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A New Low for the International Committee of the Red Cross?

June 18, 2013 8:18 am 7 comments

International Red Cross symbol. Photo: wiki commons.

A new low for the International Committee of the Red Cross? When it indirectly sponsors activities honoring terrorist murderers.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is known for its work as an “independent, neutral organization” which organizes protection and assistance for non-combatants who are actually, or risk becoming, victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence. It has not, however, been uninfluenced by considerations of realpolitik and it is this, together with the significant amount of institutional anti-Israelism of the ICRC, which explain why it is only since June 2006 that Magen David Adom, Israels ambulance service has enjoyed official recognition by this organisation as the national aid society of the state of Israel under the Geneva Conventions and been a member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. (It is not allowed to use its own emblem in the territories Israel captured in 1967, but only the Red Crystal, officially recognized in addition to the Red Cross and Red Crescent by the Additional Protocol III of 2005.)

It should be recalled that, during world war II, public calls for all the inmates of Nazi concentration camps to be treated with equal humanity were opposed. In the course of a meeting held on the 14th October 1942, a proposal that the Red Cross organize a public appeal that all the belligerent states guarantee the full and unqualified protection of all the categories of civilians affected by the war, including, implicitly, the Jews – and that this appeal be published and disseminated in its name – was unanimously repudiated by the members of the wartime ICRC (the composition of which was virtually identical to that of the post-war ICRC which was responsible for the preparation and promulgation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions).

Following the opinion of Max Huber (1874-1960) – president of the ICRC from 1928 to 1944, who had served as judge at the Permanent Court of International Justice at The Hague from 1922 to 1939, presiding over its proceedings from 1925 to 1927 – the International Red Cross decided to concentrate its efforts upon the protection of the rights of prisoners of war. Although not present at the ICRC session of the 14th October 1942, he had indicated that he would have cast his vote with the majority (see, in particular, pages 190-166, Une Mission Impossible? – Le Cicr, Les Déportations et Les Camps de Concentration Nazis, by Jean-Claude Favez (Payot Lausanne – Nadir – 1989). The post-World War I “minority treaties” could have been invoked in the cases of pro-Nazi Hungary and Rumania, as well as Articles 23 and 46 of the 1907 Fourth Hague Convention – to which many European states, including Germany, were signatories – but were not.

Though dealing mainly, but not exclusively, with combatants and the laws of war governing their treatment, this convention states:

Art. 23. In addition to the prohibitions provided by special Conventions, it is especially forbidden

… (b) To kill or wound treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army;

… (g) To destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war;

(h) To declare abolished, suspended, or inadmissible in a court of law the rights and actions of the nationals of the hostile party. A belligerent is likewise forbidden to compel the nationals of the hostile party to take part in the operations of war directed against their own country, even if they were in the belligerent’s service before the commencement of the war.

Art. 46. Family honour and rights, the lives of persons, and private property, as well as religious convictions and practice, must be respected. Private property cannot be confiscated.

Instead the three volume Red Cross Report 1939-1947 wrongly claims (Volume 1, Section VI, the part of the “Special Categories of Civilians” – pages 641-657 dealing with the Jewish victims: “Under National Socialism, the Jews had become in truth outcasts, condemned by rigid racial legislation to suffer tyranny, persecution and systematic extermination. No kind of protection shielded them; being neither PW nor civilian internees, they formed a separate category, without the benefit of any Convention. The supervision which the ICRC was empowered to exercise in favour of prisoners and internees did not apply to them. …” and, a little later on: “The Committee could not dissociate themselves from these victims, on whose behalf it received the most insistent appeals, but for whom the means of action seemed especially limited, since in the absence of any basis in law (my italics), its activities depended to a very great extent upon the good will of the belligerent States.” (How, in particular, could former Hague court judge Huber endorse this falsehood? This secular saint of international law acquired a not insignificant stake in factories which employed slave labor during the Second World War, as recent research has shown – see “A Survey of Nazi and Pro-Nazi Groups in Switzerland: 1930-1945″ by Alan Morris Schom, Ph.D, written for the Wiesenthal Centre.)

