ICRC and the Language Factor: Who Does the Talking?

Guaviare state, San José del Guaviare. An ICRC delegate speaks with members of FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) while they peruse ICRC brochures, during a dissemination session on international humanitarian law (IHL). © ICRC / B. Mosquera / co-e-01956

Guaviare state, San José del Guaviare. An ICRC delegate speaks with members of FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) while they peruse ICRC brochures, during a dissemination session on international humanitarian law (IHL). © ICRC / B. Mosquera / co-e-01956

That the ICRC brings relief to people affected by war and armed conflict is well understood; we’ve all seen the organisation’s logo present in scenes of conflict around the world from our television screens. But have you ever stopped to think how ICRC's delegates communicate with the local people they seek to help? How do they discuss prison conditions with detainees, for example, talk to local people about what is happening during the fighting or trace family members of people separated by conflict?

In many instances, the ICRC relies on its locally hired field officers to interpret. But in certain situations – such as in a prison, or when discussing with civilians their complaints about the police or army – it is not appropriate to do so. As a neutral organisation, it’s essential that we are trusted by all sides which means that the staff we use for some of our more sensitive humanitarian work cannot be from the countries where we will send them. This policy is unique to the ICRC among NGOs and international organisations, demonstrating how seriously we take our commitment to neutrality.

Currently ICRC has need for interpreters in 20 different languages from around the world.  As part of the recruitment process, one of ICRC's delegates will be coming to Washington, DC on September 3rd to recruit at the East Coast Returned Peace Corps Volunteer careers fair. Within the NGO sector, the Peace Corps is renowned for its pre-mission training in the language and culture of the countries where its volunteers are posted. Its volunteers are also known for their resilience, flexibility and can-do attitude; all essential qualities for the ICRC.

So if you are a returned volunteer and have learnt Kinyarwanda, Amharic, Khmer or any of the languages listed here, come and see us at the fair. We’d be delighted to meet you and to tell you more.

For more information on working for ICRC, visit our list of job openings.