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Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects

08-11-2000 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 55th session, Fourth Committee, agenda item 86. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 8 November 2000

Mr Chairman,

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) would like to thank you for giving it the opportunity to express its views to the Fourth Committee.

As a humanitarian organization, the ICRC often has to stand by powerless as situations deteriorate, crises become more acute and crimes continue unchecked. Although humanitarian action can relieve the suffering of victims of violence, it cannot serve as a palliative for other forms of action, aimed at seeking a peaceful resolution of conflicts. In this regard the ICRC welcomes efforts to develop comprehensive approaches to conflict, where organizations concerned are provided with clear mandates and resources commensurate to the tasks they have been given.

At the same time, the ICRC strongly believes that humanitarian aid must be kept quite separate from political and military action. Equally important is that it also be perceived as such by the parties to a conflict. The ICRC has repeatedly expressed this concern, notably because of the poor security conditions that often prevail in the working environment of humanitarian organizations. It is aware that United Nations peacekeeping missions may at times provide a stable environment in which humanitarian organizations are able to carry out their tasks. There are, however, cases in which doing so could lead to military confrontation with one or several protagonists, and possibly to the targeting of humanitarian actors by the latter.

Accordingly, we are of the opinion that the complementarity of mandates and activities should be a central element of coordination between humanitarian organizations and the United Nations, so as to pre serve a space for genuinely impartial, neutral and independent humanitarian action. It is by articulating the overall action around the specific mandates and expertise of each that the protection of populations at risk can be maximised. In particular, the ICRC, as a specifically neutral humanitarian institution, has a traditional mandate and expertise in the area of protection of persons deprived of their liberty. It is thus important that peacekeeping operations abstain from taking initiatives which may weaken this role and this function. The confusion which might ensue could be detrimental to the ultimate interest of the persons to be protected.

Based on its wish to avoid any possible confusion between humanitarian and political action, the ICRC would like to share its concern with regard to the use of the term " impartiality " , as it has been defined in the Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations. The Panel suggested that the United Nations would at times have to make a distinction among parties to a conflict, between aggressors and victims, and to this end suggested that " impartiality " be defined as " adherence to the principles of the Charter and to the objectives of a mandate " . In this regard the ICRC would like to stress that, for humanitarian organizations, the concept of impartiality means endeavouring to relieve the victims'suffering without any adverse distinction, giving priority to the most urgent cases of distress. Lending another meaning to the term in this context might, as noted above, contribute to a confusion on the part of the parties with regard to the nature and work of humanitarian organizations, putting at risk the safety of humanitarian workers and their access to the victims.

Mr Chairman,

Convinced that a process of preparation is essential for the smooth running of any mission in the field, the ICRC feels it is indispensable that military personnel, th e police, and civilian personnel be aware of the relevant provisions of international humanitarian law. Indeed, it appears that United Nations operations are more frequently deploying in situations where peace is not yet consolidated. In such contexts, United Nations military contingents may consider it necessary to resort to the use of force, either in self-defence or to protect civilians who, under their nose, are being deliberately attacked. For United Nations troops to respect the rules of armed conflict, they must evidently be familiar with their obligations under humanitarian law. Furthermore, in cases where United Nations missions are given the mandate to consolidate a peace agreement by training local military and police forces, such training should also include humanitarian law, so that national authorities are capable of complying with their legal obligations when maintaining law and order. The ICRC is pleased that the United Nations is taking resolute steps to this end. In its capacity as promoter of humanitarian law, the ICRC is ready to lend its support for the training, in this branch of the law, of forces deployed by the United Nations, as it has already done in several countries. It must be pointed out, however, that the responsibility for giving instruction in humanitarian law is first and foremost incumbent on the States party to the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols.

Finally, the ICRC would like to briefly address a more recent challenge United Nations missions have been confronted with, that of assuming responsibility for administering territories. In this regard, one of the issues that seem to have received particular attention is that of defining appropriate legal standards, particularly in the area of criminal justice. Should States decide to establish or authorize a mechanism to examine this matter more closely, the ICRC would be ready to share its expertise in the area of humanitarian law.

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

Ref. LG 2000-110-ENG