The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has a long-standing record of facilitating the unilateral or simultaneous release of people detained in relation to armed conflicts, in Somalia and across the world. Here are five things you need to know about what the ICRC does—and doesn’t do—when it comes to these situations.
1. We are neutral and impartial.
The ICRC does not pick sides. We speak to all parties of the armed conflict, with the sole purpose of alleviating and preventing human suffering. Our work is strictly humanitarian, which means we provide humanitarian assistance entirely based on need, without political, religious, ideological, or any other agenda. It is this neutrality and impartiality that allows us to serve people on all sides of the conflict.
2. We are not involved in political negotiations between parties.
This is between the detaining authorities. As a neutral, independent organization, our focus is to ensure that any release and return that takes place is done safely and with the consent of the detainees. Our work in return operations begin when authorities agree to who will be released and our assistance is requested.
3. We facilitate returns and/or transport only at the request of the concerned authorities.
The ICRC does not decide who is released and when. This is the decision of the authorities, who can then ask the ICRC for assistance with the return. The ICRC only participates in the release of detainees with the authorization of authorities and agreement with the parties on our role.
4. We ensure that releases and returns are voluntary and safe.
Before any return takes place, our team meets with each detainee in private to ensure he or she wants to be transported home. We then ensure that the return itself is safe. Doctors and nurses are often a part of ICRC teams facilitating release and return and provide check-ups and medical support as needed. Transport can also sometimes be provided through ICRC airplanes or LandCruisers.
5. Our role has a legal basis in international humanitarian law.
The Geneva Conventions of 1949—the body of international law that governs armed conflicts—provide the ICRC or other impartial humanitarian body with the right to offer its humanitarian services to parties to a conflict. This means that the ICRC can offer all sides its support as a neutral party in the release of detainees, with the sole aim of benefit of the persons released, including by returning them safely to their families in accordance with our role as a neutral, impartial, humanitarian organization.