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The ICRC is granted observer status at the United Nations

31-12-1990 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 279

Full text of the UN General Assembly resolution of 16 October 1990, granting the ICRC observer status at the world body.

 Forty-fifth session of the United Nations General Assembly  

 Explanatory memorandum  

On 16 October 1990, the United Nations General Assembly decided to invite the ICRC to take part in its proceedings as an observer. A resolution to this effect, which was sponsored by 138 of the United Nations'members, was adopted without a vote.

The text of the resolution is as follows:

 Observer status for the International Committee  

 of the Red Cross in consideration of the special role  

 and mandates conferred upon it by the Geneva Conventions  

 of 12 August 1949  

    

 The General Assembly,  

 Recalling the mandates conferred upon the International Committee of the Red Cross by the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949,

 Considering the special role carried on accordingly by the International Committee of the Red Cross in international humanitarian relations,

 Desirous of promoting co-operation between the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross,

1. Decides to invite the International Committee of the Red Cross to participate in the sessions and the work of the General Assembly in the capacity of observer,

2. Requests the Secretary-General to take the necessary action to implement the present resolution.

In a letter dated 16 August 1990 to the UN Secretary-General, the permanent representatives of 21 countries asked that the question of observer status for the ICRC be included in the agenda. The letter was accompanied by an explanatory memorandum (Doc. A/45/191), the text of which is printed below, and the draft resolution (see above).

The draft resolution was presented to a plenary meeting of the General Assembly by H.E. Mr. Vieri Traxler, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations. It was for historical reasons, he explained, that Italy was presenting the resolution: Henry Dunant had conceived the idea of the Red Cross on the battlefield in Solferino. Speaking on behalf of the co-sponsors, Mr. Traxler first paid tribute to the ICRC for its achievements in the codification, development and implementation of international humanitarian law and for its role as a neutral and impartial intermediary dedicated to the pursuit of humanitarian ends. He then proposed that the ICRC's impressive contribution to the humanitarian cause be saluted by granting it observer status.

It should be recalled here that a number of States and Organizations, in particular specialized or regional international organizations, have observer status at the United Nations. This is the first time, however, that such status has been granted to an institution which is not a government organization. In this connection Mr. Traxler pointed out that according to the co-sponsors of the proposal, the granting of observer status to the ICRC should not be considered as a precedent, and went on to say that " the special role conferred upon the ICRC by the international community and the mandates given to it by the Geneva Conventions make of it an institution unique of its kind and exclusively alone in its status " .

Several other speakers, in particular the representatives of India, Pakistan and the United States, endorsed this view.

* * *

Mr. Comelio Sommaruga, ICRC President, remarked that "the  ICRC's admission as an observer to the United Nations represents a  remarkable recognition of the role played by the institution in international affairs".  Through its decision, the General Assembly has reaffirmed both the ICRC's mandates and the humanitarian principles on which its work is based, especially those of neutrality, impartiality and universality. It will also foster closer cooperation between the ICRC and the UN.

In practical terms, now that the ICRC can voice its opinion on subjects within its competence and has access not only to United Nations documents but also to meetings of the General Assembly and its committees, the ICRC's representatives at United Nations meetings in New York, Geneva and elsewhere will be able to make its views heard more quickly and more directly by people who play a leading role on the international scene.

 The Review will return to this subject in a future issue.

 Annex  

    

 OBSERVER STATUS FOR THE INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE  

 OF THE RED CROSS IN CONSIDERATION OF THE SPECIAL ROLE  

 AND MANDATES CONFERRED UPON IT BY THE GENEVA  

 CONVENTIONS OF 12 AUGUST 1949  

    

 Explanatory memorandum  

1. The International Committee of the R ed Cross (ICRC) is an independent humanitarian institution that was founded at Geneva, Switzerland, in 1863. In conformity with the mandate conferred on it by the international community of States through universally ratified international treaties, ICRC acts as a neutral intermediary to provide protection and assistance to the victims of international and non-international armed conflicts.

