Where Would We Be Without the Red Cross/Crescent and Amnesty International, et al?In Praise of International Watchdogs [Archives:2004/752/Opinion]

July 5 2004

Hassan Al-Haifi
While in Malaysia, I was fortunate to make the acquaintance of Mr. Frances Amar, the Head of the Regional Delegation of the International Committee for the Red Cross – Red Crescent Societies (ICRC). Mr. Amar was somewhat pleased that I was able to praise the ICRC for some of their commendable work, while recalling that the ICRC was the first international non-governmental organization to make its presence felt. The historical background pleased Mr. Amar even more, and he said very few people tend to have any inclination of what the Red Cross and their partners the Red Crescent are really doing in this world.
Originally the ICRC started as a sort of medical assistance group in times of warfare in the middle of the 19th Century. More specifically, its founder Henry Dunant, a Swiss businessman passed through a battle ground area in Solferino, Northern Italy, where the French and the Austrians had battled it out for 16 hours. There were some 40,000 dead and wounded and no one was looking after them at all. Organizing some local people together, he started the first non-governmental work in tending to war wounded. That was in 1859. Upon returning home, Mr. Dunant sought to make this emergency relief effort an institutionalized assistance to wounded and out of this effort was born the International Committee for Relief of the Wounded, which later changed to the International Committee for the Red Cross, and eventually merged with Red Crescent societies to make the International Red Crescent and Red Cross Movements an international body with member societies from 180 countries.
Similarly Amnesty International contacted this observer to call about wanting to assist in releasing the Friday mosque sermon givers that were arrested as reported in the Yemen Times. I was very pleased by the concern that AI speedily showed for what could have been an unnecessary violation of civil rights, notwithstanding the opinions of the speakers. Fortunately, however, the President of the Republic, Ali Abdullah Saleh beat AI to their humanitarian concerns and wisely ordered the release of all the sermon givers. I advised the AI representative accordingly and thanked AI for their quick response to an obvious need to correct an improper civil rights infraction.
The point to be made here is that organizations like the Red Cross, Red Crescent, Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and so many others have become so much apart of our world and yet we really take them for granted and never take the time to learn about the important work that such organizations undertake – and all for the general enhancement of the welfare of people throughout the world, not to mention the cushioning of the demises caused by politicians, who speedily rush into war with other nations or get carried away with the power at their disposal and unnecessarily repress their fellow citizens. Unquestionably, the world would be quite different today, had it not been for the advocacy work of these organizations in the international arena, in which they work diligently to set up the appropriate legislative and legal frameworks that would make it illegal internationally to bring unnecessary pain and repression. Surely, the International Declaration of Human Rights and the Prisoner of War Conventions and other treaties and conventions that are important elements in bringing civil behavior on the international theater.
One should not also forget that the ICRC had long ago brought to the attention of the American authorities their excessive unbearable treatment of Iraqi prisoners, and it is with regrets that the officials of the United States did not take not of the ICRC efforts to correct this. It is still not clear if the corrections have been made and whether the guilty will be punished at all levels of authority and execution. Nevertheless, it is understandable that the ICRC could not disclose to the public its earlier findings on what was happening in Abu Ghraib and other prisons in Iraq, and it surely reflects on the improper contempt shown by the American officials, to the highest relevant level of authorities, who were availed the Red Cross reports as early as late last year.
On another note, most of the developing countries of the world will be wise to take heed of AI and other human rights watchdog organizations, as they seek to develop governance in their country to civilized acceptable levels. In the end the benefit will be to the respective regimes, because they have responded positively to the warnings of human rights watchdogs of a respectable standing in the international community and have indeed sought to uplift the political rights that their constitutions call for, and may have even thwarted the need of opposition to regimes that may arise because the regime was less responsive to such warnings.