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Implementation meeting on human dimension issues organized by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights

28-11-1997 Statement

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Opening session, Warsaw, 12-28 November 1997. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is happy to accept the invitation of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to take part in this implementation meeting on human dimension issues, and would like to thank Ambassador Stoudmann and the Polish authorities for their unfailingly warm welcome.

The concerns of the OSCE participating States with regard to human dimension issues, as reflected in the agenda of this meeting, go hand in hand with those of a humanitarian organization such as the ICRC. We fully appreciate the positive impact which the OSCE's work can have on humanitarian action.

In the general indifference which is an all too common reaction to many conflicts today, humanitarian organizations cannot meet victims'needs on their own. As Camus once remarked, the ultimate misfortune for victims is to become a bore. People would prefer them to be silent. People would prefer to deny their very existence.

At a time when political will is flagging and there is a general reluctance to get involved, solidarity has become more essential than ever. It is the only basis for tackling the grave shortcomings we are attempting to remedy. Let us hope that this meeting will serve as a reminder, however small, of the vital importance of that solidarity for those who often rely entirely on us to defend their interests.

Too many conflicts today remain unresolved, waiting for decisions that are not taken, while the humanitarian problems are as serious as ever. As another winter approaches, refugees and displaced persons in Bosnia, Tajikistan and the Caucasus are again facing terrible hardship. In situations such as these, which hover uncertainly between war and peace, the most pressing needs of the victims simply cannot wait, and the ICRC feels it is its duty to be present and to meet those needs.

Humanitarian action is not intended to resolve conflicts but to protect human dignity and save lives. It should take place alongside a political process aimed at attacking the root causes of conflict and at reaching a settlement. Nothing can be a substitute for the political will to find a solution; such a commitment is indispensable if humanitarian action is to remain effective.

In this perspective it would appear essential that due account be taken of humanitarian aspects, in a spirit of complementarity, in the quest to resolve conflicts. Consultations should take place at the preparatory stage, particularly in the case of good offices missions likely to affect humanitarian activities. A regular exchange of information on how respective mandates are to be fulfilled should take place both in the field and at headquarters. This should help reinforce mutual respect for, and understanding of, the terms of reference of the various players and the constraints affecting them. In this regard, the ICRC is pleased to note that closer contacts have been established with the OSCE in connection with its activities in Albania and the southern Caucasus.

Preserving a genuine space for humanitarian action will avoid any confusion from the outset. That is why, even if military or police action is appropriate to put an end to serious violations of humanitarian law or of human rights, or, under certain circumstances, to enable a humanitarian operation to go ahead, it is absolutely essential to keep the two types of activity separate. Defining precise objectives is a way to guarantee efficiency: if the parties to the conflict are truly to accept humanitarian activity, it must always be seen to be neutral and impartial. Otherwise, it is the victims who pay the price an d humanitarian workers run a serious risk of becoming a target for attack.

It goes without saying that preventive action is better than intervention. The ICRC firmly believes that the international community must make a far greater investment in preventive measures. In this regard it commends the discreet but effective steps taken by the High Commissioner on National Minorities. Indeed, such initiatives may well save thousands of lives and prevent large-scale destruction.

The challenge of preventive action is to find ways to ensure that the struggle for power and resources does not plunge entire communities into a maelstrom of violence. There is a need to create development models, institutions, political cultures and ethical standards. We must foster a culture which respects fundamental human values.

The ICRC for its part is actively involved in this process, particularly in the OSCE participating States of Central and Eastern Europe and in Central Asia, through its programmes to promote international humanitarian law. The purpose of these programmes is primarily to familiarize armies and those in power with the principles of humanitarian law and to gain their respect for the activities of the ICRC and of local Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations. Through an intercultural approach, the programmes seek to inculcate in the population values such as respect for human dignity and tolerance. They also aim to establish in every State a political framework which facilitates the incorporation of international humanitarian law into national law.

The ICRC's cooperation with the ODIHR is directed towards these objectives and is the subject of a special report which has been distributed. Three joint workshops have already been held in the Baltic States, in Ukraine and in Moldova. The positive outcome of these gatherings, reflected in the adoption by the relevant States of specific measures for the implementation of international humanitarian law, encourages the ICRC to pursue these activities with the ODIHR, according to procedures which may have to be modified to take account of the Office's new priorities.

By way of conclusion, the ICRC hopes that the few issues raised here may make a useful contribution to the joint task we have set ourselves for these three weeks, namely to secure greater respect for the individual.

[Ref.: LG 1997-140-ENG ]