Even in the matter of Jewish prisoners of war, kept in regular POW camps, the ICRC was not always completely prepared to do its duty. The wartime head of the World Jewish Congress, Gerhart M. Riegner, brought to vice president Carl J. Burckhardt’s attention the increasing number of cases being reported of Jewish combatants being separated from non-Jewish combatants in certain POW camps. Despite the welfare of prisoners of war being claimed to be the Red Cross’s prime responsibility, Burckhardt wrote to him on the 5th April 1945 stating that this segregation was not necessarily by itself a violation of the relevant conventions – as testified by the wartime head of the World Jewish Congress – and suggesting that they wait and see (as recorded in Riegner’s book Ne jamais désespérer. Soixante années au service du people juif et des droits de l’homme (Paris, 1998), pages 210-211 – views which were vigorously rejected in Riegner’s letter of the 27th April 1945).

As briefly reported on on the 12th May, a tree planting ceremony took place on the 8th May this year (presented as follows by the official Palestinian Authority daily paper – headline: “150 trees named for prisoners are planted in Jenin”):

“The International Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent, in cooperation with the Zububa Rural Council west of Jenin, yesterday planted 150 fruit trees that carry the names of the veteran prisoners jailed in the occupation prisons.”

Many of these “veteran prisoners” are serving time after being condemned by properly constituted courts of law for committing one or more murder, for the most serious of crimes – including, for example, Issa Abd Rabbo, who shot and murdered two university students hiking near Jerusalem (recently honored by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas). Following this ceremony, which paid tribute to serious criminals and which was named “My Honor is My Freedom”, and the participation of Giorgio Ferrario, regional representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the ICRC was vigorously criticized. In a statement of clarification the following claims are made:

“The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is a neutral, independent and impartial organization. Over the last 150 years, we have been striving to uphold these fundamental principles which continue to guide our humanitarian work around the world. Please note that ICRC was not present during the planting of the trees ceremony reported by your website. Over the decades, the ICRC has provided support, including financially, both to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and to Magen David Adom for their humanitarian programs. It remains the prerogative of the National Society to define its own priorities and activities and to allocate funds accordingly.”

(See  herehere, and here for the full version of ICRC’s statement as received by Weekly Press Pakistan that published PMW’s report, conveyed to PMW by Tazpit News Agency.)

It goes without saying- though it is all too rarely said – that the organisation of such a ceremony (named “My Honor is My Freedom”) is incompatible with obligations to which the Palestinian Authority has committed itself. These include promises to (a) protect all residents of, and all other persons present in, these areas, (b) actively prevent incitement to violence, including violence against the other side or persons under the authority of the other side and (c) apprehend, investigate and prosecute perpetrators and all other persons directly or indirectly involved in acts of terrorism, violence and incitement (article 3 of Annex I, the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Protocol Concerning Redeployment and Security Arrangements, Article II (Security Policy for the Prevention of Terrorism and Violence). Moreover, by participating in a ceremony honoring serious criminals, the regional representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (and it seems to me a distinction without a difference to say that he was not representing the ICRC) hardly seems to have acted in accordance with the mission statement of the former organisation:

“The IFRC vision: To inspire, encourage, facilitate and promote at all times all forms of humanitarian activities by National Societies, with a view to preventing and alleviating human suffering, and thereby contributing to the maintenance and promotion of human dignity and peace in the world.”

Giorgio Ferrario should be removed from his post and both the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross should dissociate themselves from his activities. They should for once (why not?) apologize to the Israelis.

In my opinion, it would be very useful if the Wiesenthal Center, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and, last but not least, the Zionist Organisation of America involve themselves in a campaign to get these organisations to “clean up their act”.


