Peter Maurer is President of the International Committee of the Red Cross he spoke to euronews reporter, Chris Cummins, about the changing nature of conflict and the challenges of negotiating humanitarian space in hostile environments.
Chris Cummins:“Peter Maurer President of the International Committee of the Red Cross thank you for joining us on euronews. As a humanitarian when you look back at 2015 what do you see?”
I see more conflicts, deeper conflicts, more impactful conflicts on populations, on systems, on health systems, water systems, sanitation systems.
I see more regional impacts of conflict, the Syrian crisis is not really the Syrian crisis, but it’s the Middle East in crisis. The crisis in the north of Nigeria is the Lake Chad crisis. The crisis in Somalia is the Horn of Africa crisis, so I think, not surprisingly, we see the impact of those crises, which are massive displacements, not seen to this extent since the Second World War.
Chris Cummins: “A feature of this new violence, this fog of war, which is ostensibly is getting thicker, is multiple protagonists carrying out unspeakable acts of violence. How does that impact on the work of the ICRC
Peter Maurer: “The immediate consequence is what we call the humanitarian space is increasingly threatened, its much more complex to negotiate with 100 armed groups than it is to negotiate with two well structured armies.
Even if unspeakable violence and violations are not reserved to the 100 armed groups. It may also happen in the context of a structured army, but this is a new context in which the humanitarian space is more difficult to negotiate.
Also we have difficulties sometimes understanding the functioning of those whom we meet in the field, who belongs to whom, where is the chain of command, so when you are dependent on those arms bearers, you are particularly sensitive on those issues.”
Chirs Cummins:“It puts huge pressure on your volunteers though, to work under circumstances like that unpredictable, unclear and very dangerous?”
Peter Maurer : “It’s an interesting question it also illustrates how ICRC as a professional organsation, together with the volunteers of the national societies, have to find a new form of interaction. We have to invest more into training, we have to invest more into reading the landscape, we have to connect the dots.
What is happening in Syria may have an immediate impact on our reading of the situation in Northern Mali, what happens in Northern Mali may have an impact on our understanding in Yemen or Afghanistan.’‘
Chris Cummins: ‘‘This is all going on where there are statutes and conventions in place, international humanitarian law, which is in some cases being blatantly disregarded. How can you function as an organisation within that framework, where the conventions that you adhere to are not being adhered to by other participants?”
Peter Maurer: “Well our methodology for quite some time has been that we need to be present, as close as possible to where the action is and as close as possible to actors, perpetrators of violence and well as victims.
If you are close to the ground, close to the reality you have the ability to start engaging with victims and perpetrators and you start to create new dynamics, you start to understand the environment and you can sometimes crack, find the crack in the wall.
The understanding of the importance of the norm, you can start to generate understanding with the armed groups, that they cannot just behave as they wish, they have people around them for who they are responsible and you can encourage people to stand up for healthy values. You can try to find influencers the longer you are in a context, you can talk to religious leaders, you can talk to again, the more amenable parts of those organisations, you can talk to community leaders, you can talk to elders, you start to read the landscape and it is the experience of the ICRC that the longer we are in a conflict, as complicated as it may be, the better we do in terms of humanitarian space and in terms of security.
Chris Cummins:“How does the destruction of infrastructure impact on communities?”
Peter Maurer: “Violence destroys delivery systems, we are not in a situation anymore today, with the complexities of urban violence, where you can have violence in one neighbourhood, which would not have had an impact on either another service or another neighbourhood.
The water system, the electricity systems, the social systems, the health systems in a city are deeply interconnected if there is no water, no electricity the hospitals are not working, people are dieing, what I have seen in Sana’a, Yemen when I visited if there is no electricity, if there is no fuel, no generators, no electicity…people are just piling up in the morgues.”
Chris Cummins:“2016, how do you see that going?”
Peter Maurer: ‘‘Unfortunately I must say I don’t see much change. I don’t see the sea change in what we have witnessed for quite some time. A lack of political solutions in some of the most critical conflicts of the world, lingering conflicts, intensifying conflicts and even in those conflicts where political solutions are starting to build up like in Syria. The announcement of the peace talks over Yemen, which will start soon in Geneva, you often see an intensification of warfare because the parties want to improve their position at the negotiating table.”
Chris Cummins:“It’s an apocalyptic scenario which is developing once we see hundreds of thousands of people on the move that is an indication of a dreadful scenario building.”
Peter Maurer: “Well it certainly has the potential for an even more serious situation with which we are coping. I have to say when I look at the overall picture, as mind boggling as the figures on displacement and needs are, I’m also encouraged to see what we are able to do. So with all the fears of an apocalyptic scenario you see the counter balance of societies opposing and wanting to escape this scenario and this is a great encouragement as well.
Chris Cummins: “Well I wish you well with your work.