Frankly Speaking: inteview with Fabrizio Carboni, Regional director for Near and Middle East of ICRC

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Updated 28 May 2024
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Frankly Speaking: inteview with Fabrizio Carboni, Regional director for Near and Middle East of ICRC

Frankly Speaking: inteview with Fabrizio Carboni, Regional director for Near and Middle East of ICRC
  • Regional director for Near and Middle East of the International Committee of the Red Cross says the law of armed conflict makes sense if its violators are prosecuted
  • Fabrizio Carboni discusses ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrant against Israeli’s Netanyahu and Gallant, ICRC efforts to resolve other regional conflicts

DUBAI: On May 20, the International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan applied to the court for arrest warrants to be issued against senior Hamas commanders and for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, one of whose key functions is to call on all parties in a conflict to uphold international humanitarian law, is in favor of prosecutions in cases where individuals have violated the laws of armed conflict.

Fabrizio Carboni, the ICRC’s regional director for Near and Middle East, made the above point clear during an appearance on “Frankly Speaking,” the Arab News current affairs program.




Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC regional director for Near and Middle East, spoke to Frankly Speaking host Katie Jensen. (AN photo)
 

“Usually we don’t comment on judiciary matters, especially if they’re related to a conflict where we have a very strong presence and where our staff is present,” he said.

“As a matter of principle, as the ICRC, obviously we believe that the law of armed conflict makes sense if you prosecute the people who violate it.

“And so we obviously, beyond the conflict in Gaza, beyond any specific case, we support prosecution.”

He added: “We support national prosecution first, and then international one if the national prosecution doesn’t comply. Now in this case of the ICC, our position is not to comment. We observe.”

In the wide-ranging interview, Carboni expressed anger at the trauma being experienced by Palestinian ICRC staff in Gaza, and explained among other things the impact of the Gaza war on other regional conflicts and the ICRC’s ongoing role in resolving them.




Palestinian Red Crescent personnel check an ambulance destroyed during Israeli strike in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip, on January 10, 2024. Four medics and two other people were reported killed inside the vehicle. (AFP/File)

No matter how big the imbalance of strength between Israel and Hamas, the international humanitarian law applies to both sides, Carboni he told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking.”

“There is no hierarchy in this. Parties to a conflict, state or non-state armed group, have obligations. And when we think about this humanitarian obligation, it’s basic. It’s the minimum.

“These are not very complex and sophisticated rules — just asking for the civilian population to be spared, just asking for civilians when they are displaced to receive basic assistance, to have access to essential services. It’s really basic humanity.”

Hamas broke international humanitarian law on Oct. 7 when its fighters kidnapped and killed civilians in southern Israel. Since then, Israel has been facing the bulk of the same accusation.




The relatives of Naor Hassisim, a victim of the Oct. 7, 2023, Kibbutz Kfar Aza attack by Hamas militants, grieve over his body during his funeral at a cemetery, in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod on October 16, 2023. (AFP/File)

Despite the best efforts of the ICRC to compel Israel and Hamas to abide by the rules of war, it suspects both sides are still violating them. Carboni put this down to what he calls “survival narrative.”

“Something we don’t often mention is emotions and the fact that all parties in this conflict have a narrative of survival,” he said.

“I’m not commenting. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. I’m just seeing this. And when I engage all parties to this conflict, there is a survival narrative.”

In November last year, Israel and Hamas agreed to a humanitarian pause in the fighting, which permitted an exchange of prisoners and hostages and allowed aid agencies to get urgently needed supplies into Gaza to help civilians.




In this combination image, a convoy of Red Cross vehicles carrying Israelis taken hostage (left frame) by Hamas militants arrive at the Rafah crossing in the southern Gaza Strip on November 30, 2023, as part of a prisoner swap with Palestinian prisoners. On the right frame shows a Red Cross bus and delegation arriving outside the Israeli Ofer military prison near Ramallah to fetch Palestinian prisoners covered by the deal. (AFP photos)

Fighting soon resumed, however, and attempts by interlocutors since at securing a permanent ceasefire have failed.

If given the opportunity of another humanitarian pause, Carboni is confident the ICRC can make a significant difference to the lives of Palestinians trapped in Gaza and the hostages still held by Hamas.

“We could make a difference for the Palestinian people, because you might have assistance increase significantly during this pause,” he said. “We could have access to many areas safely and assist more Palestinian people.