2. The four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 for the protection of war victims, to which 166 States are party, and their two Additional Protocols of 1977 explicitly establish the role of the ICRC as a neutral and impartial humanitarian intermediary. The treaties of international humanitarian law thus assign duties to ICRC that are similar to those of a Protecting Power responsible for safeguarding the interests of a State at war, in that ICRC may act as a substitute for the Protecting Power within the meaning of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and 1977 Additional Protocol I. Moreover, the International Committee of the Red Cross has the same right of access as a Protecting Power to prisoners of war (the Third Geneva Convention) and civilians covered by the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (the Fourth Geneva Convention). In addition to these specific tasks ICRC, as a neutral institution, has a right of initiative deriving from a provision common to the four Geneva Conventions that entitles it to make any proposal it deems to be in the interest of the victims of the conflict.

3. The Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, as adopted by the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, in which the States parties to the Geneva Conventions take part, require ICRC to spread knowledge and increase understanding of international humanitarian law and promote the development thereof. The Statutes also provide that ICRC shall uphold and make known the Movement's fu ndamental principles, namely, humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality.

4. It was at the initiative of ICRC that the original Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the

Wounded in Armies in the Field was adopted by Governments in 1864. Ever since, ICRC has endeavoured to

develop international humanitarian law to keep pace with the evolution of conflicts'

5. In order to fulfil the mandate conferred on it by international humanitarian law, the resolutions of the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent and the Statutes of the Movement, ICRC has concluded with many States headquarters agreements governing the status of its delegations and their staff. In the course of its work, ICRC has concluded other agreements with States and inter-governmental organizations.

6. With an average of 590 delegates working in 48 delegations, ICRC was active in 1989 in nearly 90 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East - including the countries covered from its various regional delegations - providing protection and assistance to the victims of armed conflicts by virtue of the Geneva Conventions and, with the agreement of the Governments concerned, to victims of internal disturbances and tension.

7. In the event of international armed conflict, the mandate of ICRC is to visit prisoners of war and civilians in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Convention relative to th e Treatment of Prisoners of War (Third Convention), the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (Fourth Con-vention) and the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I). In situations of non-international armed conflict, ICRC bases its requests for access to persons deprived of their freedom on account of the conflict on Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions and on the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II).

8. In situations other than those covered by the Geneva Conven-tions and their Additional Protocols, ICRC may avail itself of its statu-tory right of initiative to propose to Governments that it be granted access to persons deprived of their freedom as a result of internal disturbances and tension.

9. The purpose of ICRC visits to persons deprived of their freedom is exclusively humanitarian: ICRC delegates observe the treatment afforded to prisoners, examine their material and psychological conditions of detention and, whenever necessary, request the authorities to take steps to improve the detainees'treatment and living conditions. ICRC never expresses an opinion on the grounds for detention. Its fundings are recorded in confidential reports that are not intended for publication.

10. In the event of armed conflicts or internal disturbances, ICRC provides material and medical assistance, with the consent of the Governments concerned and on condition that it is allowed to assess the urgency of victims'needs on the spot, to carry out surveys in the field to identify the categories and the number of people requiring assistance and to organize and monitor relief distributions.

11. The activities of the Central Tracing Agency of ICRC are based on the institution's obligations under the Geneva Conventions to assist military and civilian victims of international armed conflicts and on its right of humanitarian initiative in other situations. The work of the Agency and its delegates in the field consists in collecting, recording, centralizing and, where appropriate, forwarding information concerning people entitled to ICRC assistance, such as prisoners of war, civilian internees, detainees, displaced persons and refugees. It also includes restoring contact between separated family members, essentially by means of family messages where normal means of communication do not exist or have been disrupted because of a conflict, tracing persons reported missing or whose families have no news of them, organizing family reunifications, transfers to safe places and repatriation operations.

12. The tasks of ICRC and the United Nations increasingly complement one another and cooperation between the two institutions is closer, both in their field activities and in their efforts to enhance respect for international humanitarian law. In recent years, this has been seen in many operations to provide protection and assistance to the victims of conflict in al ] parts of the world.

13. ICRC and the United Nations have also co-operated closely on legal matters, with ICRC contributing to United Nations work in this field. This is also reflected in resolutions of the Security Council, the General Assembly and its subsidiary bodies and reports of the Secretary-General.

14. Participation of ICRC as an observer at the proceedings of the General Assembly would further enhance cooperation between the United Nations and ICRC and facilitate the work of ICRC.




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