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Asia

Red Cross expands operations in India

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) first opened up an office in India in 1982. It has focused its attention on Jammu and Kashmir, but has recently ventured into states affected by Maoist violence.

Thousands of lives have been claimed by Maoist violence in India over the past five years

Thousands of lives have been claimed by Maoist violence in India over the past five years

For over 15 years, the ICRC has been visiting detainees in Jammu and Kashmir and submitting reports on jail conditions to the authorities.

The organization asks to be notified of all arrests related to the conflict in the state and tries to gain access to all places of detention in the conflict-ridden state, including interrogation centers.

"Our main activity in India is to visit prisoners in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and we been doing this since 1995," explains Francois Stamm, ICRC head of regional delegation.

"But now we are investigating new activities in other areas of India affected by affected by armed violence, like for instance Chhattisgarh with the Naxalite situation. And we are doing this primarily in cooperation with the health authorities and the Indian Red Cross. It is ongoing but relatively slow because they are important logistical challenges."

Tribals have become caught in the fight between Naxalites and the Indian army

Tribals have become caught in the fight between Naxalites and the Indian army

The ICRC has concentrated on improving the medical referral system, by supporting ambulance services and providing first aid training. It has also facilitated access to health services in more remote areas through mobile clinics.

Sensitive issue of Naxalite violence

Naxalite, or Maoist, violence in India has claimed the lives of over 10,000 civilians and security personnel in the past five years.

The word Naxalite comes from the village of Naxalbari in West Bengal where a left-wing peasant uprising took place in 1967.

Tasneem Meenai, Acting Director of the Nelson Mandela Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, says the decision to allow the ICRC into Chhattisgarh is welcome.

"I feel there is a certain sensitivity attached to internal conflict with respect to the Naxal movement. I would first rather have the ICRC first testing the waters and playing the role it is very impartially and objectively expected to play," she says.

"But it has taken a whole lot of time for the ICRC to be able to manage. They are there in Kashmir, they visit prisoners in jail, which is one of their major contributions with respect at looking the way prisoners are treated in internal conflicts. The government has not yet given other organizations this kind of avenue."

ICRC does not make findings public

The ICRC has been providing aid and support in Pakistan, which was devastated by floods earlier this year

The ICRC has been providing aid and support in Pakistan, which was devastated by floods earlier this year

Francois Stamm points out another reason why other organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, might have had less success entering conflict zones: "The ICRC in Kashmir, as in Guantanamo, Israel and other places, will not comment publicly on our findings.

"We do not share with anyone but the detaining authorities the conditions of detention or the conditions of treatment that detainees face in prison."

The ICRC's biggest operation in the region as a whole is Afghanistan, where the conflict has intensified and spread throughout most of the country.

Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Anne Thomas

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