“At the very same time, we could get hostages released. We could get detainees on the Palestinian side released by Israel. And this represents a form of hope.”

Part of the ICRC’s remit is to intercede in hostage negotiations. Carboni said the families of the hostages still held in Gaza are in a “permanent state of torture.” “Unfortunately, we know very little about the fate of the people who were taken hostage,” he said.




A child looks on as a Palestinian woman holds the shrouded body of a baby killed in Israeli bombardment at a health clinic in Rafah on May 26, 2024. (AFP)

“It’s part of this political, military environment where you negotiate everything, even things which shouldn’t be negotiated, such as the release of hostages, because (the taking) of hostages is totally prohibited.

“You can only imagine the condition of the hostages. You imagine the fighting, you imagine the bombing, you see the situation in Gaza, and you can imagine what the hostages are going through.

“And also a word on the families. When you’re a member of a family of a hostage or just a person missing, you don’t know, is he alive, is she alive, dead or not? Is she in good health, not in good health? And this situation for the families is a permanent state of torture.

“And I really feel this pain with the families of the hostages. Any family, being Palestinian or Israeli, who doesn’t know where his or her loved one is. And that’s why, as ICRC, we try to push as much as we can to find an answer, to release the hostages now.”

Carboni revealed that a couple of weeks ago, there was hope during two or three days for a ceasefire and release of hostages. “We really thought, a lot of people thought, that we would get there,” he said.

“And then suddenly it all collapsed. And I can tell you that the psychological impact of this failure on the civilian population in Gaza, on the families of the hostages, is devastating.”




People demonstrate in Tel Aviv on November 9, 2023, calling upon the International Committee of the Red Cross to take action for the release of hostages abducted by Palestinian militants on October 7. (AFP)

Meanwhile, according to him, humanitarians are running out of words to describe the misery that the Palestinian people are enduring in Gaza under Israel’s offensive. He underscored the urgency of de-escalation in Gaza, where Israel has been fighting the Palestinian militant group Hamas since Oct. 7 last year.

“There is an urgent need to de-escalate the level of violence,” he said. “What we see today in Gaza is unbearable.

“The civilian population, the Palestinian population, is going through a round of misery, which I have difficulty to even describe, because after seven months, eight months, I have the impression we used pretty much all the possible words to describe what they’re going through.

“I’m really concerned, because we don’t have words anymore. I’m afraid that at one stage, the situation of the Palestinian people in Gaza and including the hostages won’t be news anymore, because we are turning in circles, because we don’t see an improvement, because we see no end to this misery.”

Carboni added: “Every time I think about Gaza, I’m thinking about my Palestinian colleagues who are trapped in Gaza. “I’m thinking about their children, I’m thinking about their family, I’m thinking about the fact that they’ve been moved again.

 

 

“Most of them were coming from Gaza City. Then they moved to Khan Younis. Then they moved to Rafah. Now they are moving again. And I’m thinking about them.

“I’m thinking about, on the one hand, their courage, and on the other hand, this feeling of not being able to help them, not being able to alleviate their distress, their anxiety, their frustration.

“As a father, as a parent, I also connect with my colleagues who have children. It’s now, what, six, seven months that those children are living on a battlefield? Because Gaza is a very special situation. You’re permanently on the battlefield.

“You have children who, every day, are hearing bombs. Who’ve seen people being killed, wounded, children seeing their parents helpless.

“So, when I think about Gaza, I think about ICRC’s Palestinian staff, and it gives me the energy, humbles me, and at the same time makes me angry, because I don’t think my colleagues need to go through this.”




Palestinians inspect the destruction following overnight Israeli strikes on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 6, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)3

Asked whether he thought the worst is now over or if there was still potential for a wider regional conflagration emanating from Gaza, Carboni said the spillover has already occurred, raising fears of an unintended escalation.

“It’s not that we have to fear a regional conflict happening — it’s happening while we’re talking,” he said. “We have the fighting in Lebanon. We had this night where we had missiles and drones launched from Iran on Israel. The regional conflict is happening.”

Beyond its role as a humanitarian aid agency, Carboni said ICRC plays a critical role in conflict resolution, in the hope that “diplomacy will prevail, politics will prevail, and not the use of force.”

However, the violence in Gaza has had a detrimental effect on conflicts elsewhere in the region, including in Yemen, where the Iran-backed Houthi militia has been locked in battle with the UN-recognized Yemeni government since 2014.

