The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is in crisis. For the first time in one hundred and sixty years of history, its 2023 budget (2.8 billion Swiss francs, or nearly 2.9 billion euros), 90% financed by state contributions – the United States, Germany and Switzerland in the lead – could not be completed.
Faced with these financial difficulties, linked according to its leaders to an increase in expenses due to inflation and a drop in the generosity of donors, a global plan to reduce costs by 430 million Swiss francs (443 million euros) was announced on March 30 for the period from 2023 to early 2024, bringing the organization’s overall budget to 2.4 billion Swiss francs (2.47 billion euros).
This plan is accompanied by 1,800 job cuts, out of 20,000 employees. A figure that could go up to 3,000, if we take into account the fixed-term contracts that will not be extended and the people who were preparing to leave for the field and whose mission was canceled.
If the Swiss government has to put its hand in its pocket, as it did during the Covid pandemic, where it granted the organization an interest-free loan of 200 million Swiss francs (206 million euros), for Jean-François Corty, doctor and associate researcher at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris), this crisis raises a number of questions.
“The ICRC is not an NGO. It is bound by the Geneva Conventions which it itself initiated and is accountable. To limit its dependence on state funds, the ICRC has sought in recent years to diversify its sources of funding by approaching the private sector and foundations, which poses a problem of choice of governance and aid arbitration. Today, most Western countries prioritize aid to Ukraine over other countries.
Moral crisis and criticism of the Peter Maurer presidency
The ICRC crisis is also moral. In March, when the savings plan was announced, nearly 2,500 employees signed an open letter asking for a “right to inventory” the decade of Peter Maurer’s presidency (2012 to 2022), during which, they, the ICRC has developed away from the core of its mission.
“They consider that the organization has sold its soul and moved away from its core business, visiting prisoners, explains a humanitarian expert who wishes to remain anonymous. Peter Maurer multiplied the ICRC’s humanitarian actions in 80 countries around the world, and its budget exploded. And the new management methods have upset the working relationships within the organization. »
The expert also calls into question the political choice of Peter Maurer to join the founding council of the World Economic Forum. “Associating with the big capitalists of the world is a major moral fault. For a certain number of employees, the ICRC has become a large humanitarian multinational with management methods in which they no longer find themselves”, according to him. Voices are being raised within the ICRC to reduce humanitarian assistance activities and concentrate on basic missions, such as protecting victims of conflict, visiting prisoners and tracing the missing.
“Because of its important role with the most precarious populations and prisoners”, the ICRC crisis is a subject of concern “for the humanitarian world as a whole”, adds Jean-François Corty.