Béatrice Mégevand-Roggo, the ICRC’s head of operations for the Middle East and North Africa, talks about the ICRC’s unremitting efforts to gain access to Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured in June 2006, while maintaining contact with all concerned, including Mr Shalit’s family.
Could you tell us whether the ICRC has achieved any progress in its efforts to help Gilad Shalit?
Let me begin by recalling that, from the very beginning, we have spared no effort to gain access to Gilad Shalit. In addition, we have repeatedly urged those holding him to treat him humanely and to allow him to exchange news with his family. We have emphasized that they have an obligation to do so under international humanitarian law.
In our most recent contacts with Hamas, which have occurred within the past few weeks, we have again requested that Mr Shalit be allowed contact with his family through the exchange of Red Cross messages.
On more than one occasion we have publicly demanded that Hamas allow us to visit Mr Shalit in order to independently assess his condition. None of our appeals has been heard so far. But public appeals are only one small part of the efforts under way: most of what we do goes on behind the scenes. We are engaged in dialogue with Hamas at all levels, in Gaza and elsewhere, and more generally with all those who can have an influence on the situation. The ICRC favours direct contacts and discreet action, which we believe are essential for achieving progress.
We deeply regret that, so far, these efforts have all gone for naught. We particularly regret that, so far at least, political considerations surrounding the case of Gilad Shalit appear to have carried more weight than humanitarian concerns. The result has been that a young man held captive and incommunicado for more than three and a half years has been denied the right to have regular exchanges with his family.
Nevertheless, and in spite of everything, our commitment remains as strong as ever. We will continue to press for access to Gilad Shalit and will avail ourselves of every opportunity to remind his captors of their obligations.
What have you been saying to Gilad Shalit’s family?
We tell them quite simply that our resolve is undiminished. We tell them that we are carrying on with our efforts to achieve our humanitarian goal.
Even more importantly, perhaps, I want to personally assure Mr Shalit’s parents, Aviva and Noam Shalit, that we are acutely aware of their concern and frustration.
We have met regularly with Mr and Mrs Shalit in Tel Aviv, at our Geneva headquarters and elsewhere, to brief them on our efforts. We have also kept the authorities concerned informed about the steps we have taken.
What are the main challenges the ICRC is facing in its work in aid of Gilad Shalit and other detainees and missing people?
Visiting people deprived of their freedom and enabling them to exchange personal news with their relatives is one of the principal activities of the ICRC. Every year, our delegates visit nearly half a million detainees in scores of countries. But there are limits to what we can do and to what international humanitarian law entitles us to do. In many cases we can do little more than remind those who control the situation of their obligation to act in accordance with the spirit and letter of international humanitarian law. Let me make it perfectly clear, then, that those holding Gilad Shalit do have an obligation to ensure that he is well treated and that his living conditions are humane and dignified.