The Role of the ICRC in Haiti

By Meghan Pierce, Undergraduate Research Assistant

On Thursday, January 31, the congressional office of Representative Sam Farr (Dem-CA), hosted a briefing featuring Patricia Danzi, head of Operation for the Americas at the International Committee of the Red Cross in Latin America. The purpose of the session was to delineate the state of armed conflict and violence in Latin America, and to describe accordingly the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross in peacekeeping.

According to its mission statement, the ICRC is an “independent, neutral organization ensuring humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of war and armed violence. It takes action in response to emergencies and at the same time promotes respect for international humanitarian law and its implementation in national law.” As the head of Operations for the Americas, Danzi embarked on the arduous challenge of summarizing the status of violence in the hemisphere, which varies greatly by country. It was repeatedly emphasized that recent international homicide rates are in decline, except in Latin America, where the rate is more than double the global average.

Danzia explained the capacity of the ICRC to hold a leadership role in humanitarian issues in the hemisphere, through coordination with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and national chapters of the Red Cross in individual countries, as well as through other supranational organizations, such as the United Nations (UN) and the Organization of American States (OAS).

For the purposes of this Project, it was necessary to inquire about the ICRC’s role, if any, in maintaining order in Haiti. While Danzia emphasized the country’s relatively low levels of homicide and kidnapping, certain social elements that were already problematic have since been exacerbated by the 2010 earthquake. The quality of life for detainees and prisoners is one such areas of concern. According to Danzia, there are approximately 9,000 individuals currently being held in detention, with each allotted approximately 1.5 square feet of space in detention centers. This is not only physically infeasible, because it necessitates such things as rotating sleep schedules, but also results in inadequate supplies of water, food and medical care. Most significantly, it is a violation of international humanitarian law.

For those interested in Haitian development, the status of detention centers is something to watch. For further information on the Red Cross’s initiatives, visit the ICRC website.

A Port-au-Prince Prison. Source: International Committee of the Red Cross in Latin America
A Port-au-Prince Prison. Source: International Committee of the Red Cross in Latin America

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