ICRC & UNHCR (Leviathan and SysAdmin?)

Humanitarian protection: The International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,” by David Forsythe, International Review of the Red Cross, 30 September 2001, No. 843. p. 675-697, http://www.icrc.org/Web/Eng/siteeng0.nsf/iwpList184/853DBBED86D2E170C1256B6600608BCE.

Some excerpts from an article on a certain NGO and a certain IGO. Mostly for my use. Apologies.

Many actors can be involved in humanitarian protection.

Two organizations above all symbolize long-standing efforts to provide humanitarian protection on an international basis: the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The two exhibit several fundamental differences. As is well known, the former focused historically on victims of war, and the latter on refugees.Also, the ICRC is private at its core. It is legally incorporated as a private body under the laws of Switzerland, where it is headquartered. Its top policy-making body, the Assembly, which is all-Swiss and maintained by co-optation, formally answers to no other entity.1 UNHCR is clearly public, being part of the extended UN system. It was created bythe UN General Assembly, from which it takes instructions and to which it reports, and its head is approved by that same General Assembly upon nomination by the UN Secretary-General. A small portion of its budget is derived from the UN regular or administrative budget, but like the ICRC it operates mostly on the basis of voluntary contributions from (western) States.

Both the ICRC and UNHCR share a working understanding of humanitarian protection, although neither has explained it as well as analytical observers might wish

Both agencies lobby States to become parties to the relevant parts of international law (international humanitarian law and refugee law) and live up to their commitments. Both make diplomatic and legal representations to States and would-be States (e.g. non-State parties in the form of rebel armies, private militias, etc.) in order to obtain minimal human decency for persons within their mandates.

To do what they are supposed to do, the ICRC and UNHCR must be political in the sense of participating in the political process that determines who gets things of value.

The semantics of neutrality cannot obscure this fact… This effort to advance certain public policies rather than others cannot be, public relations aside, a non-political and value-free stance.

The ICRC and UNHCR without doubt engage in the political process to affect things of value.They primarily try to affect public policies determining individual freedom from: abuse, hunger, the elements, poor physical and mental health, lack of basic education, etc.This is the central meaning of “humanitarian politics.”

To be humanitarian is to be political in this fundamental sense: to engage in the political process to advance social liberalism.

They do not endorse even political liberalism (free and fair elections with protection of civil and political rights), much less other forms of rule, or other distributions of power, on an international or national basis.

To engage in humanitarian protection is to be “otheroriented” for the benefit of persons of concern.

It is quite clear that humanitarian protectors like the ICRC and UNHCR, who are oriented to the welfare of persons ofconcern, often inadvertently have an impact on the strategic or partisan goals of public authorities. The two types of politics sometimes intersect.When in the early 1990s the ICRC acted inside Bosnia and Herzegovina so as to move civilians out of harm’s way, it contributed to the ethnic cleansing then pursued by certain warring parties.

Thirdly, both agencies consider relief, or assistance, to be part of humanitarian protection. Why they have not been able to clearly and consistently explain this linkage is an interesting question.11 The fact that they both continue at times to speak of protection and assistance as if they were two different things raises questions about clear thinking.

The goods and services making up relief are but part of humanitarian protection, not something different from it.

In traditional-protection12 the ICRC and UNHCR are found observing the actions of public authorities toward persons of concern under the relevant international norms. On the basis of these norms the agencies make diplomatic or legal representation to the authorities to ensure that such persons are not abused or otherwise treated wrongly. In relief-protection, there can be an element of observation or supervision, along with the central effort to provide the goods and services necessary for minimal human dignity in exceptional circumstances

Over time a semantic custom has arisen, to which the humanitarian agencies themselves have intermittently contributed, of discussing relief as something apart from protection.

Protecting a person from death by starvation is just as important as protecting a person from death by summary execution.

After World War I, and more systematically some decades later, the ICRC undertook to protect political or security detainees in situations akin to war, namely in times of national unrest (sometimes also called internal disturbances and tensions). It also sought to trace persons missing as a result of armed conflict.Thus it progressively sought to protect victims of war and certain victims of politics, usually first through its own initiatives “on the ground” or “in the field” and then with the endorsement of the international community.

