We will continue assisting people affected by the conflict for as long as there will be the need. Pierre-Emmanuel Ducruet

On the activities of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Mission in Artsakh, "Artakhpress" had an interview with Head of the Mission, Pierre-Emmanuel Ducruet.

We will continue assisting people affected by the conflict for as long as there will be the need. Pierre-Emmanuel Ducruet

We will continue assisting people affected by the conflict for as long as there will be the need. Pierre-Emmanuel Ducruet
STEPANAKERT, DECEMBER 26, ARTSAKHPRESS: The full interview is presented below:
Your office has been present in Artsakh since 1992. Could you please tell us about main directions of your work?
As you know, we are on the ground when armed conflict outbreaks or other situations, where violence takes place, striving to protect the lives and dignity of affected population and to provide them with assistance. It is important to stress that we work according to our principles of humanity and without taking sides. Thus, like in many other places, in Nagorno- Karabakh as well, the ICRC works in the following directions: - assistance to affected population; - protection of people who are protected under international humanitarian law (IHL), namely: wounded militaries, people detained in relation to the conflict and civilian population; - monitoring of compliance with IHL and its promotion; - neutral intermediary between the sides to the conflict to solve acute humanitarian issues.
Indeed, one of the most known functions carried out by the ICRC in our region is the role of neutral intermediary between the sides to the conflict, which you have just mentioned. I would like to ask you to bring some concrete examples from recent years.
Yes, neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian action is at the heart of the ICRC's mandate and a fundamental part of its identity. We seek dialogue with all actors involved in a situation of armed conflict as well as with the people suffering the consequences to gain their acceptance and respect. We have been called upon by the sides to the conflict to play our role as neutral intermediary at numerous occasions, on different humanitarian endeavors. This remains in many cases on a bilateral and confidential level. Now, if to bring concrete examples from this context, I would highlight our neutral intermediary role in April 2016, when the sides could evacuate the bodies of the perished militaries from the battlefield or when we facilitated an operation during which bodies were returned to the sides. Another example is our efforts to help the sides move forward with the missing issue. In 2015, the ICRC handed the sides to the conflict an updated list containing the names of people registered as missing by its delegations in Baku and Yerevan and its mission in Nagorno – Karabakh. And of course, in our capacity of a neutral intermediary and as an organization standing at the origin of IHL, we monitor its faithful application by the sides to the conflict and document alleged violations of IHL. These violations may include incidents affecting the life or physical integrity of civilians or inflict significant damage to their property. To address such cases, the ICRC maintains its direct and confidential dialogue with the parties to the conflict, highlighting their IHL obligations to distinguish at all times between military objectives and civilians/civilian objects, to take all precautionary measures in the military action and apply proportional force according to military necessity.
Not long time ago, the issue of the exchange of Azerbaijani and Armenian detainees was actively discussed. It was stated that the proposal came from Azerbaijani side and that it was transmitted through ICRC. What is your role in this as a neutral intermediary?
To continue the previously asked question, I would like to add that among humanitarian issues involving ICRC’s neutral intermediary role, there is also facilitation of the handover operations of people who find themselves in the hands of another party to the conflict. Over 700 people have been handed over under the auspices of the ICRC in this region, including on the LoC and IB. It is very important to emphasize, that while the ICRC, might pass the information and facilitate its bilateral and confidential negotiation, when requested by the sides, it is the parties who take the decision, and we have no influence on the decision taken by them. IHL, which is a basis for our work, gives the ICRC a right to visit people detained in relation to the conflict, irrespective of what they are charged for; to monitor treatment with them, conditions of detention and to ensure that these people can maintain a contact with their families. As a purely humanitarian organization, we only aim to ensure that we receive information about all such detained people and that we have access to all of them. This is what we do in the detention facility here and everywhere we work.
In the ICRC public agenda, one can always hear that the issue of missing persons is at the center of your attention. Can you tell what number of people we are talking about? At what stage is the process of clarification of their fate?
