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Switzerland - International Humanitarian Forum: War and accountability

30-05-2002 News Release 02/22

On 23 and 24 May the ICRC hosted a forum, which focused on the accountability of humanitarian and political actors towards those whose lives have been affected by armed conflict, and which was attended by representatives from political, humanitarian, military, business and media circles.

On 23 and 24 May the ICRC hosted the latest International Humanitarian Forum in Wolfsberg, Switzerland. The Forum, which focused on the accountability of humanitarian and political actors towards those whose lives have been affected by armed conflict, was attended by representatives from political, humanitarian, military, business and media circles.

A special feature of this year's Forum was the presence of survivors of armed conflict in Rwanda, Guatemala, South Africa, Afghanistan and Bosnia, whose personal accounts of their experiences, and of the role played by humanitarian and political actors in each case, helped shape the discussion. Mrs Nkosazana Zuma, the South African Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke about the accountability of political actors. 

In a wide-ranging exchange of views, participants were encouraged to consider those affected by armed conflict not as passive " victims " , but rather as " survivors " who had a voice and could work collectively to bring those responsible for their plight to account. Some participants considered the involvement of local institutions in addressing basic humanitarian needs as an effective means of achieving this end. Humanitarian organizations could show greater commitment to the survivors of armed conflict, it was also felt, by working closely with them   beyond the emergency phase.

Participants agreed that practical solutions could be found by discussing accountability as it applied to clearly defined aspects of humanitarian work. For example, the ICRC's current project on the missing in armed conflict will involve examining, together with the families of the missing, how political and humanitarian actors should be fulfilling their obligations to all concerned.

Finally, emphasis was placed on the importance of ensuring that States involved in conflict complied with the Geneva Conventions and put an end to the impunity of those who failed to meet their obligations. Obviously, a tremendous difference could be made to the lives of those affected by armed conflict if States were willing to ensure widespread respect for international humanitarian law. 

Background material for the discussion was provided by the ICRC Forum publication on war and accountability, which examines the issue from many different angles, attempting, for example, to define accountability in the humanitarian context, discussing the practical consequences of accountability for humanitarian and political actors and giving survivors a chance to express their views.