At 150, Red Cross is as relevant as ever: president

Updated 11 February 2013
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At 150, Red Cross is as relevant as ever: president

GENEVA: As the International Committee of the Red Cross prepares to turn 150, it is as relevant as ever and rapidly adapting to the conflicts of the 21st century, its president told AFP in an interview.
“150 years of history show that ICRC is needed today more than ever,” Peter Maurer told AFP at his office at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva ahead of anniversary celebrations on February 17.
Flanked by four framed Nobel Peace Prize diplomas — three won by the organization itself in 1917, 1944 and 1963 and one by one of its founders Henry Dunant, who was honored the first time the prize was awarded in 1901 — he described how the ICRC had grown over the years from a small group of philanthropic volunteers to an operation counting 12,000 employees with a $1.2-billion budget.
“My conclusion is that if the ICRC is getting bigger and bigger ... this is because there are incontestable needs to address,” Maurer said. “Conflicts have not become less damaging for civilian populations or for soldiers.”
Maurer is a career diplomat who took over the reins last July. Like all ICRC presidents, he is Swiss.
The organization’s cardinal role, he said, was in developing the concept of international humanitarian law as detailed in the Geneva Conventions.
The organization has through the years not only “tried its best to protect populations and care for soldiers in the battle fields, but has also been responsible for developing laws, and inspiring diplomats and states’ policies to create the legal framework necessary to ensure a minimum of respect for humanity in wars, armed conflicts and battles,” he said.
After decades of watching nation states clash, the ICRC increasingly finds itself confronted with a new breed of armed conflicts involving independent armed groups, Maurer said.
In facing this challenge, the organization is relying on the values that helped build its reputation more than a century ago.
“The philosophy and the methods the ICRC developed for dealing with nation states are also valid for the non-state groups that we are seeing today.
“There are no alternatives to discussion and constant engagement when it comes to convincing them to respect laws, the rules of conduct (during armed conflict), to distinguish between military personnel and civilians, and rules of conduct for how to treat prisoners,” he said.
Never resorting to military means is an important secret to the ICRC’s success, Maurer said. “We are a humanitarian organization. we do not protect ourselves with weapons,” he argued.
“Our strength, is our conviction,” he said.
“It is being on the ground, near the conflicts, knowing the different actors, being aware of the population’s suffering and responding to the population’s needs.
“And it is about engaging with the arms-bearers to get them to respect a minimum” of humanitarian law, he added.
“That is the essence of what we are doing in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Somalia, and in (the Democratic Republic of) Congo.”
The Swiss diplomat described how his organization today was working to bring relief to populations hit by around a dozen large-scale conflicts.
While the conflicts most in the media spotlight, such as the civil wars in Syria and Mali, are dreadful and serious, he stressed that worse conflicts in terms of human suffering are going on under the radar.
“If I would make a calculation of people in dire need of aid, I would certainly put first on the front page the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Somalia, in Yemen, in Afghanistan and in the Sahel,” Maurer said.
Unlike the United Nations agencies, the ICRC’s donors give it full freedom to distribute the aid it provides where it believes it is most needed, regardless of where the television cameras are, he said.
ICRC donors “don’t force us to use the contributions in specific situations, but allow us to evaluate the needs and channel the humanitarian aid accordingly,” Maurer said.
The organization had “an important role to constantly remind the international community (of) where the objective needs are,” he added.
Despite its “distinct mandate and way of doing things,” the ICRC acknowledges that in the face of growing needs, it will need to cooperate more going forward with the national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, as well as with the UN agencies and other large non-governmental organizations.
“Balancing distinction and cooperation is a big challenge,” Maurer said.


UK slams Russian pranksters over Boris Johnson ‘Armenia’ call

Updated 24 May 2018
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UK slams Russian pranksters over Boris Johnson ‘Armenia’ call

LONDON: Britain’s Foreign Office on Thursday criticized “childish” Russian pranksters who phoned Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson posing as the leader of Armenia.
The Guardian newspaper said that Johnson was called by Alexei Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov, known as Lexus and Vovan.
One pretended to be new Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, and the newspaper said that Johnson spoke to them for 18 minutes, discussing topics including the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal.
A recording of the call, said to have taken place last week, was posted on YouTube.
In the recording, Johnson says Britain is “almost 100 percent sure” President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin ordered the attack on Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Moscow denies involvement in the incident, which has sparked a crisis in UK-Russia relations.
Johnson is also heard lamenting the poor state of UK relations with Russia, saying Moscow seems “unable to resist malign activity of one kind or another.”
The Foreign Office said Johnson “realized it was a hoax, and ended the call. We checked it out and knew immediately it was a prank call.”
“The use of chemical weapons in Salisbury and Syria and recent events in Armenia are serious matters,” it said in a statement. “These childish actions show the lack of seriousness of the caller and those behind him.”
Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said “obviously this shouldn’t have happened,” and announced there would be a government investigation into how the hoaxers got through to Johnson.
Britain suspects the comedy duo have backing from the Kremlin.
Stolyarov and Kuznetsov, who have fooled high-profile victims around the world, have denied links to Russia’s security services. In 2015, they phoned Elton John pretending to be Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had criticized the leader.