Protecting civilians in armed conflict
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Interview with Alain Délétroz, Geneva Call’s new Director General: “Keeping humanity alive where fire, steel and ashes tear apart the weak”

9th February 2018 |

On 1 January 2018, Alain Délétroz became Geneva Call’s General Director. With more than twenty years of experience in conflict-affected areas, he intends to further develop the organization and increase Geneva Call’s impact to protect civilian populations in armed conflict. After two months at the head of the organization, he shares his vision, priorities and first impressions.

Geneva Call’s work with armed non-State actors is unique and may be surprising for the general public. What motivated you to take on the challenge of leading this organization?

My foremost motivation was to join in the concrete work of Geneva Call; to engage armed non-State actors (ANSAs) on the ground, with the specific purpose of protecting civilians in conflict zones. The difficult and sometimes dangerous work of changing ANSAs’ practices can be challenging to comprehend, but our work can make a real contribution to whether an ANSA’s actions spare or deal mortal blows to communities, protect or assault children and women and save or destroy lives.

Before joining Geneva Call, I spent over a decade of my life working in political analysis, with the aim of advocating to governments policies that would prevent the eruption of armed conflicts or to resolve existing ones. Whilst there will always be a need for solid political analysis, the world has entered a new era of disruption and chaos, and more attention must be paid to the rise of ANSA’s and their massive impact on civilian populations. Serving as member of Board of Directors for the past two years, I was well aware of the unique and highly respected role Geneva Call plays in engaging directly with ANSAs. With the retirement of Mrs. Elisabeth Decrey Warner, founder and past Executive President of Geneva Call, I have the honour to lead Geneva Call into the next era as we work together to face these new challenges of our times. I would like to thank Mrs Decrey Warner for her example of strength, courage and vision. Her incredible intuition has not only contributed to enhancing international humanitarian law (IHL), but also to save countless lives.

After one month in your new position, what do you find most surprising about Geneva Call?

The dedication of our colleagues who put tremendous effort in the realization of our goals! I am impressed to see our operational colleagues meeting and dialoguing with commanders of ANSAs on the ground, which are often involved in active military operations. What struck me most, though, is once an ANSA that controls a territory starts respecting the principles of IHL, this opens a complete new set of issues: administration of justice, education, health, protection of children to name a few. The paradox of our position as an organization is striking: whilst governments support our work in engaging ANSAs to respect IHL, they feel much unease once these groups change their attitude and begin delivering services to the populations they control that are usually the sole prerogative of States.

Can you tell us what are your top three immediate priorities for the organization?

My very first priority for this year is to ensure financial sustainability to all our programs globally. Geneva Call is very well positioned in all Middle East conflicts with a capacity to engage ANSAs, train them in IHL, and, when relevant, bring them to Geneva to sign Deeds of Commitment under the auspice of the State Council of Geneva. Looking beyond the Middle East Region, we are not yet operating at the level of need in Africa, Asia and Europe. It is critical that Geneva Call is able to do the same kind of geographically balanced and deep work in those regions too.

My second priority would be to support the urgent development of a fourth Deed of Commitment on Protection of Medical Missions. The number of attacks on medical personnel and hospitals has dramatically increased in the last years. It has been a real concern for our partners at the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations, Médecins Sans Frontières, and for the humanitarian world in general. There are real expectations for Geneva Call to act quickly on this front and I look forward to seeing the positive impact this new instrument will bring to protecting medical missions.

My third priority will be to ensure that Geneva Call continues to set up field operations that offer the best possible working conditions for our employees. After an operational review, the board has approved creating field offices to better serve our mission and more effectively engage ANSA’s, where we previously worked exclusively out of the Geneva headquarters. This strategic change implies new security and management challenges and a re-definition of the way all support services work. The structure is adapting quickly to this new reality and I am committed to leading this transition with employees’ safety in mind as my key concern.

How do you envisage Geneva Call in ten years?

My vision is that in ten years time, Geneva Call would have the capability and sustainable funding to answer the call to promote the respect and adoption of IHL in ALL the areas of the world where ANSAs are active.

Doing the work we do, witnessing so many horrors and killings is not without danger: one can easily lose faith in humanity and turn cynical. I intend to lead Geneva Call towards a future that remains faithful to its core mission to keep humanity alive where steel and ashes tear apart the weak. Geneva Call will remain committed and passionate, a place where our employees and partners can feel satisfaction, knowing that their efforts have helped advance respect of IHL and, above all, have had a direct impact on protection of civilians in the zones of conflict.