0930 GMT December 15, 2017
The vast damage the wars have inflicted on peoples, their habitats and the environment have made it almost impossible for humanitarian organizations and actors to meet the needs.
At this critical juncture, fundraising must be associated with cost-cutting measures. This is the gist the remarks of the top official wrestling with the world’s humanitarian disasters implied.
To that end, it is a must to observe International Humanitarian Law (IHL) more rigorously, underlined the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Peter Maurer in an exclusive interview with Iran Daily.
During his three-day visit, Maurer attended a ceremony to celebrate the 10th anniversary of setting up Center of Comparative Studies of Islam and IHL in Qom Province.
He also met top Iranian officials including the vice president, defense minister and Parliament speaker and held talks with the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) president.
Excerpts of the interview follow:
IRAN DAILY: This is your fourth visit in your function as ICRC president to Iran. What is it aimed at?
PETER MAURER: These visits are always excellent opportunities to take stock on relations and boost ties with an important country and actor in the region. ICRC has had a long and positive history of interacting with Iran, in particular, with regard to the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and the people who went missing in that conflict, as well as working on issues related to IHL. Today, the number of conflicts have increased in the world and so have their massive impacts on neighboring countries, region and world affairs. A glance at conflicts only in Syria, Yemen and Iraq vividly shows this. This is an excellent opportunity to ask these questions: Can ICRC and Iran do more to respond to the needs of people in those conflicts? Can we do more to work together for better implementation of IHL and more respect for it?
My visit was aimed at exploring further cooperation with IRCS and seeing how ICRC could foster collaboration with different parts of the Iranian political bodies (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense and the Parliament) to see how we could strengthen the cooperation in addressing humanitarian needs in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, and garnering respect for IHL. Among the other objectives of this visit was to further explore the possibility of working together to deal with those common issues by holding training sessions and discussions on specific challenges we are encountering.
This visit has unfolded to be very positive for Iranian authorities as well as ICRC; we are really interested in pushing the ball forward and working closely together on these issues.
Would you please list the Iranian officials you have met so far during this visit?
This is a very short visit, the main focus of which is to celebrate the 10th anniversary of setting up Center of Comparative Studies of Islam and IHL in Qom. I just had one day of meetings with Iranian officials, in which I met IRCS’ President Amir-Hossein Ziaei Astarabadi, Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Abbas Araqchi, Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri.
How do you see the current cooperation between ICRC and IRCS?
IRCS is a very skilled national society of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent (IRCRC) Movement. Therefore, ICRC has a keen interest to continue to strengthen its cooperation with it. We have done a lot in the past together in disaster preparedness and working on health emergency issues. The two organizations have started to work with each other in some regional contexts. In Lebanon, we are engaged with the Movement's other partners in a major health response project. We intend to continue this cooperation in other places as well. There is no doubt that IRCS is a strong national society, and ICRC has its own strengths, and I think that the combination of both offers better response for people particularly in regional conflicts.
What expertise of the IRCS can be shared with other countries and international organizations?
IRCS enjoys enormous logistic capacities, which is very much appreciated by the Movement at large, strong health capabilities, good doctors, nurses, hospitals and hospital capacities. It is also very much strong in responding to natural emergencies, because of the exposure of the country to natural disasters.
All these have made IRCS develop its strengths which now can be used also more prominently in the international humanitarian response. ICRS is also very skilled and experienced in providing physical rehabilitation services. Physical rehabilitation is a service, for which there is an enormous need internationally. ICRC’s latest statistics show that roughly more than 90 million people worldwide still lack physical rehabilitation services of any major kind. ICRC and IRCRC Movement are the largest providers of orthosis and prosthesis services worldwide; but roughly cover the need of around 14 million people with disability. This is while, the number of people in need of such services across the world amount to 90 million.
What are the joint programs of the two organizations abroad?
The ICRC and IRCS are working together in Lebanon, and we were happy to work with them in Somalia. There are a large number of places, where we can work together. Nevertheless, it is not really only working together that matters; what is also important is being at the same place. Each one of us does what we can do best. The two organizations know how to do things. We do not necessarily need to be always together in doing things. There are parts where we can work together. The health response, for instance, is an intelligent part, for you can bring a much more meaningful response to a community in a country, which suffers so much from the impact of the Syrian war. In other places we just want to have well-organized cooperation. ICRC and IRCS jointly organize courses and trainings on specific issues, such as Health Care in Danger project in Iran. Such events are important to identify where we want to work together and how we can have the best cooperation.
How do you think Iran can contribute to the humanitarian situation resulting from the conflicts in the region?
