Protecting life and dignity of people
Finn Ruda is the current Head of Mission of the ICRC in Bangladesh. He is specialized in the promotion of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and has worked with all sectors including armed and security forces, Regional and Inter Governmental organizations. He spoke to Samaha M Karim of The Daily Star. The excerpts of the discussion are produced below:
Samaha M Karim (SMK): What sort of humanitarian challenges does the ICRC support?
Finn Ruda (FR): The mission of the ICRC globally is to protect the life and dignity of people who are affected by conflict, war or situations of violence. This takes many different forms. It can be assistance in terms of food and non-food items to displaced population who had to leave their homes because of a given situation. It can be visit to person detained or restoration of family links, family members had gotten away from each other either because they were refugees or they had run away from conflict. It also assists national societies like the Bangladeshi Red Crescent Society, with regards to their own functions.
SMK: How does ICRC protect human rights in Bangladesh?
FR: Bangladesh has signed and ratified, that means the parliament has adopted, the four Geneva Conventions which provides protection of civilians and protected persons against abuse by authority, security forces or police. We are trying to help Bangladesh to bring the international treaties into national law which will become standard orders for the Bangladesh police, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and the security forces in the way they conduct their operations. And also to help the Bangladeshi lawyers and judges to have instruments with which they can then prosecute or bring people to justice.
SMK: So till date has there has not been an instance when these laws were applied?
FR: It is clear that some of the Bangladeshi legislation is not up-to-date. We are trying to assist Bangladesh to bring the legislation up to the current date. For instance, the Geneva Convention Implementation Act 1936, we are trying to help the Bangladeshi Government update this act so that it meets the international standard. The law protecting the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblem in Bangladesh is also an outdated edition. The Ottawa treaty has specific requirement for national legislation.
SMK: How does the ICRC promote the humanitarian law in Bangladesh?
FR: The law is written for lawyers and it is written for governments to respect. In many ways we need to translate the text into concrete action. We stimulate trainings for universities in Bangladesh where students have to relate to the law using case studies from many different countries to see how the law functions in practice and in the form of Moot Courts.
Another way is when we support police training, we work mostly on Human Rights Law, International Human Rights Law (IHRL) in relation to professional policing which includes the rules and regulations concerning use of force and firearms, arrest and detention, interview and interrogation and who are specially protected persons and what specific systems need to be in place to ensure protection for women, minors and children. This is very practical and we have specialists on these who carry out the training sessions.
We help the armed forces with their manuals that they are in conformity with the law. We also help them in their training and exercises with scenarios to ensure that they get it correct. What weapons can be used, what ammunitions can be used and so forth.
The state has a responsibility when they ratify a treaty and ensure that it is part of the national legislation. Sometimes that is not always the case. So we help them ensure that it become part of the national legislation. We help them with the drafting of legislation, manuals etc.
SMK: What role does ICRC play in repatriation of the displaced?
FR: We combine the work we are doing with the Bangladeshi government, State, the law ministry, foreign affairs with activities that we carry out with police, security forces, with the army. For instance on August 24, 2009 ICRC supported the repatriation of 175 Bangladeshi citizens from Andaman Islands. That took place in the Jessore border and the ICRC team was there to help the Bangladeshi Red Crescent Society, with first aid support and also on the transport back. On August 23, 2009 a Bangladeshi citizen, who had been detained in Iraq, was handed over to ICRC. We provide something called the ICRC Travel Document, a service provided by the ICRC which normally only governments can provide, only for those released detainees who have been registered by ICRC, carry out the procedural tasks with immigration, embassy and bring them back home. It also depends on where we have our operation.
SMK: About repatriation facilities… how many people know about this service?
FR: The persons we normally provide repatriation for are people we have visited and registered in detention. Two years ago there was a large group of about 80 Bangladeshi citizens who had gone to Chad on a work visa which had been falsified. So in this situation, the Bangladeshis were returned by the police authorities in Chad with the falsified papers confiscated and they were placed under house arrest. At one point they ran out of money, so that's when ICRC intervened and brought them back to Bangladesh. These sorts of people traditionally do not fall under ICRC mandate because they were not prisoners of war, security detainees and the situation was not one of conflict. So we try to provide our good services to get other organizations to provide assistance and help. The ICRC provided also some non-food items but what we did on top of this was that we verified their identity in order to get the repatriation into process.
There are foreigners sitting in the Bangladeshi detention and their identities are not always very viable. Bangladeshi Red Crescent Society try to trace relatives to get the original papers, ICRC then intervenes with the concerned authority, high commission and the embassy here, to facilitate the return of the person in detention from Bangladesh to the country of origin. So again it's a small file, in numbers it's small but in effect for each individual who is repatriated or reunited- it's a second life.
SMK: What is the relevance of the IHL in the context of Bangladesh?
FR: The relevance of IHL in Bangladesh, if you look at it in terms of application in Bangladesh, there is no current situation that cause for the applicability of the IHL. There are certain thresholds in the law that requires to be reached for the law to be applicable. It is not there, so one could say it's not important, but remember that Bangladesh is second biggest troop country to UN Peace Keeping and Peace Enforcement Mission which means that the ability to understand and try the law needs to be there. Bangladesh is a young nation. 38 years old, born in conflict and many citizens in Bangladesh still can refer to the applicability of the law in their survival, that they were repatriated or the ICRC protected them during and after the liberation war 1971 etc. That's why the responsibility to implement the law and to ensure the implementation so that the Commanders of the army, Para military or the legal advisers know what the law is about and that has to take place in peacetime. Because when conflict occurs it's very difficult to stop and talk about the law. We utilize peace to ensure that the instruments are in place because it's much more difficult when the going gets tough in a situation of conflict.
Samaha M Karim is working with Law Desk, The Daily Star.