The president of the Int. Red Cross discusses its mission and how to stay neutral in the face of armed conflict.
The incoming president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has expressed hope that dialogue will prevail in escalating tensions between North Korea and the West, saying that nothing could prepare the world for nuclear war.
“There is no training, no preparation that could cope with a disaster where we could assist if this weapon would be used,” Francesco Rocca told Al Jazeera.
“This is something I don’t even want to think about … I hope love for humanity will prevail.”
Rocca was elected as the new head of the IFRC by his peers from 178 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies at the humanitarian aid organisation’s general assembly in Antalya, Turkey, on November 6.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Rocca vowed to denounce actors who target humanitarian professionals and facilities, and called the international community’s response to the migrant crisis a “failure”. Here is the full interview.
Al Jazeera: Your organisation’s official mandate says it aims “to inspire, encourage, facilitate and promote at all times humanitarian facilities to alleviate human suffering … thereby contributing to human dignity and peace in the world”. The IFRC is not really living up to its mission, is it?
Francesco Rocca: The level of human suffering in recent years has increased and many situations are not going to get fixed in the near future. So it’s a huge responsibility that I feel.
Under your leadership are you going to denounce state actors such as Saudi Arabia, for instance, for its war in Yemen and Iran for its role in the war in Yemen?
Rocca: I have never been silent in my country whenever there’s been a violation of the dignity of a human being. But the way is not to [denounce] sometimes. You play such an important role and as part of our tradition, we also use the way of confidentiality: engage the government in a direct, open, frank dialogue to respect human dignity.
But we have seen this conflict raging on for years and this so-called “closed-door” dialogue doesn’t seem to be working. Will you denounce them?
Rocca: If during my mandate it will happen again that a hospital or an ambulance or a volunteer would be targeted again, and you can identify the responsible, you will hear my voice. I can assure you. Warfare has changed and my concern is that unfortunately the health professionals, the volunteers, the health facilities and the hospitals have become a tool of war. This is something that we have to stop. And we have to be clear about it: this is a violation of international humanitarian law. This is unacceptable, it’s a crime of war.
Some of your biggest donors in the Middle East have not been taking in refugees. Will you be calling them out?
Rocca: Those who are giving us money hoping it will clear their conscience are thinking the wrong way. [Giving money] doesn’t mean that we will close our eyes when there is a person in need.
You say you’re not party to any conflicts and try to impartially provide aid to people. But when you are not given access you are automatically becoming a part of the equation.
Rocca: There are two parties in conflicts. And then there is the third party. We fight for the third party, which is humanity. We fight for the victims. Our role is to protect and speak up for these people, we are not part of the war.
There’s a “war on drugs” going on in the Philippines. How do you decide whether to get involved there or not?
Rocca: It’s not up to me. We have to support the Philippines Red Cross, which is a good national society, and support them in their dialogue with the government to respect human beings and to help addicted people to get treatment and not be treated as a criminal. If the local organisation is not able to step in we are ready to support [them]. In my personal opinion, I don’t think criminalising the victims is the right thing to do.
Saving lives in the Mediterranean is an obligation, it's about morality.
You started your work in Italy. What’s your view on the European response to the migrant crisis and what will we see in your presidency?
Rocca: I started in Italy in the organisation in 1988 and started working with migrants who had come from the Horn of Africa. Look at the situation now after 30 years. Forty percent of the migrants are still coming from the Horn of Africa. This is a real failure of the international community. It’s a failure, so let’s call it by its proper name.
There is a sense in some parts of Europe that helping people out at sea encourages them to take the dangerous journey. I know you don’t share that view. What will you do to help the people making that perilous journey?
Rocca: First I will ask your help, the help of the media. We are talking about human beings and about saving lives. If the media is not helping us with a rational and objective approach, this is a reason of concern for us. Because to civil society, the opinion of the media is very important. This is not a political issue. Saving lives in the Mediterranean is an obligation, it’s about morality.
Are you preparing for a conflict with North Korea?
Rocca: We hope that dialogue will prevail. Let me be very clear, in case of a nuclear war, there is no training, no preparation that could cope with a disaster where we could assist if this weapon would be used. This is something I don’t even want to think about. I hope love for humanity will prevail.