Following the outbreak, on 19 September 2002, of armed insurrection against government authority in Côte d'Ivoire, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), working together with the Côte d'Ivoire Red Cross, has sought to find a coherent response to the many humanitarian problems arising from the situation.
Thanks to Ivorian Red Cross volunteers and the ICRC presence in Abidjan, Bouaké, Korhogo and Man, the Red Cross is operational on the ground. It has authorizations and security guarantees giving it access to all victims of the conflict.
The parties to the conflict recognize the applicability of international humanitarian law (IHL) - Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, Additional Protocol II as well as the rules of international customary law - in the current situation. In its capacity as custodian and promoter of IHL, the ICRC has reminded the parties to the conflict as well as the entire population of the rules and principles of the law.
Red Cross activities fall into two main groups:
- Assistance: the present conflict
has caused a de facto split between the north of the country, which is
in rebel hands, and the government-controlled south. The Red Cross maintains
vital links between both parts of the country by supporting the organizations
that maintain services necessary to the population's survival, such as
health care and the delivery of safe drinking water and food.
- Protection: by its presence in war zones and visits to places of detention and health facilities on both sides of the front lines, the ICRC strives to provide the protection to which medical staff and persons not or no longer taking part in the hostilities are entitled under humanitarian law.
The ICRC arranged for the transport and delivery of vaccines, other medicines, and medical and surgical supplies to health facilities, particularly in war zones. The organization regularly supplied basic medicines to more than 27 health facilities in rebel-held territory and brought aid to eight facilities in government-controlled areas treating war-wounded and displaced people.
Red Cross doctors and nurses treated people in two mobile clinics in Bouaké (approximately 6,000 consultations in all) and a health centre set up in the ICRC office in Man (approximately 2,000 consultations in December). The most serious cases were transferred to hospitals. In Duékoué, on the western front, the Red Cross treated thousands of displaced people.
ICRC emergency supplies pre-positioned in Abidjan were used to support medical and surgical facilities giving emergency treatment. In the wake of the fighting, particularly in Bouaké and Man, Red Cross teams helped collect and identify corpses left in the street.
Water and sanitation
In order to ensure access to safe drinking water and to forestall major public health problems, the ICRC arranged for chemicals, spare parts and technicians from the national water board and electrical power company to cross the front lines. In addition, the organization carried out sanitation work in centres for displaced persons (near Yamoussoukro, Duékoué and Daloa).
Food and other relief
Vulnerable people such as the sick, the elderly, orphans and the destitute in rebel-held territory are particularly likely to suffer from the effects of food shortages. Accordingly, the Red Cross brought food made available by the World Food Programme and the Cellule de solidarité et action humanitaire to vulnerable people in the poorest neighbourhoods of Bouaké and Korhogo. In addition, it provided patients in some 15 social and medical institutions (hospitals, orphanages, leprosaria, etc.) with aid on a regular basis. It also distributed food to 4,500 Burkina Faso displaced people in Duékoué, who fled ethnic violence at the outset of the conflict, pending their return to their home villages.
Since the outbreak of the conflict, the Red Cross also distributed food to staff in facilities providing vital services, such as health care and the delivery of water and electricity, in order to encourage them to stay put and carry on with their work in the war zone.
In all, over 100,000 people have received food aid through the Red Cross (basic rations of rice, wheat, fish, cooking oil and salt).
Some 10,000 displaced people were given tarpaulins, mats, buckets, soap and blankets (2,000 evicted slumdwellers spread out over eight sites in Abidjan, and 4,500 displaced in Duékoué, 400 in Daloa and 400 in Man, in addition to displaced people transiting through the Catholic missions in M'bahiakro, Didiévi and Yamoussoukro). Supplies were also handed over in detention facilities visited by ICRC delegates.
Visits to detainees
In keeping with its mandate, ICRC delegates visited military personnel and civilians detained in connection with the conflict. The ICRC was given access to all places of detention under the authority of the Ministries of Defence, Justice and the Interior, and to those controlled by the insurgents.
The objective of the visits is to ensure respect for the physical and moral integrity of the detainees at all stages of their incarceration. Those visited are registered by the ICRC and followed individually until their release. The findings regarding the conditions of detention are conveyed confidentially to the authorities.
"I am OK"
For family members separated by the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire, often without news of their loved ones since the crisis began, the Red Cross has set up a message distribution system. In the rebel-held towns of Bouaké, Korhogo, Bouandiali and Ferkessédougou, people can go to the Red Cross and write cards that state simply "I am OK". Some 900 such cards were collected and the people's families in government-controlled places were contacted. The same system was adopted for Ivorians who found refuge in Guinea and in Liberia. Families of persons visited by the ICRC in prisons were informed that the visits had taken place, so as to relieve their anxiety.
Children separated from their families by the conflict are identified by Red Cross teams in reception centres for displaced people. Eight children were reunited with their families after their photographs were broadcast on television. The Red Cross accepted tracing requests for elderly and sick people living alone in war zones, and the ICRC handled protection requests for people considered by their relatives to be in danger.
In its capacity as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC has helped foreign nationals to leave the conflict zones.