Criticism of the Red Cross, Frontier between barbarism and humanity, Geneva Conventions, ICRC, Misinformation and disinformation, Not a Dial-A-Quote Organization, Red Cross, When Silence is not Golden, Why not speak out?
Recently the Red Cross had to speak up for itself amidst the rumours of Russian favouritism.
The BBC reported:
“The International Committee of the Red Cross has condemned what it calls a “widespread and systematic campaign of misinformation” about its work in Ukraine.
These are strong words from the famously neutral organization, and reflect deep concern that its humanitarian operations worldwide could be undermined by what appears to be a co-ordinated strategy designed to destroy trust.
For at least two weeks, across multiple social media platforms, criticism and false accusations against the ICRC have been appearing, in Ukrainian and in Russian. One of the most damaging is the claim that the organization has supported ‘forced evacuations’ of Ukrainian citizens across the border into Russia.”
Part of the impetus to criticize the Red Cross has been its alleged silence on serious human rights abuses and contraventions to the Geneva Conventions by Russia. Added to this silence was the recent picture of ICRC President Peter Maurer’s visit to Moscow shaking hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “For some in Ukraine, the optics may not be ideal, but Mr Maurer was in Kyiv before he was in Moscow, and he shook hands there too.”
Thus began the mis-information campaign in the vacuum silence, and as I have been oft quoting Elie Wiesel:
We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
The ICRC maintains that it is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions. “The only side it will ever take in a conflict,” says Director General of the ICRC, Robert Mardini, “is the side of civilians, the wounded, prisoners of war, and the rules of war themselves.” Thus Peter Maurer went to both Kyiv and Moscow “to urge both sides to co-operate in sharing information about the dead and about prisoners; he went to Moscow to urge humanitarian access to besieged Ukrainian cities such as Mariupol. Under the Geneva Conventions, civilians have a right to the basics of life: food, water, medical care. They also have a right to leave a conflict zone safely if they want to.”
But is it Misinformation?
Meanwhile the Ukrainian Civil Society has pushed back on the ICRC claims of misinformation and has made a Public Appeal indicating among other things that they are “waiting for official comments from [the ICRC] on why [the Red Cross] mission left Mariupol as attacks intensified. The whole city of Mariupol (with 450,000 people) is now taken hostage by the Russian Army, the city has been reduced to ashes, people keep dying or being deported to Russia without documents… please let us know what specific actions has ICRC done to prevent or help with this?”
It’s been over a week since this Public Appeal, and still no answer.
Why Not Speak Up?
Understandably Ukrainians are “angry that the [Red Cross as the so-called] guardian of the Geneva Conventions has not publicly lambasted the Russian army for not respecting those conventions.”
“But public dressing downs are not the ICRC’s style. Way back in 2004, when hideous pictures of US soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison emerged, it became clear the ICRC had known about this abuse for some time. Rather than going public with its evidence, it chose to continue quiet diplomacy with Washington, and continue regular visits to Abu Ghraib.
What should the ICRC have done? I am not sure their silence as it relates to the US abuses are of a different substance than the Russian abuses, but the tactics of “quiet diplomacy” only makes sense if it works. What we have with Russia is an intractable and untrustworthy rogue state; why keep quiet?
Add to this silence – the very recent discovery of mass killings of civilians dumped on the side of the road or thrown in unmarked shallow graves in areas from which Russian forces have retreated.
Not a Dial-A-Quote Organization
In an era when social media platforms are used to spread dis-information and to catch off-the-cuff remarks, one ICRC officer stated:
We’re not some dial-a-quote organization, there are human rights groups for that.
“Preserving access to civilians suffering in war zones, to detainees and prisoners of war, is the ICRC’s number one priority. Its strategy is to explain the rules of war to the warring parties privately, but not to go running to the media when it learns violations are taking place. That, the argument goes, could put an end to the access.”
But There are Exceptions:
The Red Cross has made exceptions before – such as during the war in the former Yugoslavia, it denounced the “detention and inhuman treatment” of innocent civilians.
“In Rwanda, while refraining from using the word genocide, its delegates in the field made public statements about ‘systematic carnage’, and ‘the extermination of a significant portion of the civilian population.’
And in Ukraine, the ICRC’s latest statement says ‘the level of death, destruction and suffering that continues to be inflicted on civilians is abhorrent and unacceptable. For civilians in Mariupol time is running out’.”
So then, why isn’t the Red Cross speaking up now?
The Frontier between Barbarism and Humanity
Director General of the Red Cross, Robert Mardini concludes:
We need to ensure we are perceived as neutral and impartial. This neutrality, international humanitarian law, when it works, it does save lives.
At the end of the day, this, the rules of war, is the frontier between barbarism and humanity. So we will always keep pushing for this.