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Know Your Red Crosses: Is the International Committee of the Red Cross Disservicing America?

   Aug 01, 2005

Many people think of the Red Cross as only one entity. There are actually three major types of Red Cross organizations included in the Red Cross Movement: the national Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The Movement's mission is to "prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found, to protect life and health, and ensure respect for the human being, in particular in times of armed conflict and other emergencies, to work for the prevention of disease and the promotion of health and social welfare...."

The American Red Cross, founded in 1881, is the national Red Cross organization for the United States. In primarily Islamic countries the national organizations are called Red Crescent Societies, and in Israel the national organization is the Magen David Adom Society. The International Federation, founded in 1919 as the League of Red Cross Societies, is an association of over 180 national Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations.

The ICRC, founded in 1863, directs and coordinates the emergency relief efforts of the Movement and is the only organization authorized by the Geneva Convention to visit prisoners of war. The ICRC also provides emergency food, water and medical help, searches for missing people, and promotes, monitors, and develops international humanitarian law. The ICRC's governance is by an Assembly composed entirely of Swiss nationals. The ICRC has the authority to decide which national organizations are allowed to join the International Federation. The U.S. government is ICRC's largest single donor and has funded twenty percent of its 2004 budget of $650 million.

Because of ICRC's controversial positions on a number of issues, the Republican Policy Committee of the U.S. Senate issued a report that questions whether the ICRC is serving American interests. The report praises the ICRC for providing aid to hundreds of thousands of suffering people in hot spots around the world but criticizes it for engaging in activism that deviates from its core founding principles of neutrality and impartiality. The report accuses the ICRC of engaging in efforts to "reinterpret and expand international law so as to afford terrorists and insurgents the same rights and privileges as military personnel of States Party to the Geneva Conventions; lobby for arms control issues [including banning anti-personnel mines and the defensive use of tear gas by U.S. soldiers on the battlefield] that are not within the organization's mandate; and inaccurately and unfairly accuse the U.S. of not adhering to the Geneva Conventions..."

The American Institute of Philanthropy believes that the ICRC needs to stick to its founding principles as an independent and impartial humanitarian organization. Its activism on politically divisive issues that may alienate some countries could be done by many other nonprofit organizations that work on these issues, i.e. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Otherwise, ICRC risks losing the cooperation it needs to coordinate international aid and fulfill its duties under the Geneva Convention.

The American Red Cross, which is audited annually by the U.S. Secretary of Defense, is too closely aligned with the U.S. Government to be viewed as an independent organization by the rest of the world. America needs a strong and unbiased ICRC that can provide humanitarian assistance, including the monitoring of our captured soldiers, in countries that are hostile to U.S. interests.

Note: U.S. taxpayers who donate to the American Red Cross may receive a charitable gift tax deduction that is not available for donations to the International Federation or ICRC. AIP only rates U.S. based groups, such as the American Red Cross, that follow U.S. financial reporting rules. AIP does not rate the Geneva, Switzerland based International Federation or ICRC.

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