The ICRC lobbied for statements in meetings of the International Conference of the Red Cross and in international humanitarian law that would confirm and perhaps expand its field experience. It also lobbied to create other international law, such as treaties banning anti-personnel landmines or establishing a permanent international criminal court. These latter legal instruments might not
be part of international humanitarian law traditionally understood. But landmines and international criminal justice, among other issues such as the traffic in light weapons, affected victims of war, and so the ICRC lobbied (and was lobbied by others) in the international legislative process.

Like the ICRC, UNHCR found it difficult to confine its humanitarian protection to a well-established but clearly limited group of persons, when similar persons presented pressing humanitarian needs. Both agencies generalized their language, talking of “persons affected by conflict” or “persons of concern” so that various definitional distinctions could be blurred in the interests of providing expanded humanitarian protection.

It was not always easy, for either agency, to clearly curtail or limit its group of intended beneficiaries.The ICRC represented the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in situations of conflict, while the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies coordinated international action in natural emergencies. The two “heads” of the Movement wound up negotiating the 1997 Seville Agreement, which, among other things, tried to define when the direct effects of a conflict were over, and thus when the Federation might replace the ICRC in dealing with certain persons.

.An independent report on UNHCR’s role in Kosovo in 1999 commented that the agency was “armed chiefly with the power of international refugee law and creative diplomacy…”.18 A classic memoir by an ICRC delegate spoke of his being a “warrior without weapons”.19

Relevant is the 1975 Tansley Report, which found thatthe penchant of the ICRC for secrecy was dysfunctional: it was so secretive that it cut itself off from supporting elements in international relations. Most members of National Red Cross Societies, for example, even in Europe, had little idea of what the ICRC was or what it did.

This policy, generally validated by extensive ICRC action across time, has been accepted by international criminal courts, which do not compel officials of the ICRC to testify in criminal cases, since such testimony might undermine its ability to operate in controversial situations.

The ICRC has not always handled well the related problem that silence can be interpreted as complicity in abuse of victims.It is now known that the ICRC did not protest publicly against the Holocaust, certainly in the fall of 1942, even after ICRC efforts to gain systematic and meaningful access to German concentration camps had come to naught.

Likewise, the agency did not hesitate to publicly castigate Indonesian authorities in West Timor for lack of security arrangements that led to the deaths of three UNHCR staff in 2000.

Whether it is the more correct policy is a more complicated question. This writer believes that ICRC reluctance to disengage from an abusive situation, with a public statement indicating why, allows Machiavellian parties to manipulate the ICRC

As for the ICRC, while it is no longer true to say that it seemed to be the humanitarian arm of the Swiss foreign ministry, it remains true that relations between the ICRC and Berne are special. The agency’s current president a officials in the Swiss foreign ministry, and Berne contributes more funds to the regular or administrative budget of the ICRC than any other State.

An independent report on the agency in Kosovo found that UNHCR did not fall under the control of NATO, but rather on occasion took a view on protection matters that was definitely not appreciated in NATO capitals.

Worse still for UNHCR, in that western governments dealt with unrest in the Balkans by adopting policies requiring UN agencies to keep those forcibly displaced within the Balkans and therefore distant from western State boundaries where they might lodge a claim for asylum, UNHCR was pushed into a position whereby it undermined the right to seek and enjoy asylum.

As a result of other policies established by thedonor States, for example forbidding UNPROFOR to transport civilians out of Bosnia, UNHCR became part of a new western policy of containment, namely to keep those uprooted by persecution and war in Bosnia by caring for them where they were, so as to minimize inconvenience to western governments concerned about unwanted migration

That concept of protection is paradoxical in that it is both political and non-political at the same time: political in that the two agencies lobby to advance social liberalism as public policy; non-political in that they eschew strategic and partisan advantage for States as much as the context allow

The history of both the ICRC and UNHCR shows international support in principle for what they attempt to do, as well as a widening, if overlapping, focus on persons in dire straits as a result of conflict.

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