November 10, 2000

Representative of Red Cross Discusses Humanitarian Aid

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Humanitarian aid saves and rehabilitates millions of war victims throughout the world. Ambassador Sylvie Junod, the representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross to the United Nations, discussed the organization’s current challenges in implementing this aid yesterday in Phillips Hall.

Formed in 1863, the ICRC is an independent organization that works to protect both civilians and wounded or captured combatants no longer taking part in the conflicts.

“We do not distinguish between the aggressor and the victim,” Junod said.

ICRC workers travel to war-torn countries to provide food and shelter, to monitor the treatment of prisoners of war, to restore families and to re-establish the victims’ self-sufficiency. Junod has distributed aid in countries such as Colombia, Sri Lanka and Somalia.

Junod emphasized the difference between the ICRC, whose goal is to alleviate people’s suffering, from political groups, which attempt to resolve conflict.

“It is difficult to draw the line [between political action and humanitarian aid],” she said. “If you can’t be neutral, you become politicized and humanitarian aid diverges from its goal.”

The organization has faced many challenges since the end of the Cold War, according to Junod. “After the Cold War … we were dreaming of universal peace,” she said. “Now, many factions, intertwining between politicals and banditry, make it harder for us to work.”

The organization’s neutrality creates problems when conflicting parties do not want aid provided to their adversaries. ICRC workers have been killed because of this, most notably in Chechnya in 1996.

“Security issues may paralyze humanitarian efforts,” she said. “There is a growing need for coordination and cooperation in the field … for security reasons and to avoid overlapping.”

Non-governmental organizations, many of which have different goals than the ICRC, have begun to provide aid to war victims, which further complicates the organization’s efforts.

The ICRC tackles its challenges by educating armed forces, academics, police forces and the media about its goals, Junod said. It also keeps an open dialogue with factions and other organizations providing aid.

“[Junod] offered a perspective on [non-governmental organizations] and military relations that I had heard nowhere else,” Jim Delaney grad said. “She said that U.S. foreign policy should get out of humanitarian efforts.”

“The most reassuring thing is that there are people who volunteer,” said Sam Anderson grad, who was interested in finding out about volunteering for the organization. “It’s wonderful to go to bed at night knowing that.”

The Cornell Institute for Public Affairs sponsored Junod’s discussion. Next Thursday at 4:30, the Institute will sponsor the ambassador of Sierra Leone’s discussion about illegal diamond trade and war.

Archived article by Stephanie Hankin