and erected a 50-tent camp. The disaster occurred at about 09:00 when most residents were sleeping, having woken up earlier to eat ahead of the daylight fast for Islam’s holy month of Ramadan.


Humanitarian law training

Filipino graduates of a post-graduate diploma course in international humanitarian law (IHL) say the course contributed to their development as professionals and as advocates for disseminating IHL in the Philippines. The course is offered online, with ICRC support, by the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research at the University of Law in Hyderabad, India.

“The course allowed me to understand the universality of IHL, its idealism and the importance of its application. As manager in charge of the IHL office of the Philippine National Red Cross, it was a must for me to do this course,” said course graduate Roy C. Bautista.

Another graduate, Teofilo G. Panaga of the Philippine Navy, said, “I found the course useful not only for my personal advancement but most of all for my organization. It shows that the Filipino armed forces adhere to the principles of IHL, especially its compliance with the Geneva Conventions on the need to educate its personnel on IHL.”

The course was an eye-opener for Myrish Cadapan-Antonio of the Salonga Center for Law and Development at Silliman University. “In the academic arena in the Philippines, IHL is still in its infancy,” he said. “In fact it is only since this course and the ICRC-sponsored moot court competitions have existed that IHL principles and laws have begun to permeate Philippine legal education.”



Spanish plane disaster

Twenty-three Spanish Red Cross teams brought psychological support to families of the victims of a plane crash at Madrid airport on 20 August that killed more than 150 people. The teams, with 170 psychologists, doctors, nurses, social workers and first aiders, helped family members who went to the temporary morgue each day to wait for the identification of their loved ones.

Pablo Navajo, spokesman for the Spanish Red Cross, said, “This initial assistance is very important to help affected family members avoid cases of post-traumatic stress which can manifest later.” More than 700 Spanish Red Cross volunteers participated in search and rescue, and provided first aid and shelter to teams involved in the operation. They distributed hygiene articles, blankets, food and other relief items to relatives.





The ICRC is working to meet the emergency needs of around 60,000 people affected by the armed conflict involving government forces and armed opposition groups in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

“The situation is evolving rapidly and remains unpredictable. In order to address the needs of the people who fled the fighting, we need to be able to move quickly and be flexible,” said Pascal Cuttat, the head of the ICRC delegation in Pakistan. “We are expanding our support for hospitals dealing with large influxes of war-wounded people. But we have to be ready to do more.”

Funding has been increased recently and will be used mainly to deliver relief to people who have been displaced or cut off by the conflict. The ICRC has already distributed essential items such as tarpaulins, blankets, hygiene items and cooking pots to people arriving in improvised camps or staying with host families in Lower Dir and Mardan in NWFP, and is now entering the next phase in its relief effort, which includes the distribution of food to the displaced.

“The ICRC reminds all parties to the conflict of their obligation to comply with international humanitarian law,” said Cuttat. “In particular, the parties must respect and protect individuals not, or no longer, taking part in hostilities, i.e., civilians and the wounded, sick or detained. In addition, they must respect and protect humanitarian workers and allow and facilitate deliveries of humanitarian relief supplies.”

In NWFP and FATA, the ICRC is working in partnership with the Pakistan Red Crescent Society, and coordinating its activities with the authorities and other humanitarian organizations.




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