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Our world
at war

Documenting the realities of war — death, displacement, detention and loss — is one way of trying to help the victims of war’s atrocities. Today, more than ever, the ICRC recognizes the importance of being able to show the images of the impact of war from the perspective of the men, women and children who are affected by it and of those who come to their aid from the ICRC and National Societies. The ICRC strongly believes that photographs do make a difference — they can inform, mobilize and influence the course of events today and in the future.

This year is an important one for the Red Cross Red Crescent as it marks 150 years since the battle of Solferino where the idea for the Red Cross Red Crescent was born. This brutal battle lasted more than nine hours. Some 6,000 soldiers died and 35,000 others were wounded, went missing or were taken prisoner. Horrified eyewitnesses told of wounded and dying soldiers being shot or bayoneted. The birth of the Red Cross Red Crescent coincided with the birth of photography. War photographers and humanitarians share the same purpose: to end the unacceptable suffering caused by war.

This year also marks the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, the bedrock of international humanitarian law, which afford protection and assistance to those not or no longer taking part in hostilities. It is this law that was developed to limit behaviour in warfare and to end barbarity. Today, accepted by all nations, these four conventions are truly universal law.

To commemorate these anniversaries, the Movement launched a campaign — Our world. Your move. — as a way to remind everyone of his or her individual responsibility to lessen human suffering. For its part, ICRC commissioned the VII photo agency to send five awardwinning war photographers to eight conflict-affected countries: Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Georgia, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia and the Philippines. The outcome of these photographic missions was the exhibition Our world at war.

ICRC and the photographers Ron Haviv, Antonin Kratochvil, Christopher Morris, James Nachtwey and Franco Pagetti unite in this exhibition to bring individual stories of loss and suffering in war to the forefront of the world’s attention: women struggling to recover from sexual violence, families coping with loss and displacement, and people victimized by warfare. It also draws attention to the inspirational attempts that are made, by ordinary men and women, to limit human suffering in some of the most violent corners of the world.

Ultimately, the exhibition aims to inspire people to act on behalf of victims of war. As James Nachtwey explains: “Whatever else one might see or feel when looking at a picture of human suffering — outrage, sadness, disbelief — I think an essential reaction is a sense of compassion. Compassion humanizes issues, helps us identify with others and requires us to correct that which is unacceptable.”

Charlotte Lindsey Curtet
Charlotte Lindsey Curtet is deputy director of communications at ICRC.

Football for life

Amputee football has been the source of enormous hope and solace for one of the most marginalized groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: young men. They are, most of them, victims of the war. That some of them took part in it only adds to the stigmatization of the group.

“When you ask them how they felt after being amputated, most of them say that they wanted to kill themselves,” says Paul A. Tolbert, senior coach of the national amputee football team. “Life no longer had meaning for them. Amputee football restores their hope. Take the guy who was named the most valuable player in the recent African Cup for amputee football. He was a very good player, but he lost hope when his leg was amputated. When I went to recruit him, I told him, ‘You can make it. There is still a chance for you.’ He has gained hope and, what’s more, now knows that what he could not do, win a war when he had two legs, he is now doing on one leg.”


Bedding on boards

On the island of Mindanao, a child plays in front of his family’s temporary home in an evacuation centre on the front line between government forces and armed opposition fighters. While some families were able to find shelter in schools and public buildings, others are living more precariously, sometimes sleeping on little more than sections of cardboard.


Loss upon loss

Almost two years ago, when fighting broke out between the Lebanese army and Muslim militias in the Nahr el-Bared camp, Hasniyye Yehia Tawiyyeh, a resident, was forced to flee. Today, she lives in the nearby Beddawi camp. Her husband was hospitalized after their flight. A week later, he died in her arms while she was helping him up the seven flights of stairs to their small apartment. Her son visited her in 2007. One Friday, having gone to attend prayers, he failed to return. Hasniyye learnt fterwards that he was one of two young men who had been killed that Friday during a peaceful protest against the fighting. “I have been through many things,” she says. “But all the hardship I’ve been through, I could put it in one hand. The death of my son, I would put it in the other hand and it would weigh much more than all the other suffering I have endured.”

Waiting for news

Ozias is 11 years old. Here, at a temporary resting place, he is wondering whether his parents are still alive. He would soon be reunited with his family through the efforts of the ICRC. When people flee their homes, families are often torn apart. With each new conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo the numbers of orphaned or unaccompanied children increases. A Red Cross worker explains: “In the current war, women are raped, children are separated from their families, and fathers die. The children are left homeless and live like vagrants.”

One step at a time

In the gait training room at the ICRC’s orthopaedic centre in Kabul, Alberto Cairo, the head of the ICRC’s orthopaedic programme in Afghanistan, works with a mine victim, a double amputee who has just received his two prostheses. An amputee has to learn to walk again. It is extremely important for the patient to be helped to stand and to walk correctly, from the very beginning. A patient who learns to do so from the start will walk well for the rest of his or her life. Bad habits acquired early are very hard to change.


Behind bars

This women’s prison, El Buen Pastor, is in Bogotá, Colombia. A section of the prison is occupied by 75 women together with their babies and small children. The women are being held because of their alleged links to rebel groups and to crimes they are said to have committed while members of those groups. The ICRC visits these detainees in line with its mandate: to ensure respect for the life and dignity of prisoners of war and other detainees and to prevent torture, ill-treatment or abuse, which violate essential rights and the basic principles of humanity, breed hatred and feed a cycle of violence. Regular prison visits enable the ICRC to track prisoners’ whereabouts and make recommendations to the authorities about any improvements to conditions that may be necessary.


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