· Vatican City ·

Interview with the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross

With the Pope to build a united and inclusive society

23 October 2020

A merging of viewpoints, values and aspirations in a wounded world now struck by the pandemic of the new virus that worsens existing problems. This was highlighted by the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross Peter Maurer in the following interview with Vatican News and L’Osservatore Romano on Tuesday, 20 October. Earlier Mr Maurer had met with Pope Francis.

You met His Holiness, Pope Francis this Monday morning. Afterwards, you also met Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin. How are these meetings in the Vatican for you?

Well, first, it is, of course, a very special moment to meet the Pope and to be here in Rome. It is also a good moment very frankly because there are few visits I do around the world in which we have so much convergence of views, of values, of also aspirations that we represent. Whether you argue the world’s analysis and response to crises in the world from a point of view of your religious beliefs, or from a point of view of international humanitarian law which at the end of the day enshrines decades and centuries of values of good behavior in society. So, coming to Rome is a very positive experience. And of course, talking with the Pope, knowing about his support for what we are doing in the field for people affected by war and violence is a positive energy that I take home from Rome.

Pope Francis stressed in his new Encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” the importance of global solidarity to face the challenges in the world. In your opinion, what are  Pope Francis’ strengths  that correspond to the lines of the International Red Cross? What corresponds with your mission as Red Cross?

Well, let’s start with Fratelli Tutti. I think this is a key slogan which has motivated decades of work for the Red Cross. And I think at the core of the belief that we, as Red Cross, and the Vatican and the Pope represent is, at the end of the day, that we have to fight against the fragmentation of society — about divisions, which are  so painful in its  consequences for civilian populations, for the most vulnerable, for the migrants, those displaced by war and violence, those affected by the weaponization of societies, those affected by climate change, by underdevelopment, by exclusion, by poverty, by injustice. And I think developing a counter-narrative as you would say in modern language. Developing a vision of a society which is different, which is inclusive, which brings people together and which builds bridges where reality separates societies. This is at the core of our common view and endeavors. We certainly are very proud to be close to the Holy See and to the Pope in his efforts.

The International Red Cross faces many challenges. How is that situation in the context of the current coronavirus pandemic?

I think coronavirus has accelerated and accentuated many of the problems that we knew before. And it has come on top of a lot of problems that we have been fighting against over the last decades. We have seen war and violence affecting societies. We have seen poverty, we have seen climate change coming on top of all the complications, particularly in vulnerable contexts like the Sahel of Lake Chad or the Horn of Africa or the Pacific. And we see today that Covid comes on top of it and functions as an accelerator and complicator of all those factors. And I think that’s what is so tragic to see: that we see more divisions and also if the rich have become richer, the poor have become poorer and more excluded. And I think that’s the big issue we are fighting.

We also see the secondary impact of the pandemic: the unemployment that has affected many poor countries and populations has been even worse than before Covid.

Unfortunately, there are still many war zones in the world where the International Red Cross brings aid and support to the civilians involved. Which regions are currently most affected where the Red Cross is at the forefront of aid? What can you tell us?

Well, if you just look at our budget and where most of our people are, more than 40 percent of our activities are in Africa. More than 30 additional percent are in the Middle East. So, the regions of the Middle East and the conflict of the Middle East and in Africa remain at the forefront of our activities. It is the Sahel, the Lake Chad, the Sudans, the Congos, the Horn of Africa, Libya of course in Africa. But it’s the Middle East with the Syrian conflict, the Yemeni conflict, the Iraqi conflict which is at the fore of our attention. Then, there are other parts of the world which have newly added to the list that I made which is a long-standing list. We have been surprised in the last 6 years to see Ukraine come in as a top operation of icrc. We have recently seen Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenian Azeri conflict blowing up in our face and accentuating the problems. And of course, we have long-term engagements in Afghanistan and also in Latin America.

Mario Galgano