|ICRC Action on Behalf of Prisoners (International Committee of the Red Cross , 1998, 36 p.)|
Every day, somewhere in the world, men, women and children are deprived of their freedom in countries torn by armed conflict, civil war or political, ethnic or religious violence. In suck situations, anyone rightly or wrongly suspected of acting on behalf of "the other side" or belonging to the enemy is likely to be arrested. Even in societies where the rule of law prevails, the authorities may, if they feel threatened, be tempted to use undue force in order to attain their political or military objectives. The same is true of opposition factions. People deprived of their freedom in such circumstances are particularly vulnerable, for they are in danger of disappearing or being subjected to torture or ill-treatment.
Under international humanitarian law and the mandate entrusted to it by the international community, the ICRC is responsible for helping the victims of both national and international armed conflicts and of other situations of violence.
Since 1915 the ICRC has progressively developed procedures for visiting and subsequently monitoring the conditions in which people deprived of their freedom are detained. On the basis of the Geneva Conventions or with the prior consent of the detaining authorities, it regularly visits prisoners of war, civilian internees and security prisoners, and keeps a check on their situation until they are released. By making repeated visits, it is able to assess the psychological and material conditions of detention. The ICRC reports its findings to the authorities and, if necessary, asks them to take steps to halt any abuses noted or remedy shortcomings in the prison system.
Although the risk of purely arbitrary arrest is high, particularly during internal unrest, the ICRC remains strictly neutral: it does not comment on the grounds for imprisonment, but confines its observations and requests to the conditions of detention. However, it does make sure that people facing prosecution benefit by the minimum legal safeguards laid down in international law, particularly international humanitarian law.
Through its work the ICRC supports the efforts made by the international community to promote respect for international humanitarian law and the general principles of human rights.