As the Philippines and other countries around the world endorse a new political declaration calling for greater protection against explosive weapons in populated areas, the leadership of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said “visible and invisible scars” remain in conflict areas.
“War in cities inflicts deep scars, both visible and invisible,” said Gilles Carbonnier, ICRC vice president in a statement on Saturday, November 19.
Carbonnier and Christine Cipolla, ICRC regional director for Asia-Pacific, visited the country from November 11 – 19 “to reaffirm the organization’s neutral, impartial, and independent humanitarian action in the country.”
“In Marawi, the most affected area has been reduced to rubble, and livelihoods were destroyed. Families continue to search for their loved ones who have gone missing for more than five years,” said Carbonnier.
The ICRC officials visited conflict areas and saw “the long-lasting impact of urban warfare.”
In a statement, Carbonnier said “complying with [International Humanitarian Law] in the midst of conflict, particularly in densely populated areas, reduces civilian harm and ensuing grievances.”
“This in turn helps create an enabling environment for peace and reconciliation, as a former commander of a non-state armed group shared with me based on his experience in Mindanao,” he added.
Carbonnier and Cipolla were in Marawi just before the launch of the Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences Arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas in Dublin, Ireland.
The new declaration represents a major milestone in protecting civilians in contemporary armed conflicts and sends a strong signal worldwide that civilians and essential services must be protected.
The ICRC officials also had the opportunity to better understand the causes and consequences of massive overcrowding in Philippine detention facilities, seeing first-hand the situation in Quezon City Jail.
The ICRC has expressed support for the Philippines’ efforts to decongest places of detention and improve the treatment and conditions of detention.
“Overcrowding increases the spread of communicable diseases such as COVID-19, scabies, and tuberculosis in places of detention,” said Cipolla.
“We will continue to engage detaining authorities in confidential and bilateral dialogues to pursue a collective and sustainable response,” she added.
The two ICRC leaders appreciated the humanitarian response of the Philippine Red Cross in Mindanao, including in areas that were recently hit by Tropical Storm Nalgae (Paeng).
The ICRC has been supporting the PRC and the government’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts in remote and conflict-affected areas in the southern Philippines.
With PRC Chairman Richard Gordon and Secretary General Gwendolyn Pang, they visited a PRC Bakuna Bus (“vaccine bus”) in General Santos City.
“The ICRC has always been supportive of the PRC’s COVID-19 interventions,” said Gordon.