IRRC No. 323

The Lima hostage crisis Some comments on the ICRC's role as a “neutral intermediary”

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On 17 December 1996, the delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross was one of the 600 guests at a reception hosted by the Japanese ambassador in Lima. When the commando unit of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru — MRTA)carried out its spectacular hostage-taking operation and the ICRC delegate made himself known to the commando unit, wondering whether in so doing he was acting as an intermediary was hardly at the forefront of his mind: he was content to take action because the situation so demanded and because the physical integrity of hundreds of people was under threat. I was that delegate. In doing what I did at that moment, I was merely repeating the humanitarian act performed by hundreds of ICRC delegates throughout the world, that of Henry Dunant at Solferino and of many others elsewhere — that is, helping the victims of violence. This is what being a neutral intermediary is all about: placing oneself voluntarily in the midst of a confrontation and lending a helping hand. In that sense, the term “intermediary” is perfectly suited for defining the action of the ICRC per se and its humanitarian base. Within the organization, the term means something more specific, as distinguished from protection and assistance, and designates a function which involves serving as a messenger between conflicting parties, for humanitarian reasons and in the absence of any other intermediary. This is where a certain amount of confusion and a number of difficulties arise, some inherent in the very role of intermediary and others arising from the circumstances themselves.

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