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ICRC Communications

ICRC Communications



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Published by Asif Masood Raja

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Published by: Asif Masood Raja on Jul 19, 2009
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 Volume 87 Number 860 December 2005
Humanitarian organizations have long been protected by the very nature of their work. Helping people in need, especially in severe crises — armed con-flicts or natural disasters — has always tended to arouse a sense of solidarity and support. Since the early 1990s the situation has become considerably morecomplex.
The increase in the number of humanitarian agencies or of othersworking in the humanitarian field — together with confusion over the specificidentity and objectives of each humanitarian agency, how some of them behave,the need to raise more funds and the competition for visibility resulting fromthat increase — and insecurity have made it necessary to rethink some of thestrategies aimed at obtaining and establishing support for humanitarian work.
ICRC communication:Generating support
Yves Daccord*
Yves Daccord is the ICRC’s Director of Communication
The environment in which the ICRC works and communicates is constantly changing. The ICRC is also constantly seeking support that will allow it to gainaccess to victims, carry out its work, generate the diplomatic and financial backing needed for that work and ensure the safety of its delegates. The primary aim of communication is not merely to pass on messages from the organization effectively.It is just as necessary to understand the issues concerning the various audiencesand how they perceive those issues as it is to inform them. The ICRC draws ona wide array of communication strategies and resources, depending on their complementarity and their potential impact, ranging from meetings with local armed groups to the use of mass communication tools. Communication is thus anintegral part of the ICRC’s decision-making process, both at headquarters and ineach context in the field.
: : : : : : :
* The article reflects the views of the author alone and not necessarily those of the ICRC.
 Y. Daccord – ICRC communication: Generating support
Like many other humanitarian organizations, the ICRC is faced with thischallenge and its staff 
encounters it daily. Whether the task in hand is to nego-tiate a passage between the lines for a relief convoy, to set up a field hospital, tobroach the subject of detainee treatment or respect for the Geneva Conventions,they have to establish a minimum amount of trust between themselves and theircontacts. None of the contexts in which the ICRC
works constitutes an excep-tion to this rule. From Kabul to Luanda, from Jerusalem to Colombo, fromWashington to Khartoum and from Muzafarabat to Moscow, the ICRC has thusestablished a working method that is backed by more than 140 years of experi-ence and evolves further with each new experience gained.Its approach is based first on a direct, face to face dialogue betweenthe parties to armed conflict and ICRC delegates. To set up and manage thatrelationship is a fundamental consideration of all the ICRC’s communicationstrategies and activities.
The changing environment in which its teams workhas nonetheless compelled the ICRC to supplement and expand that approachwith a view to broadening the support base for its work and the principles thatgovern it.
The organization must be able to project a coherent identity andmanage its reputation, both locally and globally, in a dynamic process gearedboth to long-term objectives, which must be targeted, and to the very short-term nature of real-time communication.The ICRC must be capable of identifying the key audiences whose supportit would like to obtain and, if possible, to have their support before it is neededso that it can count on them when the time comes — regardless of whether thoseaudiences are political or military authorities, leaders of opinion in civil society,donors, or men and women affected by conflict. Thus, it is not enough to be ableto respond appropriately when news concerning the ICRC breaks.This article describes and analyses certain factors influencing the envi-ronment in which the ICRC works and communicates and the impact thosechanges have had on its communication activities. It goes on to examine thecommunication strategies being put in place by the organization today to meet
1 A number of authors have described this phenomenon. They include Pierre Hasner in
Hard Choices:
 Moral Dilemma in Humanitarian Intervention
, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Oxford 1998; Larry Minear in
The Humanitarian Enterprise: Dilemmas and Discoveries
, Kumarian Press, Bloomfield, Conn.,2002; David Rieff in
 A Bed for the Night: Humanitarians in Crisis
, Simon & Shuster, New York, 2002; orDavid P. Forsythe in
The Humanitarians
, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005.2 At the end of 2005 the ICRC had a total staff of 11,375.3 The ICRC is working in more than 80 countries. See
Emergency Appeals 2006 
, ICRC, December 2005.4 ICRC communication is made up of two complementary parts: public communication and the promotionof international humanitarian law. Public communication is aimed primarily at informing and raisingawareness among the ICRC’s priority audiences. It seeks to strengthen support for internationalhumanitarian law, the work of the ICRC and the positions it adopts, and to present a consistent image of it. The main purpose of promoting international humanitarian law is to ensure that law’s incorporationin particular in the doctrine, education and training of the armed and security forces and in university and school syllabuses.5 The work of the ICRC and the various components of the International Red Cross and Red CrescentMovement is based on the Movement’s Fundamental Principles, the main ones being humanity,impartiality, independence and neutrality.
 Volume 87 Number 860 December 2005
the challenge of gaining support for its work, with particular emphasis on itspublic communication policy.
Support for the ICRC’s work: Reality, perceptions and symbolicdimension
The people with whom ICRC delegates interact form an opinion of the organ-ization and its work. That work and its relevance to the situation and the needsof the people give rise to reactions, comments and judgements which the organ-ization needs to address.
ICRC delegates are required daily to convince the various parties to armed con-flict of their independence, of the impartiality of their approach to assist and pro-tect people without any discrimination and of the appropriateness of their inter-vention. They know that the local trust derived from humanitarian activities andtheir impact on beneficiaries can be influenced positively or negatively by percep-tions due to various factors, such as the delegates’ attitude, the media reportingon the ICRC and its work, or by the people’s own perception of their needs andsituation and by their sense of outrage, humiliation or even helplessness.The perceived relevance of its work to a given situation or context may thus have a decisive effect on the opinion that audiences targeted by the ICRChave of the organization, and hence on their potential support.
Symbolic contexts as a prism
This notable trend is confirmed worldwide whenever intensive media coverage,be it in the north, south, east or west, endows situations or contexts with sym-bolic significance. These “symbolic” contexts become the main prisms throughwhich the work of a humanitarian organization such as the ICRC will be judged.They are henceforth a factor determining the degree and strength of the sup-port generated by the ICRC.A humanitarian organization such as the ICRC is not responsible fordetermining a context’s symbolic dimension. It must nonetheless identify andunderstand what makes a particular situation or context symbolic and take thepossible effect of this phenomenon on its identity and communication intoaccount.In our view, the symbolic dimension is conditioned by five main factors:the scale
of the humanitarian crisis; the existence of powerful images thatstir up emotion and indignation; the rapidity with which those images recur;
6 The scale of a humanitarian crisis is usually “measured” by the number of victims. It can also be determinedby its geographic location, the nationality of the victims or by the type or scale of the violations.

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