Internal mishap? ICRC mum on suspension in Sudan

A member of the Sudanese Red Crescent conducts a healthcare workshop in West Darfur. The International Committee of the Red Cross suspends its operations in Sudan at the government's request. Photo by: Albert Gonzalez Farran / UNAMID / CC BY-NC-ND

Since it was requested to suspend its operations in Sudan about a week ago, the International Committee of the Red Cross is negotiating with the relevant authorities in a bid to resume its activities in the country as soon as possible.

But the humanitarian organization remains mum on the issue — or at least from deliberately calling out the Sudanese Red Crescent Society for its alleged complaint to the government’s Humanitarian Aid Commission that led to the suspension order.

Several reports noted that the commission told ICRC to coordinate all its operations through the national society, after the latter reportedly filed a complaint to the government body.

ICRC spokesman Rafiullah Qureshi dismissed this, saying “none of such issues have been raised” in the letter. But he declined to share further information about the “technical issues” the government raised against his organization, clarifying only that they relate to certain “procedures” and not about the types of activities ICRC does in Sudan.

However, Qureshi did touch the subject of working with the Sudanese Red Crescent.

“As far as the Sudanese Red Crescent is concerned, the ICRC has been carrying out many of its activities in collaboration with the Sudanese Red Crescent; they are one of our main partners. The Sudanese Red Crescent and ICRC are part of the Red Cross, Red Crescent movement. We have distinct but complementary mandates to assist people affected by various situations. And we regularly carry out joint activities with the Sudanese Red Crescent,” he said.

‘Embarrassing’ situation

A well-placed source in the country consulted by Devex said that ICRC’s current dilemma stems from the fact that the Sudanese Red Crescent, one of its main partners in Sudan, wants more direct budget support from the Geneva-based humanitarian group. This has not yet been confirmed by the ICRC as of posting time.

The insider also did not understand why the issue escalated instead of being resolved peacefully by both parties. The dispute has now placed them, the source noted, in an “embarrassing” situation that could significantly alter their working relationship in the future.

In 2013, the Sudanese aid commission released new guidelines on how humanitarian organizations should operate in the country, including the issuance of work and travel permits — but the guidelines do not require them to coordinate all their activities with national organizations, which the commission now appears to be asking the ICRC.

If that’s true, it’s just not feasible because because there are certain activities that international organizations can address better than local groups, according to our source. For instance, the ICRC has better access to rebel-held areas than the Sudanese Red Crescent due to the latter’s association with the government, although many of its partners describe it effective and reliable.

None of the organizations Devex spoke fear they will share the same fate as the ICRC in Sudan, noting this could very well be an isolated case. But in an already challenging environment for humanitarians, the government could play this weakness to its advantage.

At present, the ICRC insists: “If we had not been following certain procedures, how could we have assisted [almost] 1.5 million people [in the past year]?”

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.