by Martina Fuchs
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President called on the global donor community to urgently step up financial contributions to avoid a coronavirus-induced budget deficit, and warned that cyber attacks are posing fresh threats to its operations and international humanitarian law.
BUDGET DEFICIT CONCERN
“Like many other humanitarian and development organizations, we are concerned when we look into the future. While needs are almost exponentially growing with COVID-19, many countries have put a lot of money in stabilizing their economy,” ICRC chief Peter Maurer told Xinhua in a recent interview.
“While this is perfectly legitimate and certainly good and reasonable to do, we are afraid that the heavy debt that many countries have accumulated will have a negative ripple effect on the readiness to contribute to humanitarian programs,” he said.
Established in 1863, the ICRC, headquartered in Geneva, acts as the guardian of international humanitarian law. Its mission is to help people affected by conflict and armed violence around the world.
“We hope that we can end the year with a minimal deficit. But at the moment I have to say that we will need a lot of support in the last months of the year in order to be able to break even,” Maurer said.
The ICRC is funded by voluntary contributions from the states party to the Geneva Conventions, national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, supranational organizations such as the European Commission, as well as public and private sources. According to its annual report, the total expenditure of its operations in 2019 reached 2 billion Swiss francs (2.19 billion U.S. dollars).
LAW UPDATE AMID NEW THREATS
Meanwhile, modern technologies have given rise to new methods and means of warfare, such as cyber attacks, raising fresh humanitarian and legal challenges.
Asked about this threat, Maurer said the ICRC was worried about indications of cyber attacks on civilian infrastructure and stressed that international humanitarian rules need to be updated.
“I do believe that either by interpretation of existing bodies of norms or through the creation of new interpreted guidelines, soft laws and other normative systems, we need to frame a legal framework for these new developments,” Maurer said.
He highlighted that the ICRC was continuously and informally consulting with states and experts on this issue, but said: “We are far away from having consensus on what exactly needs to be regulated and how this should be regulated and which the respective institutions are.”
FOCUS ON CONFLICT HOTSPOTS
Maurer said the ICRC’s main geographic focus areas did not change due to COVID-19: “A big part of our work remains in Africa, in the Sahel, Lake Chad, in Sudan, in Somalia and other parts of Africa, in the Middle East, and of course globally in some of the most affected countries by war and violence.”
However, Maurer said that some of the programs and activities were prioritized and scaled up in a bid to better respond to the challenges of the pandemic.
“COVID has brought a reprioritization of water, sanitation and health programs. We have heavily prioritized our work on detention facilities because we know that pandemics do not stop in front of prison doors,” Maurer said.
In 2019, the ICRC was present in more than 100 countries through delegations, sub-delegations, offices and missions. Around 18,800 staff members worked in the field and at the ICRC headquarters.