The Dilemma of Neutrality in Humanitarian Assistance

March 11, 2011 | 10:00 am - 11:00 am
US Capitol Building

March 11, 2011 — Martin de Boer joined us for a discussion on the challenges faced by humanitarian assistance organizations to remain neutral and distribute aid affectively during armed conflict.  Mr. de Boer is the Deputy Head of Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Regional Delegation for the US and Canada. Previously, Martin managed the ICRC's humanitarian operations in the Eastern region of Sri Lanka. Prior to Sri Lanka, Martin headed the ICRC's humanitarian operations and detention activities in Eastern Afghanistan from Jalalabad.

Mr. de Boer began by outlining key areas that can create ambivalence within the ICRC's mission of providing humanitarian aid in conflict areas.  Mr. de Boer explained that the ICRC's position of neutrality was based in principles found within the Geneva Convention and that the ICRC's goal was to "assist and protect" in conflicts.  Mr. de Boer quashed the myth that the ICRC was naïve in believing that neutrality was possible in conflict.  He explained that the ICRC gives constant thought to the perils of its mission, but that the organization sees international conflict as a given and it must respond.  Furthermore, neutrality is seen as a means to an end.  It allows the ICRC unprecedented access to areas and populations that are suffering the most during conflicts Because of the ICRC's refusal to take sides, the organization is able to build effective relationships with all parties to assist those in need.  While this aid is necessary it is not a solution to conflict, and there must be a political component, separate from the ICRC, to achieve peace.  As a result of its commitment to the principle of neutrality, ICRC staff  in conflict zones do not travel with armed escorts.

Security for a New Century is a bipartisan study group for Congress. We meet regularly with U.S. and international policy professionals to discuss the post-Cold War and post-9/11 security environment. All discussions are off-the-record. It is not an advocacy venue. For more information, please call Mark Yarnell at (202) 224-7560 or write to [email protected].