  • The way Magen David Adom has been treated is an utter disgrace. It was appalling that during the Haiti earthquake aftermath the most pro-active volunteers, Magen David Adom, had to wear a meaningless symbol (“the red crystal”) so they could not be identified as coming from Israel and could even have been mistaken for Iranians who wore the same symbol! I remember a BBC broadcast about aid during a Turkish earthquake and when the voiceover claimed that German Red Cross was volunteering, the picture clearly showed a group of men with “HAGA” written in Hebrew across their shirts!

    • Everything you complain about here was in perfect accordance with Protocol III additional to the Geneva Conventions. That protocol was backed and approved by the Israeli government. Therefore, instead of bemoaning the way the MDA was “treated”, I suggest you write a stiff letter to the Israeli government blasting them for their support of the protocol.

  • The ICRC needs to apologise? Again? It has actually been very open about its failings during WWII and has expressed regret on many, MANY occasions. Naturally nothing the ICRC could have done would have changed one iota what the Nazis were doing. How could it? But the organization would have been tossed out of Germany on its ear, thus preventing it from the good that is was able to accomplish under the 1929 Geneva Conventions.
    And by the way, everything that the ICRC knew, the Allies also knew. In fact the Allies knew way more than the ICRC. Ever think about that?
    Yes, read Favez’s book. It might give you a sense of balance.
    Of course, it’s emotionally satisfying to make a whipping boy of the ICRC. But other than that, what’s the point??

    • Paul Leslie has contacted me by e-mail, but I think I should reply to him here:

      Yes I did read your article and had to smile at your description of the Magen David Adom (MDA) as “Israels ambulance service” (sic). It shows how little you know about what the organization does.

      Your accusation that the ICRC was marked by “institutional anti-Israelism” is one you fail to demonstrate.

      Like it or not, the ICRC’s hands were tied by longstanding rules in the matter of the MDA. It could no more recognize a society whose emblem was a red star of David than it could one whose emblem was a red hoolahoop. It had to be one recognized by the Geneva Conventions — and those were the cross and the crescent. Only two. And the Geneva Conventions were created by the world’s states (including Israel by the way) not by the ICRC.

      So saying the ICRC refused to recognize the MDA is like saying this chair I’m sitting in refuses to levitate. Well yes, it does. What else could it do? Those are the laws of physics, and that’s what it obeys.

      You then go on to recite the ICRC’s failure to meet your standards during WWII: However, as I said before, the ICRC has indeed already exercised self-critisism in that respect. Though we know that whatever it did it couldn’t have saved a single life in the death camps. To think otherwise is absurd.

      The ICRC was very Swiss, and Switzerland — like all European countries plus many others including the United States — was riddled with anti-Semitism. That was the climate. Yet the ICRC also had a mandate — the Geneva Conventions — and that mandate didn’t include civilians, whatever you say about the Hague Convention. Yes, it could have waved the Hague Convention in the Nazis’ face. What would that have achieved?

      You also say that “the Nazi leadership had been led to understand, at the behest of war leaders like Churchill – that if Allied POWs were not treated decently then Axis combatants might also not fare so well as POWS”. Maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t.
      But I have a very hard time imagining that the Nazi leadership cared one little bit how its own POWs were being treated. Do you honestly think they cared?

      It could also be argued that treating western Allied POWs to the standards of the law was viewed by the Nazis as a propaganda tool: See? We’re playing the game.

  • Sonia Willats

    Excellent article, Paul Leslie, thank you. Whilst removal of Giorgio Ferrario is clearly appropriate, the organisation appears to be rotten at its core and a farce, as so many human institutions are.

  • I think that the last two paragraphs should be taken on board by all Jews and non-Jews who love Israel, and that we should refuse any further economic support to the IFRC until they are carried out.

  • J.J. Surbeck

    Readers might be interested to know that Jean-Claude Favez’s book mentioned in this article under its French title (“Une mission impossible?”) was also published in English under the title “The Red Cross and the Holocaust”. Here is a link to Amazon: .

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