Just as President Obama made a rare statement from the Oval Office on how the U.S. plans to destroy ISIS, one organization reached out to the terrorist organization with a higher goal in mind. In an interview with Agence France-Presse published Sunday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Director-General Yves Daccord said that the International Red Cross reached out to ISIS about sending humanitarian aid to the millions of people living under its control. While the majority of the world is bent on fighting the group with no mercy, the ICRC's fearless attempt to establish a relationship with them reminds us of a more important goal: helping those who suffer. It's a move which illustrates what being humanitarian truly means.
While it might seem outrageous to engage a group like ISIS for any reason whatsoever, the ICRC's mission transcends any political or ideological boundaries, for the sake of saving lives. In the interview, Daccord stressed his organization's "non-partisan" stance on highly politicized issues:
An actor like the ICRC, what we have to do is we really have to be absolutely, deeply humanitarian. No social agenda, no change agenda ... You might have an opinion, but that's not the problem.
So what is the most significant problem, then?
We have a very clear humanitarian vision. First, what we see is 10 million people. Ten million people under the control of the Islamic State group. We are interested in these 10 million people ... What happens to them? What are their problems? This is what will guide us.
Daccord says that in order to give them humanitarian aid, the ICRC must first overcome the challenge of gaining access:
In Syria, we have no ability to access some of these places ... It's too dangerous for us. We have not been able to establish the link.
Its humanitarian operations have been a little easier in Iraq, but the Red Cross still lacks a "permanent presence" in ISIS-controlled territories. The ICRC ultimately aims to work "in close proximity" with those who need assistance, and in order to do that, they must "talk to everybody."
We are, of course, looking at building a relationship.
Daccord's views are perhaps the truest embodiment of humanitarianism. Not only is the ICRC rising above the global war on terror to focus on the people whose suffering at the hands of extremists is the ultimate reason we fight — an impetus that is often forgotten in political discussions on terrorism — but these humanitarian aid workers also continue to risk their lives for their mission. The world has watched in horror as ISIS killed aid workers Alan Henning, Peter Kassig, Kayla Mueller, and David Haines over the last year. But fear has not deterred workers from continuing to head to the front lines.
According to Daccord, an unprecedented 49 volunteers with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (the Syrian arm of the ICRC) have been killed in Syria in recent years. Despite this, the organization is still sending and recruiting volunteers to help the people in its war-torn regions. The ICRC's Syria page reads:
The humanitarian situation in Syria is catastrophic and deteriorating day by day. The people are facing a bitter winter ahead and they have very few resources.
As the ICRC prepares to meet for its conference in Geneva this week to discuss the increasing challenges imposed by groups like ISIS, the organization can at least rest assured knowing that it has never wavered in its humanitarian mission or values since its first convention in 1864.