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IRC President Acknowledges Moral Failure
During World War II

ICRC president admits "moral failure" in Holocaust
By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, May 30 (Reuter) - Cornelio Sommaruga, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), for the first time on Tuesday acknowledged the humanitarian agency's "moral failure" during World War Two.

Sommaruga, in a statement to mark the 50th anniversary of the conflict, said that the ICRC regretted what he called its "possible omissions and errors of the past."

The Swiss-run agency has been criticised by historians over the years for failing to openly denounce atrocities against Jews and other minorities in Hitler's concentration camps.

A spokesman confirmed it was the first time that the ICRC had publicly accepted criticism of its inaction during the Holocaust, during which six million European Jews died. "We have taken another look at our own share of the responsibility for the almost complete failure by a culture, indeed a civilisation, to prevent the systematic genocide of an entire people and of certain minority groups," Sommaruga said in a prepared statement.

The ICRC managed to achieve a lot during World War Two, in particular for prisoners of war, despite the limited scope of humanitarian law agreed by member states at the time, according to its current president.

"But believe me, every moment spent today on our humanitarian responsibilities to assist the victims of war and political violence reminds me of our institution's moral failure with regard to the Holocaust, since it did not succeed in moving beyond the limited legal framework established by the states," Sommaruga said.

"Today's ICRC can only regret the possible omissions and errors of the past," he added.

Asked by a reporter whether his remarks constituted a formal apology on behalf of his predecessors, he declined to elaborate. Sommaruga also noted that in 1934 the ICRC submitted a draft convention setting out measures to protect civilian populations in enemy hands and in occupied territories.

The four Geneva Conventions designed to safeguard the rights of civilians as well as armed forces and prisoners of war during conflict were only agreed in 1949.

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March 8, 1999

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