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I'm particularly interested in these topics and organisations.

   
The grandfather of the modern humanitarian movement, its specialism is providing humanitarian aid during war.  It’s a private organisation, but it did such great work in the First and Second World Wars that when the Geneva Conventions of 1949 were written, the signatory states (now basically all countries in the world) gave the ICRC a specific legal mandate to provide help in time of war, including the legal right to visit prisoners of war and civilian internees.  It is the only organisation specifically named and authorised in the Geneva Conventions to do this.
   
The ICRC is well-organised, well-trained, well-funded – and overstretched because of the large number of major conflicts around the world at the moment.  It is disciplined and highly effective.  Tens, probably hundreds of thousands of people owe their lives to the ICRC, and many thousands more owe to the ICRC the fact that they stopped being tortured, or the fact that they were released from detention.  This is excellent and wonderful work.  We need much more of it.
   
The ICRC does not report abuses or war crimes that it sees in the course of its work.  Instead it makes private protests to those responsible.  The reason is that if it were to report what it sees, it would cease to be given access to those in need, including those in detention who are some of the most desperate people in the world.  It is for other organisations to make public protests, and many do.
   
There were previous Geneva Conventions (1864, 1906, 1929) but they were superseded by the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949.  These are the Geneva Conventions as we know them today.  The four Conventions are as follows:
  • The First deals with wounded and sick military personnel in the field
  • The Second covers wounded, sick or shipwrecked military personnel at sea
  • The Third sets out the rules on treatment of prisoners of war
  • The Fourth gives the rules on the protection of civilians in time of war
There have since been three Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions of 1949:
  • Additional Protocols I and II (1977) cover the protection of victims of war
  • Additional Protocol III (2005) adopts an additional emblem as a universal symbol of assistance for the victims of armed conflict: a red crystal which can be used as an alternative symbol to the red cross or red crescent
It is a great thing that there are clear rules, signed up to by pretty well all nations, for protecting people who are affected by war.  The Geneva Conventions can be read at one sitting.
   
The challenge is to get them implemented.  The ICRC reminds all parties to a conflict of their obligations to observe the Law of Armed Conflict, otherwise known as International Humanitarian Law, of which the Geneva Conventions are a major part.  But we need the rules to enter the bloodstream of everyone involved.
   
I find that the Geneva Conventions often haven’t been read, even though they are short and in simple non-legal language, even by senior people in the military, diplomatic or aid world.  I didn’t read them for years.  They should be required reading.  That would enable quicker reference to them and better enforcement, and might have reduced the number of abuses by Western and other powers that we’ve seen in recent conflicts.
   
Reading the rules is necessary but not enough: they also need to be taught.  In the armed forces the teaching of the Law of Armed Conflict has in the past too often left to military lawyers, who are usually not the best teachers of young officers or soldiers.  It needs dynamic instructors, drawn from the combat arms of the armed forces, who hold the respect of the troops and who can explain in simple practical terms the importance of the rules and how to obey them in practice.
   
Outside the forces, in aid agencies or among civil servants, there is little training of any kind, let alone of the law.  This is a major weakness that needs fixing.
   
The ICG is a private non-profit organisation which publishes detailed analysis and practical recommendations on how to prevent and resolve conflict in many countries around the world.  It hires very bright people, many of whom are based in the field in around 70 countries, and is politically well connected.
   
So well known it hardly needs introduction.  I especially admire its campaigns for the release of individual prisoners of conscience.
   
US-based, not in the pocket of any government, HRW documents human rights abuses in careful detail, publishes what it finds, and brings credible pressure to bear on governments, military forces and others in authority.  A global leader in human rights campaigning.
   
