The Treatment of Detainees for the International Red Cross

MAY 7, 2023
Two years ago I worked on a project for the International Red Cross in Geneva where I created panoramic images to describe do’s and don’ts in warfare and the treatment of prisoners. I worked with the ICRC media team as well as former and active military personnel getting the images as correct as possible. The reference hunting was a challenge- not many armies look to document their wartime activities for public inspection- and I drew much from the reference amassed from my own missions with our military both in training exercises and overseas. I’m not sure if the work was ever used though the response was very positive by the end, and the military advisors were impressed by my notations of subtleties that only come from actual on the spot observation.  Still, I felt that because I was focusing on getting the “facts” correct, and finding myself deep in the weeds of getting things “right” after a certain point I could feel the work lose a sense of reportage spontaneity and my feelings about the finishes were mixed. In essence, they became illustrations.  I assumed that that pretty much put an end to my relationship with the ICRC, and despite the positive feedback from the team in Geneva, their experiment in using drawings, instead of photos, to illustrate their guidelines, was going to come to an end.
Then in late 2022 I received an email from a different team at ICRC, telling me that based on the response for the first project I was being recommended for a follow up.  This time the focus was not going to be on organized, governmental military forces but the non-governmental, insurgent, rebel, militias and insurgencies. Fascinating concept. To distribute tiny booklets regarding rules of warfare to insurgent and rebel forces. Who would guess?  But Geneva rules are Geneva rules. 
Once again the reference hunting for this project was the main challenge. Better reference, better images. I brought its importance up with the new team and also addressed the problems I created for myself in the first project by turning the images into panoramas with not entirely feasible situations happening all at once. My suggestion was that we go with vignettes that focus on the individual points.  Our Zoom conferences were very productive and once again it was a pleasure to kick ideas back and forth in real time and not always via texts or email.
Many sketches were done, and many visual ideas were adjusted to make them more understandable.  Initially, I hadn’t fully grasped that this project was being addressed to non-governmental fighting forcers, and continued creating sketches where the soldiers looked too well garbed.  The target audience, while not totally rag tag, was still pretty improvisational enough in appearance. That meant creating uniforms that, while not consistent, could be differentiated in an image belonging to one group or another. These are militias that are fighting organized government forces or each other. Uniforms were also not to be specific so as to identify any particular group, similar to the first project, but the more research I did the more it became apparent that there was little consistency within any rebel militia. Together we worked out that balance regarding improvisational attire.
The images regarding treatment of prisoners took me down some rough rabbit holes of research, and evidences of man’s inhumanity to man made for some very unsettling finds. People’s capacity to inflict upon others what can only be described as gratuitous sadism seemed bottomless. Sometimes I had to stop the research, sit back, have a drink, and wonder at what our species is all about; the species that claims to be made in the image and likeness of a god.
Adjustments were made in the sketching process to consider the role of women in these militias as well as national representation.  The same focus went to the representation of ICRC staff in the illustrations. In some images it seemed best to do close up views, in others a more stand back view.  Very often, images were cobbled together from several reference images, in order to keep body language and plausibility intact. Sometimes I just had photos taken of myself to get the pose and attitude correct. 
Realizing that changes to the illustrations could very likely happen based on updated information and feedback from the military advisors, all my coloring was done on the Wacom Cintiq.  The original drawings were in black Prismacolor pencil on quality bond paper, then scanned, and colored in layers.  This indeed turned out to be an excellent decision as we did return to some of the finishes to make changes, which for me merely involved deleting a layer in Photoshop and adding the revise. 
Many thanks to Tilman Rodenhauser, Aradhna Duggal, and Eloise Lefebvre for their valuable input and assistance. The project would have been impossible without their guidance and I was very pleasantly surprised to see the finished publications that came in the mail last week. This was another great opportunity to do what I most love to do. Draw.
You'll note some of the images are repeated. I added the actual pages to show them in the context of the copy. There is a full 8 1/2 by 11 instructional with more informational detail but the small copy is meant to be distributed to warring parties. Not all the same images were used in the large and small versions of the guidelines. I'm adding them here as well.
Some images were deemed too rough regarding the issue of abuse of detainees. What I found in my reference hunting was a deep dive into human cruelty. These images are PG by comparison.
The evolution of portraying care of captured prisoners. A number of sketches were done from various angles that I found. Sometimes the drawings, while good, did not tell the full story.
Another version of medical care for the wounded prisoner. Everything was okay except the figure in the background needed to be a woman.
I found myself paying close attention to the body language and weapon handling from the photo research.
An early version of treatment of captured child soldiers.
The final version.
The decision here was to change the locale and the militias fighting to more southeast Asian. It also allowed me the opportunity to rethink the use of color and placement of figures.
Release of detainees image. An example of the mashing of a few images found online. Good drawing but not clear whether they are leaving or being confined. A more outdoor overview to clarify was needed. It turned out to be the one piece that was more panoramic. Also there was a request to add a woman guard .
There were other matters to address in the drawings such as proper representation of how weapons are held in certain regions. Interesting YouTube searches were an education in protocol. Also, in this image the soldier handing the phone was too governmental in appearance.
All detainees must in all circumstances be treated humanely and without adverse distinction. Rule 1 in the larger version.
Older detainees and detainees with disabilities are entitled to special respect and protection. Rule 4 in the larger publication.
Arbitrary detention is prohibited. A drawing for the larger version. Rule 11 in the larger publication.
No one may be convicted of an offense for which they are not personally responsible.No one may be convicted or sentenced except pursuant to a fair trial affording all essential judicial guarantees. Rule 13 in the larger version.
© 2024 Victor Juhasz