The humanitarian work does not solve conflicts; the world needs political agreements to this end. Iran is part of a group ― comprising 7-10 countries ― which are absolutely critical to advance political agreements in the region. The more Iran and others can do to advance political consensus, the better it is.
At present, with regard to humanitarian work, there are two dimensions. The country seems to be willing and able to engage more to address the needs emerging from conflicts; and we are happy about this stance. That is why we encourage the Iranian state as well as the National Society (of the IRCS) to become further active abroad and deliver humanitarian services.
We know very well that Iran is actively engaged in providing humanitarian assistance to Latin American, African, regional and Asian states. Recently, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and I discussed a lot about Myanmar. At the IRCS office, we discussed about how the organization has responded to the disaster in Ecuador. Iran, either through the IRCS or the state, has always helped mitigate the consequences of war, violence and natural calamities.
What we are interested in is to help Iran further engage with the governments and national and international organizations on which it has influence, in terms of respect for IHL. We cannot just throw goods and money at people in need. We have to address the needs. Nobody is anymore capable of financing the huge dimension of humanitarian costs. Addressing the needs is basically respecting IHL more rigorously.
We know that Iran, as well as many other countries, has great influence over the region. The ICRC is anxious to see that states, such as Iran, take on greater responsibility in engaging with those countries or groups with which it has special relations to further earn respect for IHL and have more responsible arms transfers. The latter means that arms should only be transferred to groups which do not violate IHL, according to what the famous provision of the Arms Trade Treaty says. We need to increasingly stimulate a more proactive role because of the enormous impact of the conflicts we are witnessing. The cost of conflicts in the world is estimated at around $11-13 trillion per year. More than 100 million people across the world are in need of humanitarian assistance. We have huge needs and can barely finance the minimum of them. Greater respect for IHL means civilians have to be respected, hospitals must not be bombed and migrants have to be protected.
In one of your previous interviews, you had mentioned that the ICRC has been very active in Muslim countries and the religion tenets have greatly helped the ICRC to translate IHL from words into action. Would you explain it in detail and reveal your further expectations that would help improve the conditions in these countries?
IHL reflects what people have thought about protection of cultures, generations and world regions at war. IHL has become customary law. Each and every religion and society has also different words, concepts and interpretations. What we have done in the past was in line with exploring how IHL is talked about in an Islamic context so that people understand the words. This is what we have done in supporting the Center of Comparative Studies of Islam and IHL in Qom. Our ambition is that we understand the concepts, words and legal frameworks better that we have to use and are understood by belligerents and civilians. There will be cases of violating IHL if armies and armed actors do not know about IHL or know about it but do not understand it. In fact, our efforts have academic and practical dimensions. We want to have a greater understanding of what resonates with people in Iran and in the Muslim world compared to the words which are used in IHL. This work is particularly important because so many conflicts are taking place in this part of the world. More than 50 percent of the ICRC’s activities worldwide take place in Muslim Countries.
Which challenges does ICRC face in reaching out to the civilians in war zones? In particular, how is the Health Care in Danger project going on?
We have, in many places, serious challenges of politically accessing people, having negotiating at the front line in order to access the victims, guaranteeing the security of our staff and ensuring the respect for IHL. Attacks on hospitals and medical workers [intentionally or inadvertently] — which are devastating because of their impacts — are among the instances IHL violations that we encounter most often in war zones today. It is important to discuss the issue of protection of health workers and facilities and consequences of such attacks. People become more vulnerable and fragile in war zones because they are increasingly confronted with failing infrastructure and health, water and sanitation systems. People die not only because of bombs, but because the medical infrastructures are destroyed. This is one of the most devastating consequences and challenges of the ICRC today.
At present, there are systemic structural consequences of violence in many conflicts which is a big issue.
Having access to detainees, particularly in armed conflicts, is another challenge faced by the ICRC today. In certain cases, people, groups and countries do not offer the ICRC access to detention facilities which is a major problem, for in the absence of access to such places we will fail to assist and protect people and learn about their situation. Another problem is the politicization of humanitarian affairs. Safety of people affected by conflict and access of victims to humanitarian assistance are among issues that countries discuss, which leads us to an important gap between what we need to do and what we are able to do.
Do you have any concluding remarks?
Once again, I have been encouraged by the positive response that Iranian interlocutors have with regard to the ICRC. This certainly is promoted by past common history and present challenges.
Caption: ICRC President Peter Maurer (L) talks to Iran Daily reporter Farzam Vanaki
The humanitarian work does not solve conflicts; the world needs political agreements to this end.
IRCS is a very skilled national society of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement..