oday, May 8, is World Red Cross Day, the birth anniversary of the founder of the Red Cross - Henry Dunant. Dunant the founder of the Red Cross was also the founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). He was also the recipient of the first Nobel Peace Prize. Red Cross day also celebrates the t role of the volunteers and their contribution to helping people in need.
By the end 1863, the year in which the ICRC was founded, the first voluntary aid societies - the future National Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies - were set up. By August the following year, the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field was adopted. This was recognized as being the base of today’s International Humanitarian Law.
The ICRC is best known for its field operations in aid of victims of armed conflict and internal violence the world over. What is less known however, is its role as protector of international humanitarian law, the law applicable in situations of armed conflict. This function is closely connected with the founding of the ICRC.
The ICRC founded in 1863 wasoriginally a reaction to the sufferings caused by war-to bring practical aid to the wounded which is still the essential principle of the entire Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
The ICRC and its operations are well-known to Sri Lankans. Having been first invited in 1989 - in response to humanitarian needs resulting from the JVP uprising in the south, and subsequently, during the ethnic conflict in the North and East of the country. During the final days of Sri Lanka’s ‘war on terror’ Jacques de Maio, head of ICRC operations for South Asia in Geneva reported in a statement on ICRC’s website “…people are being caught in the crossfire, hospitals and ambulances have been hit by shelling and several aid workers have been injured while evacuating the wounded.” The statement added that the violent situation at a ground level prevented the ICRC operations in the region…”
The statement angered large sections of the population as well as those of the very government which invited the ICRC into the country. Yet, this is the work of the ICRC in situations of conflict - not taking sides - providing humanitarian assistance, reporting without fear or favour. In the words of its founder - to play the role of witness.
Dunant also forwarded the theory that medical services are neutral and provided medical teams with an emblem - the red cross- so they could function on the battle field without harassment. He also went on to form peacetime, voluntary relief societies to act as auxiliaries to Army medical services in time of war. This was the origin of the Red Cross Movement
Today, over 200 years since the setting up of the Red Cross, its role in society is more relevant than ever before. In Asia alone three brutal wars are still raging - the war in Afghanistan, continuing from 1978 and still ongoing has recorded between 1,240,000 to 2,000,000 fatalities.
The war in Iraq, from 2003 and raging more bitterly today has according to the organisation ‘Iraq Bodycount’ and other organization accounted for between 251,000 to 1,000,000 fatalities. This year (2017) alone has seen 5,980 fatalities while the war in Syria, wrongly termed the Syrian Civil war which commenced in 2011, has seen between 312,000 to 470,000 fatalities according to figures published by the ‘Syrian Observatory on Human Rights’ and other HR organizations.
The volunteers/workers of the ICRC and the Red Crescent organisations are performing thankless tasks in these regions and have become targets for attacks by both state and non-state actors engaged in battle and their role needs to be applauded. Unfortunately, despite being present on the ground, the Red Cross rarely points out the causes of these long-drawn out wars. It has limited itself to reporting
In the Asian region, the wars in Afghanistan, Syria, in Iraq, in Libya in Palestine etc., are all results of Western and US intervention in the internal affairs of those countries. The US and the west nations have directly attacked hospitals and civilian targets. We will not speak of terrorist groups involved as they are to put it simply, terrorists. They cannot be equated with nations claiming to be the defenders of human rights. The state of Israel even shelled the UN compound where Palestinian refugees were housed in Gaza.
It is also said the ICRC, via its network of affiliates across the globe, often warns of possible epidemics. It is known, big drug companies and the MNCs immediately raise prices of particular drugs at these times and make a ‘killing’ during these unfortunate events.