JERUSALEM –The International Committee of the Red Cross has committed itself to dealing with the humanitarian issue of missing persons, including the Israelis soldiers and civilians currently being held in Gaza, ICRC President Dr. Peter Maurer said Thursday. Maurer was speaking as the guest lecturer at a meeting of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations (ICFR), which operates under the auspices of the World Jewish Congress and chairmanship of WJC President Ronald S. Lauder.
Conveying greetings from President Lauder and WJC CEO Robert Singer, ICFR Director Dr. Laurence Weinbaum welcomed Dr. Maurer and called him "a great humanitarian." Weinbaum also spoke of the “moral failings of the Red Cross during the horrific years of the Holocaust,” and said, "We are grateful to you for confronting that history with candor and sensitivity.”
Maurer, a former Swiss diplomat, praised Lauder "for teaching us to be critical of ourselves" and the World Jewish Congress for working toward furthering the respect of humanitarian law. Maurer also expressed his esteem for Singer, with whom he has met numerous times.
Over the course of his 45-minute speech, Maurer addressed the many challenges facing the ICRC worldwide. Modern conflicts tend to be increasingly protracted - the average length of ICRC involvement in any given conflict is now 36 years - and increasingly urbanized.
These conflicts in the modern "world of disorder" carry an extraordinary financial burden, he added. “The cost of violent conflict today is 30 trillion dollars,” Maurer said.
Referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Maurer said that the cumulative impact of the conflict was wearing people down and resentment was becoming embedded within society. Frustration is being felt by even moderate Palestinians in the territories, he said.
Speaking of the ongoing humanitarian crises in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere, Maurer said it is "heartbreaking that human suffering is so low on the political agenda…. There is a proliferation of a culture of indifference.”
As the respondent to Dr. Maurer’s address, ICFR Board Member Prof. Irwin Cotler drew attention to the plight of the families of the Israelis being held in Gaza and thanked Dr. Maurer for meeting with them. Cotler spoke of the blatant violations of international law taking place in Syria, and the failure of the international community to intervene. He also recalled the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, whose story is less known than that of the Palestinian refugees from the same time period.
The World Jewish Congress has met with Maurer on a number of occasions. WJC CEO Singer in June delivered a petition holding more than 11,000 signatures to Maurer at a meeting in Geneva, asking the International Committee of the Red Cross to pressure Hamas into returning the bodies of two young Israeli soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, to their families..
The WJC and the ICRC also organized a joint symposium in April 2015 in Geneva to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. In his keynote address at the 2015 event, Maurer admitted on behalf of his organization: “The ICRC failed to protect civilians and, most notably, the Jews persecuted and murdered by the Nazi regime. It failed as a humanitarian organization because it lost its moral compass.”