From the annual report of the International Committee of the Red Cross for 1986:

During 1986 ICRC delegates visited persons deprived of their liberty (prisoners of war and "security detainees") in 719 places of detention in 37 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East.

ICRC activities in favor of prisoners -- whether in situations covered by the Geneva Conventions or outside the scope of international humanitarian law -- are governed by precise criteria: delegates must be allowed to see all prisoners and talk to them freely, without witnesses; the ICRC must have access to all places of detention and be able to repeat the visits. Moreover, the ICRC usually asks for a list of the persons to be visited or for permission to draw up such a list during the visit.

The purpose of ICRC visits is to examine the material and psychological conditions of detention, not the reasons for detention. Where necessary, the ICRC distributes relief supplies to prisoners or their families, who often find themselves with no means of support. These supplies consist mainly of food, toilet requisites, sport and leisure articles, books, etc.

The visits are the subject of confidential reports made available only to the detaining authorities.

Visiting prisoners and caring for the wounded are not the only humanitarian tasks arising from armed conflict and unrest. Owing to the often indiscriminate nature of hostilities and the increasingly sophisticated weapons used, the victims most hard-hit by modern conflicts are the civilian population. The ICRC often engages in large-scale assistance programs which are themselves a form of protection, since they enable the victims to survive and discourage hostile acts against them.