Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The ICRC under more US pressure

The Wall Street Journal editorial page notes today, June 15, 2005, a new report by a Republican congressional group calling for annual scrutiny by the State Department, Defense Department, and others, of the ICRC and its performance with respect to neutrality, adherence to its mandate and agreements with the US, etc. I do favor this kind of annual report, although I do not favor - and have said here repeatedly - at this point threatening to cut US donations to the ICRC. Too many people in humanitarian emergencies depend on that aid and the ICRC as the vehicle to deliver it. I think there are ways to put real pressure on the ICRC - and I favor real pressure on the ICRC - without threatening, at least at this point, its core humanitarian relief funding.

(Update, Friday, June 17, 2005: The text of the Republican Policy Committee report can be found here.)

(Update, Saturday, June 18, 2005: The president of the ICRC, Jakob Kellenberger, responds to the RPC report, in this AFP story, here. With respect to charges that the ICRC leaked reports to the press and that it compared US detention facilities to the Nazi camps, Kellenberger issued a denial:

"Contrary to what is stated in the document, the ICRC has never compared US soldiers to the Nazis and the ICRC has never leaked to the public or the media any of the confidential reports submitted to the US authorities."

I myself do not actually believe this. The evidence that the ICRC person visiting the US detention facility used such language seemed to me prima facie persuasive back when it was first reported, and an ICRC spokesperson at the time acknowledged that the staff person had been replaced. The ICRC being the legalistic organization that it is - well, it can be Clintonesque in its use of language, and I would prefer to hear Kellenberger say flatly that not merely the "ICRC," but no member of its staff, past or present, etc., etc. As for the issue of leaks, I know that the ICRC continues to say that the leaks came from people in the US government itself and the ICRC was merely questioned about them afterwards - that, too, seems to me an unlikely factual account.

More generally, I continue to hold the view that the US should bifurcate its disputes with the ICRC on detainees and the war on terror from its funding of the ICRC for humanitarian purposes. There are ways to put pressure on the ICRC without threatening its humanitarian relief funding, and the US should be using them, aggressively, yet without threatening core funding. Among these should be demands that the ICRC quit framing its analysis in terms of 1977 Additional Protocol I, as the United States has never accepted it as a treaty and does not accept the ICRC's view that it as a whole has become customary law. The United States should also take the opportunity to reject as binding on the United States the view of customary law found in the new ICRC study, just published, and which is even more expansive in many ways than Protocol I - the ICRC will gradually start pushing the view that the study is an accurate statement of customary law, although the US has never agreed to that view, and then announcing in its reports and statements to the press yet another set of (tendentious) ways in which the United States is supposedly in violation of international law.

Kellenberger also says a number of striking things about the nature of humanitarian neutrality. These I am still digesting - I am not sure if it represents a shift in ICRC thinking about humanitarian neutrality or not. Or whether it merely reflects Kellenberger looking for rhetorical ways to defend his organization, without saying anything genuinely interesting about its views on neutrality. I have long been interested in the concept of humanitarian neutrality, and am looking to extend the discussion I began in an article about UN and ICRC humanitarian neutrality and inviolability in this Harvard Human Rights Journal article, at SSRN here.)

(Update, Saturday, June 18, 2005. The Wall Street Journal editorial page said this, on Saturday, June 18, 2005 (although it appeared in the print newspaper a few days ago):

The Red Cross and Congress: The ICRC's propaganda campaign against America.

Saturday, June 18, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT

The International Committee of the Red Cross gets special access to prisons around the world as the neutral observer body designated by the Geneva Conventions. But for more than three years now the ICRC has abused that position of trust to wage an unprecedented propaganda war against the United States.

Leaked ICRC reports have described conditions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as "tantamount to torture" because indefinite detention is stressful. And just last month the ICRC's Washington office broke its confidentiality agreement with the U.S. government to fan the flames created by Newsweek's false Quran-abuse story.

Fortunately, Capitol Hill is starting to notice. A study released Monday by the Senate Republican Policy Committee says the ICRC has "lost its way," and suggests annual reviews be conducted by the State, Defense, and Justice Departments to certify that the organization truly adheres to its stated principles of "neutrality, impartiality and humanity."

In particular, the study raps the ICRC for its efforts to "afford terrorists and insurgents the same rights and privileges as [uniformed] military personnel" by misleadingly pretending that a radical document called Protocol 1 is settled international law. This causes the ICRC to "inaccurately and unfairly accuse the U.S. of not adhering to the Geneva Conventions."

U.S. taxpayers are the largest contributors to the ICRC's budget ($233 million, or 26%, in 2003). They have a right to expect an honest interpretation of the Geneva Conventions for that money, not more leaked reports that will be spun to give aid and comfort to al Qaeda.

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