Nebraska in the News: Le Temps quotes Husker expert on woes facing international Red Cross

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Nebraska in the News: Le Temps quotes Husker expert on woes facing international Red Cross

David Forsythe
David Forsythe

The International Committee of the Red Cross, founded in 1863 in Geneva, Switzerland, is undergoing a financial and an identity crisis. David Forsythe, political science professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, was among those recently interviewed about the Red Cross’ challenges for a June 9 article in Le Temps, Switzerland’s leading French-language newspaper.

Forsythe is an internationally recognized expert on the humanitarian organization, which is known especially for its attention to prisoners of war. His new book, “The Contemporary ICRC: Challenges, Changes, Controversies,” is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press later this year.

Nebraska’s nationally recognized Forsythe Family Program on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs is named in honor of prolific professor who joined the Nebraska faculty in 1973 and served as chair of the Department of Political Science from 1993 to 1998. Courtney Hillebrecht, current director of the Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Program, said Forsythe’s research is particularly timely and important considering the ongoing war in Ukraine, as well as continued conflict and humanitarian disasters around the globe.

Under former President Peter Maurer, who departed in September 2022, the ICRC’s annual budget grew nearly 250% from 2012 to 2023 to reach 2.85 billion francs ($3.1 billion), while its staff ballooned nearly 45%, to 22,600. The Red Cross now faces budget cuts of more than 400 million francs, the loss of some 3,000 jobs and the closure of 26 of its 350 sites.

Mirjana Spoljaric, current president, and General Robert Mardini, director, have said the organization was forced to make the reductions because of declining donations and higher costs from inflationary pressures. The Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations have been hit hard by two major crises — the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Red Cross leaders have said the financial situation remains precarious.

However, about 2,500 staff signed a letter that questioned whether the Red Cros had veered from its core missions of providing life-saving relief and protection to people living through armed conflict and similar major violence, instead pumping massive amounts of money into humanitarian assistance operations for longer term recovery, along with more attention to migrants and also urban violence like gang warfare.

Forsythe told reporter Stéphane Bussard the organization will need to restore internal checks and balances, starting with the governing board, that were weakened during the Maurer presidency.

Still, the Red Cross must remain competitive with major United Nations agencies and large non-governmental organizations in raising money for humanitarian causes, Forsythe said. The article, which was picked up by the Reuters news service, noted that ICRC serves as a main instrument of Switzerland’s “soft power,” and is closely linked to the Swiss government. The Red Cross emblem is the reverse of the Swiss national flag.

Forsythe believes the Red Cross will survive this crisis, adding he does not believe it to be as serious as the threats to the organization’s existence that occurred after World War II.

“The financial hole of the ICRC is 12 to 13 percent of its annual 2023 budget,” he said in the Le Temps article. “It is important, but it does not represent an existential threat.”

The real threat, he said, is disagreement on focus and limits to action.

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