Relations with all parties

The Red Cross occupies something of a special position in international conflicts. Besides often being the first outside actor to arrive and the last to leave, they also have to be independent and impartial in relation to either side. This applies equally to their relations with peacekeeping forces in the area.

Dick Clomén is a specialist in international law with the Swedish Red Cross. Photo: Johan Ardefors/FBB

The part being played in VIKING 08 by the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, is based on the mandate it has been given by the international community under the Geneva Convention. That states that the ICRC shall be a neutral and independent actor in global conflicts. It is not a non-governmental organisation (NGO) since it is a private affiliation not governed by a mandate from any government but rather by international law.

Dick Clomén is a specialist in international law with the Swedish Red Cross and during VIKING 08 he is playing opposite the trainees.

“The roleplay in VIKING 08 concerns, among other things, a prison establishment which allows access to no-one. Since the Red Cross has the right to visit prisoners of war in both international and internal armed conflicts, we have received an enquiry about a possible visit. This is premature, however, since we do not know the status of the prisoners. The ICRC is now looking into the question of their rights and the situation there with regard to sanitation, water, medical care and the rights of the individual.”

It is well known that the Red Cross maintains the stance that it must in no way be seen to be associated with the military forces. Could you explain the reason for this?

The work of the ICRC is conducted in accordance with the principle of what is known as Neutral Independent Humanitarian Action, NIHA. The underlying purpose is to ensure access to the victims of war. That is to say those who have need of our help irrespective of where they are, whether they are behind the lines or at the front. We need to have relations with all parties, with the UN as much as with the warlords, to allow us to gain access to their civilian personnel,” says Dick Clomén.

NIHA means not taking sides in a conflict. The task of the ICRC is not to bring about peace but to help the victims of the conflict. To keep close to, but not to be associated with, military actions. Should ICRC personnel be seen as having close relations with military members of the peacekeeping forces, for example by making use of their helicopters for medical transport purposes, there is a risk that the safety of those personnel may be endangered and that they will be denied access to those they wish to help. That is why their work is covered by special negotiations and Memoranda of Understanding.

“The military may see this as ‘snobbery’ but it is really just pragmatism, it is our guarantee of safety,” says Dick Clomén.