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Specific Groups and Individuals: Mass exoduses and displaced persons

14-04-2000 Statement

56th Annual Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Agenda item 14 (c) - 14 April 2000. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross

Mr. Chairperson,

Thank you for giving the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) the floor.

The Commission on Human Rights has over the last decade demonstrated its growing concern and determination to more effectively address internal displacement. The ICRC expresses its gratitude to the Representative of the Secreterary-General on internally displaced persons for the work that he has accomplished. Dr. Francis Deng has enhanced our awareness and understanding of the issues at stake, and has helped clarify the normative and operational frameworks conducive to improving the response towards the internally displaced.

The quest for a more effective response to internal displacement has recently intensified. The ICRC welcomes these ongoing deliberations, and hopes that they will contribute to promoting a more predictable and effective institutional co-operation. As one of the major humanitarian actors concerned with the internally displaced, the ICRC is fully committed to reaching this objective.

The task of providing adequate protection and assistance to the millions of internally displaced throughout the world is an immense one, which requires the active involvement of all organisations who possess necessary expertise and capacity. In order to promote an effective and complementary response, it is important that the role of all organisations is defined as clearly as possible. To this end, the ICRC recently issued a paper where it presented its involvement with internally displaced persons affected by armed conflict.

As a neutral intermediary, the ICRC seeks to bring protection and assistance to the victims of armed conflict and internal disturbances and tension. In these situations, it seeks to give priority to those in most urgent need, in accordance with the principle of impartiality. In this respect, the ICRC considers an internally displaced person to be first and foremost a civilian, who as such is protected by international humanitarian law. This body of law, which is legally binding on both state and non-state actors, remains fully adequate to address most problems of internal displacement in situations of armed conflict.

National authorities bear the main obligation to ensure that the protection and assistance needs of the internally displaced are being met. It is important to underline in this respect that internally displaced persons remain fully entitled to the protection provided by international human rights law, humanitarian law and domestic law.

In its work, the ICRC seeks to establish a dialogue with all parties to a conflict or other actors of violence, whether States or armed groups, with a view to make them fulfil their legal obligations and ease the plight of the victims under their control. In so doing, the ICRC seeks to preserve conditions which may allow persons to remain in their homes, to protect and assist those who are uprooted, and to promote a return whenever this is appropriate.

Mr. Chairperson,

The high figures of displacement do not allow for complacency. They testify to the current difficulties of ensuring an effective implementation of humanitarian law, which seriously affects not only the internally displaced, but the population at large. Besides direct violations committed against civilians, major problems arise from the lack of access and the lack of security for humanitarian workers.

For its part, the ICRC seeks to carry out its mandate by preserving the confidence of all the parties involved, without which the safety of its staff and access to the victims may be precluded. To this end, the ICRC considers it important that its co-operation with other organisations is carried out in a manner which does not put at risk the perception of the ICRC as a neutral, impartial and independent organization, exclusively driven by humanitarian concerns.

Nonetheless, the lack of security and denied access all too often represent obstacles which humanitarian organisations cannot overcome alone, and which call for the active involvement of States. The ICRC therefore welcomes the increased attention given to these problems in various fora of the United Nations, notably in the Security Council.

But more must be done. It is imperative that human dignity and security be preserved even in the extreme situation of armed conflict. Thus, the ICRC calls on all States to assume their responsibilities not only to respect, but also to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. Wherever necessary, they should seek to influence all the authorities concerned so that civilians are protected against abuses and spared from military operations, and that the role of humanitarian workers is properly understood and accepted.

Thank you, Mr. Chairperson.

Ref. LG 2000-043-ENG