Prince Charles visits Red Cross in Geneva

Prince Charles and Jacob Kellenberger, President of the ICRC, in Geneva on Friday Keystone

Britain’s Prince Charles was in Geneva on Friday for a whirlwind visit to the Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

This content was published on March 26, 2004

During his trip, the Prince of Wales discussed ICRC operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and saw family prisoner of war (PoW) records.

In his role as President of the British Red Cross, the prince also met officials from the Geneva-based Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, where he was updated on the ongoing relief efforts in Iran’s earthquake-stricken region of Bam.

“I hugely admire everything the Red Cross and Red Crescent do,” Prince Charles told a small pool of reporters, including swissinfo.

“It’s been a great joy for me to come and see all the things they’re doing, the many challenges and the difference they're making to so many people’s lives, which is a great thing,” he added.

Family links

Following a brief visit to the Federation, Prince Charles was taken on a tour of the Red Cross Museum, where he was shown the original copy of the Geneva Conventions, which outline the rules of law during times of war and occupation.

He was also shown records of two relatives, who were helped by the ICRC during the First and Second World Wars.

Prince Charles was visibly moved as he was given copies of the prison camp records of his great uncle, Michael Bowes-Lyon, who was captured by German forces during the First World War, and John Elphinstone, who was a PoW in Germany during the Second World War.

Bowes-Lyon was the older brother of the late Queen Mother Elizabeth, Prince Charles’s grandmother. Elphinstone was her nephew.

Among the documents he received were copies of cards telling their families that they were alive.

Sentimental journey

“I remember him [Elphinstone] talking about it,” said Prince Charles. “It was a great worry for everybody not knowing where he had disappeared to.”

His spokeswoman, Kristeen Clark, told swissinfo that seeing the records had made the trip a sentimental one for the heir to the British throne.

“This was something he very much wanted to see and it highlights so clearly the historical role and the continuing work of the Red Cross,” said Clark. “So I think it was fascinating and very moving for him.”

In addition to learning about the ICRC’s past efforts to help trace missing persons and PoWs, Prince Charles was also informed about the humanitarian organisation’s more recent work in Rwanda, where it is still helping to reunite families caught up in the 1994 genocide.

The prince also toured a reconstruction of a three-by-two-metre jail cell, which held 17 detainees and was closed down after pressure from the ICRC. The organisation, which steers clear of political commentary, did not identify the country where the prisoners were held.

Threatened neutrality

After his tour of the museum, Prince Charles met in private with the ICRC’s president, Jakob Kellenberger, and the organisation's director of operations, Pierre Kraehenbuehl.

Kellenberger told swissinfo the main thrust of their discussions had been on the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It was a great day that Prince Charles came to visit the ICRC,” said Kellenberger. “It was also a great opportunity to explain our main concerns and priorities.”

“We also discussed the challenge nowadays to have independent and neutral humanitarian action.”


Kellenberger made reference to last year’s bombing of the ICRC’s headquarters in Baghdad and described the security environment in Iraq as “extremely difficult”.

He added that the ICRC’s reduced staffing levels in Iraq – as a result of the bombing – had hampered the organisation’s ability to carry out its mandate to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions.

But he insisted that the ICRC was intent on continuing to carry out its work in Iraq.

“We’re trying to keep up our two main activities to visit prisoners of war and detainees, including members of the former regime… and that’s about ten thousand people,” Kellenberger said.

“We’re also trying to maintain links between separated family members and keep up emergency medical intervention.”

Following their talks, Kellenberger escorted Prince Charles outside ICRC headquarters, where he was greeted by employees of the organisation.

The prince shook hands and chatted with several people, before telling the crowd that he greatly admired their work.

He then left the ICRC and was expected to travel to the Swiss Alpine resort of Klosters for a skiing holiday with his elder son, William.

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

Key facts

The neutral, Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross was established in 1863 as the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded.
It has since helped millions of prisoners of war and victims of conflict by providing humanitarian aid, tracing missing persons and helping PoWs contact their families.
Prince Charles visited the Red Cross headquarters in Geneva as part of his duties as the president of the British Red Cross – a role he took over in March 2003.
The position was previously held by his grandmother, Queen Mother Elizabeth, who died in 2002 at the age of 101.

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