I admire the way that this tribunal has pursued some of those accused of the most serious war crimes, in the face of massive political, practical and organisational difficulties.  I gave evidence in two of its trials.  International Criminal Court (ICC)In some ways a successor to the ICTY, but actually the result of decades of campaigning, the ICC is a thoroughly welcome development.  The court came into being in 2002 and has broad (but not universal) global credibility and support.  I suspect the threat of prosecution by the ICC has already altered the behaviour of some war leaders for the better.  The ICC only tries cases where the alleged crime is one of the most serious such as genocide or war crimes, and only when a nation state is unwilling or unable to prosecute.
   
In some ways a successor to the ICTY, but actually the result of decades of campaigning, the ICC is a thoroughly welcome development.  The court came into being in 2002 and has broad (but not universal) global credibility and support.  I suspect the threat of prosecution by the ICC has already altered the behaviour of some war leaders for the better.  The ICC only tries cases where the alleged crime is one of the most serious such as genocide or war crimes, and only when a nation state is unwilling or unable to prosecute.
 
I worked for Christian Aid in the late 1990s in Congo, and came to admire them for their mix of Christian ethos; careful and thoughtful approach to long-term development through local partners; willingness to be flexible and innovative in emergencies; excellent publicity and campaigning; and their connectedness to a world-wide network of churches and non-Christian organisations while serving everyone in need regardless of faith or anything else.  They’re here for the long haul.
   
Many of the same qualities as Christian Aid.  Tearfund is keen to build up local churches in poorer countries to be able to help their own communities more lasting and profound ways.  It’s done some good thinking on this, has put it into practice on a large scale, and is seeing some encouraging fruit.  It also does a lot else, including strong campaigns and rapid emergency response.  Respected by other aid agencies, including secular ones, as highly professional and a good partner to work with.
   
Security of aid workers
One aspect of being a good aid manager is keeping your people safe, and indeed promoting the safety of those whom you are trying to serve.  Prior to about the year 2000 many or most aid agencies did not normally train their people in how to stay safe, and did not have strong security procedures.  This was mainly because the threats to aid workers were perceived as being relatively few.  It was also because organisations that had started as voluntary movements had not yet woken up to all of their responsibilities now that they were major organisations employing large numbers of people in dangerous environments.
   
In the UK, Koenraad Van Brabant wrote "Operational Security Management in Violent Environments”, published in 2000 by the Overseas Development Institute.  (The 2010 revised version is available here.)  This was a major contribution to aid agencies’ thinking about security.
   
In 2004 the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO), the EU’s emergency aid arm, commissioned me to write a Generic Security Guide for Humanitarian Organisations.  It aims to be a highly practical guide, avoiding theory, aimed at aid workers generally but primarily at those with responsibility for managing the security of a team or of a whole organisation.  The Guide is available in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.
   
It is now common practice for aid agencies to put their staff through mandatory security training if they are to work in dangerous locations.  Good security procedures are also much more common.  At the same time, the number of aid workers injured, kidnapped or killed has risen sharply over the last decade or so, to the point where attacks on aid staff are now a fairly common occurrence rather than the rare and shocking events that they used to be.
   
In my view one reason for the rise in attacks on aid workers – though it is no excuse – is a series of mistakes made by Western nations in central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.  In the minds of many people, aid agencies are associated with Western nations.  So aid agencies have been targeted because of that perceived association.
   
Reconciliation
Reconciliation has been a major enthusiasm of mine since university days.  We're all involved in reconciliation daily, and international conflict can be eased or resolved partly through reconciliation efforts, big and small.  I am hugely grateful to individuals and organisations who have devoted themselves to reconciliation, or who do it as part of other work.  A few examples of organisations known for their reconciliation work:
 
I was so impressed and delighted that the Make Poverty History movement in the UK succeeded in grabbing people's imagination and support in 2005.  It was the brainchild of Bill Peters, a retired diplomat, and Martin Dent of Keele University.  It faced politicians and the public with the stark reality of huge debts owed by poor countries, so big that they could never be repaid.  So the only logical question was when, not if, they would be cancelled or massively written down.  The campaign tied this to improving aid, and to trade justice so that countries could trade their way out of poverty and become independent of aid.
 
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