It is important to remind that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict led to more than 4500 persons going missing in the whole region; the ICRC Mission in Nagorno-Karabakh registered about 400 such people. On each side we work closely with the Commission on Prisoners of War, Hostages and Missing Persons as well as with the families of missing persons which enables us to collect and preserve vital information regarding missing people, including DNA of blood relatives of the missing persons. Thus, we have collected detailed data on missing persons registered by us, as well collected biological samples from over 500 relatives of 180 missing persons. As mentioned, it is crucial to collect all the information available when people do disappear, because, at some point, this information might help bring answers to families. For example, if conditions allow to do exhumations from the sites, where supposedly people were buried during the conflict, this information will be needed for identification of the exhumed remains and matching their DNA with the DNA collected from the relatives. We also advise members of the working group of the Commission on techniques and resources to gather and process information from witnesses, and to identify inhumation sites and protect them. We always keep the focus on the humanitarian goals, which are to give answers to families on the whereabouts and fate of their loved ones.
What were the main activities in 2019 and what are the prospects for 2020?
If to conclude the results of 2019, then I would say that we almost fully managed to complete the tasks and objectives we had set for the year. In terms of assistance activities, our beneficiaries among population have mainly been victims of mines and other explosive remnants of war as well as some families of missing persons. Here I need to mention that in 2019 we have finalized our economic assistance to those beneficiaries, which we started several years ago. In total, over 430 mine victims received our assistance either in the way of economic projects aimed to increase the households’ income, one-time cash assistance to cover urgent needs of the household or housing repair project. The overall number of assisted families of missing is over 200. It is important to mention, that the assistance was rendered to vulnerable families only. With regards to the families of missing, I would also like to mention that in August 2019 we wrapped up the psycho-social assistance programme for them which we had started back in 2011. We took some steps to ensure that the focal persons selected from the families will be able to continue the programme without us. Meantime, we remain in regular contact with them guiding and helping to work independently. Another assistance program is our cash assistance to vulnerable elderly living alone. More than 250 vulnerable elderly people living alone in urban and rural areas received a monthly financial supplement to their pensions, enabling them to maintain the minimum living standard. Apart from assistance addressed to individuals, we also rendered assistance to some local structures. For example, we worked closely with the healthcare structures and Service of Emergency Situations. Thus, we continued assisting the Service of Emergency Situations to maintain and consolidate its expertise in provision of first aid trainings. Together with them we trained in average 130 first aiders from 10 communities near the LoCand donated first aid kits to those communities. In addition, we provided financial support to the Service so that they could equip 9 safer rooms in settlements situated close to LoC, where civilian population can be temporarily accommodated in case of emergency.In 2019, with the support from the ICRC the renovation of the basement of the Hadrout hospital was finished to be used as a safer area for the staff and patients in case of emergencies. Considering the need in strengthening the emergency medical care services of the same hospital, we started a project on establishment of an emergency medical care and stabilization department to ensure that the population has access to quality and timely emergency medical care. Another example of support to the local structures is the financial assistance to the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Center to help them in provision of in-home care consumables to the persons with disability. And of course, we have been visiting all detainees; whenever needed we helped vulnerable detainees and improved detention conditions. Last but not least, we organized trainings and information sessions on International humanitarian law for various audiences, including militaries and students, as well as helped young IHL researchers attend various IHL related events in Armenia. As to the plans for future, we will continue working based on the principles of neutrality and impartiality, to assist people affected by the conflict for as long as there will be the need.
Please tell about yourself and about your impression of working in Artsakh.
First, I would like to mention, that this is not my first mission to Nagorno-Karabakh. I was here back in 2010 and 2011. At that time, I was based in Moscow and I came to support the Mission in the field of Communication. That is why, when I was proposed this mission in Nagorno-Karabakh, I immediately accepted, knowing already the place and some colleagues. I am a French national, I have been working for the ICRC since 2001 and have been to such missions as Democratic Republic of Congo, Israel, Russian Federation, Central Asia, etc. Before the ICRC I worked for the French MFA, in the Russian Federation and Czech Republic. I will be based in Nagorno-Karabakh until June next year and I do not know yet where my next mission will be. What is certain, that this mission in Nagorno-Karabakh will remain a special one for me. I really do hope that the conflict will come to an end at one point. All steps going in the direction of the resolution of this conflict are welcome. Therefore, on the eve of the New Year I would personally like to wish to the people of the region to see peace coming fast, while all the rest positive changes will certainly follow.
Interview by Vehanush Hovsepyan