Since the outbreak of fighting in Gaza, the Houthi militia has mounted attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, ostensibly in solidarity with Palestinians, prompting retaliatory strikes by the US and UK.

As a result, the ceasefire between the Houthis and the Yemeni government, which expired in October 2022 but has remained largely intact, has been cast into doubt. Carboni said a prisoner exchange deal could get the stalled process back on track.

“The crisis in Gaza shook all the conflicts in the region,” he said. “I see the authorities in Riyadh trying to nevertheless push for this permanent ceasefire and tomorrow a peace agreement. One of the measures which would facilitate, which would build confidence, is to continue the release of detainees.”
 

 


Russian attack on Ukraine’s Kharkiv kills two: rescuers

Russian attack on Ukraine’s Kharkiv kills two: rescuers
Updated 23 June 2024
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Russian attack on Ukraine’s Kharkiv kills two: rescuers

Russian attack on Ukraine’s Kharkiv kills two: rescuers

KYIV: A Russian strike on a residential building in Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv killed two people and injured more than 50, rescuers said on Sunday, revising down a previous death toll.
Russia has stepped up attacks in the northeastern Kharkiv region after launching a new offensive there last month, seeking to break a largely static front line as the invasion grinds through its third year.
A five-story residential building was damaged when guided bombs hit Kharkiv city on Saturday, Ukrainian officials said, with the state emergency service announcing the completion of rescue work by Sunday morning.
“As a result of this aerial bomb strike, 2 people have been killed and 53 others were injured, including 3 children,” it wrote on Telegram.
President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday had announced three deaths and condemned Russia’s “calculated terror.”
An engineer wounded in a Russian strike on an energy facility in the southern Zaporizhzhia region died in hospital, regional governor Ivan Fedorov said on Sunday.

Meanwhile, one person was killed and three wounded after Ukrainian drones attacked the Russian town of Graivoron in the Belgorod region, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Sunday on the Telegram messaging app.


Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50

Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50
Updated 23 June 2024
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Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50

Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50
  • Locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, killing 37 within hours after they drank the illegal alcohol
  • Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally

BENGALURU, India: The death toll from a batch of toxic illegal alcohol in India has risen to 53, media reported Sunday, as more victims in hospital succumbed to the poisonous brew.
Tamil Nadu state Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has said the locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, killing 37 within hours after they drank the illegal alcohol on Tuesday.
More than 100 people were rushed to hospital, but some were too sick for medics to save.
Hundreds of people die every year in India from cheap alcohol made in backstreet distilleries, but this poisoning is one of the worst in recent years.
To increase its potency, the liquor is often spiked with methanol which can cause blindness, liver damage and death.
The Indian Express newspaper on Sunday quoted a local councilor, Palraj, describing how poor laborers in Kallakurichi district regularly bought the liquor in plastic bags costing 60 rupees ($0.70), which they would drink before work.
Some went blind and were rushed to hospital.
Others died rapidly, collapsing in the street.
“The men work just to drink, and the women run the family,” motorized rickshaw driver Shankar, who lives on a street where 23 people died, told the Indian Express.
M.S. Prasanth, the top government official in the state’s Kallakurichi district, said “53 people have passed away,” according to the latest figures on Saturday, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Other Indian media on Sunday put the toll as high as 55, but there was no immediate official confirmation.
Prasanth said that seven people had been arrested in connection with the “spurious liquor tragedy,” PTI added.
Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally.
The Indian Express also spoke to Kolanji, a domestic helper whose husband died on Thursday after drinking a packet of the tainted brew.
She said people drank the moonshine “because they cannot afford” alcohol from the government-run shops.
“They start buying packets early in the morning,” she said.
Selling and consuming liquor is prohibited in several other parts of India, further driving the thriving black market for potent and sometimes lethal backstreet moonshine.
Last year, poisonous alcohol killed at least 27 people in one sitting in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, while in 2022, at least 42 people died in Gujarat.


Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons

Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons
Updated 23 June 2024
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Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons

Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons
  • Russia’s 2020 nuclear doctrine sets out when its president would consider using a nuclear weapon

Moscow may change the timing for use of its nuclear weapons if threats against Russia increase, the RIA state news agency cited Andrei Kartapolov, the head of the Russian lower house’s defense committee, as saying on Sunday.
The former general’s comments follow recent warnings by President Vladimir Putin that Moscow may change its nuclear doctrine, which lays out the conditions in which such weapons could be used.
“If we see that the challenges and threats increase, it means that we can correct something in (the doctrine) regarding the timing of the use of nuclear weapons and the decision to make this use,” the agency quoted Kartapolov as saying.
“But of course, it’s too early to talk about specifics now.”
Russia’s 2020 nuclear doctrine sets out when its president would consider using a nuclear weapon: broadly as a response to an attack using nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, or conventional weapons “when the very existence of the state is put under threat.”
Putin has also said Russia could test a nuclear weapon, if necessary, though he saw no need to do so at the present time.
The heightened rhetoric on nuclear weapons comes as both Russian and US diplomats say that Russia’s war in Ukraine, launched against its smaller neighbor in 2022, is in the most dangerous phase yet.


Philippines not in business of instigating wars, says President Marcos

Philippines not in business of instigating wars, says President Marcos
Updated 23 June 2024
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Philippines not in business of instigating wars, says President Marcos

Philippines not in business of instigating wars, says President Marcos
  • Philippine navy personnel and the Chinese coast guard had their latest clash last week in the disputed waterway
  • China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual shipborne commerce

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Sunday his country is not in the business of instigating wars and will always aim to settle disputes peacefully, amid escalating maritime confrontations with China.
“In defending the nation, we stay true to our Filipino nature that we would like to settle all these issues peacefully,” Marcos said in a speech to troops of the Western Command unit in charge of overseeing the South China Sea.
Philippine navy personnel and the Chinese coast guard had their latest clash last week in the disputed waterway, where the Philippine military said a Filipino sailor was severely injured and its vessels damaged.
“In the performance of our duties, we will not resort to the use of force or intimidation, or deliberately inflict injury or harm to anyone,” Marcos said.
He did not name China in his speech.
Beijing’s actions during a routine Philippine resupply mission have been condemned by the United States, Britain and Canada.
China’s foreign ministry disputed the Philippine account, with a spokesperson saying on Thursday that the necessary measures taken were lawful, professional and beyond reproach.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual shipborne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said China’s claims had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.


Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers
Updated 23 June 2024
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Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers
  • Swiss court dismissed charges of human trafficking against tycoon Prakash Hinduja, wife, son and daughter-in-law 
  • Forbes magazine has put Hinduja family’s net worth at some $20 billion, family set up residence in Switzerland in 1980s

GENEVA: An Indian-born billionaire and three family members were sentenced to prison on Friday for exploiting domestic workers at their lakeside villa in Switzerland by seizing their passports, barring them from going out and making them work up to 18 hours a day.
A Swiss court dismissed more serious charges of human trafficking against 79-year-old tycoon Prakash Hinduja; his wife, Kamal; son Ajay and daughter-in-law Namrata on the grounds that the workers understood what they were getting into, at least in part. The four received between four and 4 1/2 years in prison.
The workers were mostly illiterate Indians who were paid not in Swiss francs but in Indian rupees, deposited in banks back home that they couldn’t access.
Lawyers representing the defendants said they would appeal.
Robert Assael, a lawyer for Kamal Hinduja, said he was “relieved” that the court threw out the trafficking charges but called the sentence excessive.
“The health of our clients is very poor, they are elderly people,” he said, explaining why the family was not in court. He said Hinduja’s 75-year-old wife was in intensive care and the family was with her.
A fifth defendant — Najib Ziazi, the family’s business manager — received an 18-month suspended sentence.
Last week, it emerged in court that the family had reached an undisclosed settlement with the plaintiffs. Swiss authorities have seized diamonds, rubies, a platinum necklace and other jewelry and assets in anticipation that they could be used to pay for legal fees and possible penalties.
Along with three brothers, Prakash Hinduja leads an industrial conglomerate in sectors including information technology, media, power, real estate and health care. Forbes magazine has put the Hinduja family’s net worth at some $20 billion.
The family set up residence in Switzerland in the 1980s, and Hinduja was convicted in 2007 on similar charges. A separate tax case brought by Swiss authorities is pending against Hinduja, who obtained Swiss citizenship in 2000.
In this case, the court said the four were guilty of exploiting the workers and providing unauthorized employment, giving meager if any health benefits and paying wages that were less than one-tenth the pay for such jobs in Switzerland.
Prosecutors said workers described a “climate of fear” instituted by Kamal Hinduja. They were forced to work with little or no vacation time, and worked even later hours for receptions. They slept in the basement, sometimes on a mattress on the floor.