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Statement of the ICRC concerning Internally Displaced Persons - Report of the UNHCR

04-11-1997 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly 52nd session, Third Committee, Item 107 of the agenda, Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 4 November 1997

Mr Chairman,

Over the past year, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children have been driven from their homes by violence and war. In an attempt to save their lives, many of them have had to cross national borders. Today it is more crucial than ever that the States respect the basic principle of non-refoulement ,   despite the heavy burden that a massive influx of refugees represents for the host countries. Similarly, the international community must support all expressions of solidarity with civilians fleeing combat zones. Furthermore, refugees must not be forced to return to their countries of origin if conditions of security and human dignity cannot be guaranteed. Indeed, an untimely return can once again exacerbate tensions and undermine the process of reconciliation.

It is also vital to ensure that refugee camps retain their civilian and peaceful character . The refugee population must not become hostage to armed groups, and camps must not be used as military bases. If this is allowed to happen, then refugees - most of the time war victims - find themselves once again caught up in a vicious circle of violence. The disarmament and internment of any armed groups operating in refugee camps are one of the prerequisites for the application of the basic principles of refugee law. It should be recalled that these tasks are the duty of the authorities of the host State. Furthermore, establishing the refugee camps as far a way as possible from the borders can only serve to guarantee their security and reinforce their civilian nature.

Mr Chairman,

In the course of this year, the ICRC has pursued its work of providing protection and assistance to all victims of war, including persons displaced within their own country.

In the Great Lakes region of Africa , for instance, the ICRC distributed basic necessities and drinking water to tens of thousands of refugees and displaced persons during their desperate flight along the roads and through the forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The operation was carried out in highly inhospitable terrain, from Kivu to Kisangani, as well as in Lukuléla, in the Republic of the Congo.

The ICRC also managed to return thousands of displaced persons in Kisangani and Kinshasa back to their places of origin in the Goma and Bukavu regions, and to reunite hundreds of unaccompanied children with their families in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as in Rwanda.

Elsewhere in the world, the ICRC has been engaged in similar work in behalf of war victims. In Afghanistan it has provided assistance to between 40,000 and 50,000 displaced persons, mainly in the north of the country. Overall, it is helping over 400,000 people, whether displaced or not. The ICRC also runs medical assistance programmes in various hospitals and agricultural rehabilitation programmes, as well.

In Sri Lanka , the ICRC provided assistance to 7,000 families who had fled the fighting in the Vanni region; its mobile teams are continuing to provide medical care for the population living in the conflict zones.

In Tajikistan the ICRC has assisted some 20,000 displaced persons. In Armenia and in Azerbaijan it has come to the aid of 95,000 civilians, many of them displaced. In the Northern Caucasus help has been provided for some 120,000 people, including displaced persons.

Our last example is Colombia , where since the beginning of the year the ICRC has helped some 40,000 internally displaced persons, either by providing food or paying the transport costs of those who, because of threats received, had to move to another part of the country.

Mr Chairman,

International humanitarian law attaches great importance to the question of civilians displaced within their own country ; in particular, it prohibits forced movements of civilian population. In view of the massive violations of humanitarian law witnessed nowadays, greater efforts are needed to ensure that the law is better respected. This would help prevent many instances of forced displacement. In this regard, the ICRC feels it necessary to point out once again that all the States party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and to their 1977 Additional Protocols are under obligation to scrupulously apply these treaties and to ensure compliance with their provisions. Armed opposition movements are also bound to compliance with these treaties.

The ICRC has been associated with the important work on the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement , drawn up by Mr Francis Deng, the Secretary-General's representative on internally displaced persons. The ICRC hopes that this reminder of the elementary principles of protection afforded under humanitarian law and human rights law will lead to more effective protection of the civil ian population against forced displacements, and of those who have already joined the ranks of the displaced.

Mr Chairman,

In order to guarantee an efficient coordination and a more coherent action by the various humanitarian organizations in the field, constant consultations between them are more important than ever. In addition, such consultations can make a significant contribution towards reducing the risks encountered by humanitarian personnel in the field.

Indeed, the increasing number of serious security incidents affecting humanitarian personnel is a source of growing concern. Any attack on humanitarian action negates the very foundations of assistance and protection work. This is a problem that concerns us all. It concerns the politicians as well, and calls for a concerted response. In this connection, the ICRC wishes to remind this Committee that the matter will be on the agenda of the first Periodical Meeting of the States party to the Geneva Conventions , scheduled to take place in Geneva in January 1998. The ICRC hopes that all those States will take an active part in the meeting.

In responding to crises, humanitarian organizations and those involved in political/military action operate more and more frequently in the same working environment. To avoid any confusion, however, humanitarian activity must be able to preserve its full autonomy . This is the only way for it to maintain its neutrality and independence, thus safeguarding the dignity of every individual and alleviating the suffering endured by the victims.

Mr Chairman,

We should like to conclude by saying how much the ICRC values its close relationship with UNHCR. Thus far our two institution s have maintained ongoing dialogue at every level. This dialogue must be pursued, particularly with regard to the problem of internally displaced persons. We are convinced that our joint efforts will lead to positive results.

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

[Ref.: LG 1997-114-ENG ]