Many of you may have seen news headlines over the weekend stating the Red Cross will receive names and locations of detainees being held in transitional camps in Afghanistan and Iraq from the U.S. government. What you may not have realized is the Red Cross referred to in the news articles is not the American Red Cross; it is the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – a neutral organization mandated by the Geneva Conventions to visit people detained in relation to conflict around the world. Their job is not to judge the people and governments involved, but to ensure the detainees are treated humanely and according to international humanitarian law.
From reading these stories, you may have also noticed that the ICRC has declined to comment on these specific reports. The ICRC firmly believes that confidentiality between it, governments and detainees is an essential tool that allows it to build trust, open channels of communication and influence change worldwide. By consistently maintaining this approach, the ICRC was able to visit more than 500,000 detainees in than 80 countries in 2008. Included in this figure, the ICRC visited with people captured in the fight against terrorism and held at U.S. detention facilities in Bagram, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Over the years, there has been intensive dialogue between the ICRC and the United States on this issue. The ICRC welcomes the various detention-related decisions taken by the U.S. government that President Obama formalized on January 22. They see these orders as an opportunity for a thorough review of the status of all detainees and of the conditions and procedures related to their detention.
If you’re interested in learning more about the ICRC, you can read about it’s role related to U.S. detention and how international humanitarian law applies to the fight against terrorism on its Web site. You can also enroll in an International Humanitarian Law workshop offered by American Red Cross chapters. That’s our role – to educate people in the United States about the Geneva Conventions. You may recall the American Red Cross recently hosted a petition via Facebook Causes advocating for this training to be included in high school settings.