As Japan grapples with the dilemma of how to aid victims of conflict without appearing to take sides, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross has said his group represents a good way to insulate donor nations from risk.
“What is important is the Japanese government’s support for neutral and impartial humanitarian assistance that ICRC is able to deliver,” President Peter Maurer told The Japan Times on Thursday on a visit to Tokyo.
Maurer said he had met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and lawmakers on Tuesday and had spoken to them of the ICRC’s special status.
“I made a point that channeling support through an organization like ICRC is maybe also a good way of mitigating some of the risks of engaging yourself bilaterally,” he said.
The advice may be welcome in a nation still reeling from the executions of two Japanese by the Islamic State group. The group initially demanded $200 million in ransom, a sum set in revenge for the amount of aid Abe pledged during a Middle East tour to help countries fighting the group. Japan’s aid, however, is intended for humanitarian use.
Maurer stressed that the Switzerland-based organization has a special ability to reach people in areas of Syria and Iraq controlled by the Islamic State group.
“We are the only organization together with our partners from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in particular, with an ability to at least do some operations in those difficult areas.”
Despite arduous conditions on the ground for ICRC staff, Maurer said the organization is doing what it can.
“I have to say, ICRC is managing surprisingly well to find spaces and to help,” he said. “We have been able to send medicine to a Mosul hospital, or to repair water supply systems in Raqqa, or to feed the civilian population in Fallujah,” all which are under the extremists’ control.
Maurer said the aid community is trying to find ways to reach the Islamic State group to urge compliance with basic humanitarian law.
“I have simply to say we do not have a meaningful approach with the Islamic State group, but we do have a discussion amongst the humanitarian community whether in 5 or 10 years’ time we will have relations as we have with some armed groups in Afghanistan or in Yemen or in Mali,” he said.
Meanwhile, Maurer visited Hiroshima on Wednesday as the city prepares to mark the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing.
“Everything I heard from the survivors and what I saw in the memorial is a confirmation that looking at the humanitarian impact is a critical element on the nuclear debate,” Maurer said. “It is important that ICRC maintains this perspective and brings this unique perspective to the table.”
Maurer assumed the presidency of the ICRC in July 2012. The organization’s mission is to ensure humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of armed conflict and violence.
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