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Strengthening the coordination of humanitarian response and the role of technology in mitigating the effects of natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies, including conflicts, with particular reference to the displacement of persons arising therefrom

19-07-2000 Statement

United Nations Economic and Social Council, substantive session 2000, 5 July - 1 August – Panel on internally displaced persons, New York, 19 July 2000 – Address of Mr. Paul Grossrieder, Director-General, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Geneva

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for giving me the floor.

Let me start by expressing my appreciation on behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for having been invited to participate in this panel discussion.

In spite of ongoing efforts, internally displaced persons still suffer extreme deprivation and serious threats to their physical security. The death toll among the internally displaced has, at times, reached staggering proportions. It is therefore our common responsibility to seek to improve the overall response by gaining access to all those who are affected and by better addressing their needs. Today's panel discussion is an important step towards achieving this end.

The ICRC's operational activities are related to situations of armed conflict. These situations are often characterized by large-scale displacement of civilians, both across international borders and inside the frontiers of affected countries. The ICRC considers itself to be the organization responsible for addressing the urgent needs of internally displaced persons   - where national authorities are unable to do so - as part of its mandate to protect and assist the civilian population affected by armed conflict. At present, the ICRC has established programmes in thirty-six countries to assist nearly five million people -- the vast majority of which are internally displaced.

I should like to share with you some observations based on the three case studies currently being discussed. Although each of these cases is unique, they present a number of features which are common to many other situations of inte rnal displacement. My talk will focus on three main points: first, the inseparability of the problems associated with internally displaced persons from those affecting the civilian population as a whole. Secondly, the obstacles we continue to face in our efforts to assist the internally displaced and other victims of internal violence and armed conflict. And finally, the ongoing initiatives within the field of institutional cooperation which are essential to our effective response to these problems.

 1. Inseparability of issues related to IDPs from those of the general civilian population  

Mr. Chairman,

The immense scope of the problems associated with internal displacement must be seen as a reflection of a wider crisis affecting the entire civilian population. Issues related to internal displacement therefore cannot be considered in isolation from those involving the civilian population as a whole. Where there is an outbreak of internal violence or armed conflict, whole communities may be subject to extensive destruction and damage, with particularly crippling consequences for poor or less-developed countries. Displacement compounds and aggravates the broader problems associated with situations of armed conflict and violence. Whereas the internally displaced often arrive empty-handed and in need of immediate support to survive, persons left behind may suffer extreme hardship and danger. Host communities may in turn have shared their limited resources with the displaced, leaving both those communities and the displaced in destitution. In short, such situations often leave many people in need of immediate protection and assistance, while the affected State is left with insufficient resources to adequately respond to these needs. The international community thus has an important role to play in supporting the efforts of the national authorities concerned t o better discharge their responsibilities towards all civilians under their jurisdiction.

Mr. Chairman,

The foregoing argues for a holistic approach to the issues of internally displaced persons. Their situation usually cannot be properly appreciated without understanding the overall specific humanitarian context from which it stems. Often, their problems can only be addressed through comprehensive measures aimed at protecting and assisting all victims of conflict, whether displaced or not. In other words, internal displacement crises call for responses that are context-specific, broad-based and flexible. This is why ICRC operations are driven by necessity, rather than defined by category.

In accordance with the principle of impartiality, the ICRC endeavours to access all parts of the affected countries where persons are at risk and to establish programs to assist the most vulnerable. The ICRC's right of initiative, along with its adherence to the principle of neutrality and its independence from political pressure, enables it to respond rapidly to those most in need of protection and assistance in crises. Given their precarious situation, internally displaced persons are often among the main beneficiaries of the ICRC's activities.

 2. Obstacles  

Mr. Chairman,

I would like to, secondly, briefly underline some of the current challenges facing humanitarian organizations in their efforts to protect and assist the internally displaced. As illustrated by the cases from Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, large numbers of internally displaced persons remain without international assistance. Sometimes this is due to the sheer magnitude of the crisis, which exceeds the human and financial resources available to humanitarian organizations. I n other cases, humanitarian workers are prevented from reaching the displaced because of the prevailing insecurity. A third serious obstacle is the restricted access which is, at times, imposed by the parties to the conflict. Taken together, these factors result in a serious protection gap for the internally displaced. Nonetheless, it is important to underline that these obstacles equally affect all civilians at risk in the areas in question. It is therefore necessary that governments support the efforts of humanitarian organizations to reach those in need, in conformity with their duty to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law.

 3. Institutional Cooperation  

Mr. Chairman,

Problems surrounding internal displacement are of such a scale and complexity that all organizations concerned must work together so as to maximize the overall impact of humanitarian action. As one of the major organizations working in the field of internal displacement, the ICRC is fully committed to the objective of institutional cooperation. The ICRC has translated this commitment into practice through extensive consultations and cooperation, at both bilateral and multilateral levels, as outlined in the document made available for this session.

As a standing invitee of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, the ICRC regularly voices its opinions on humanitarian issues and shares information on its operations. At the field level, it contributes actively to UN-led inter-agency coordination efforts and supports ad hoc arrangements designed to take into account rapidly changing circumstances. The ICRC's participation in these mechanisms is motivated by its desire to achieve the greatest possible complementarity between its own efforts and those of the UN and of NGOs. Its bilateral relat ions with several UN agencies and bodies, as well as with some of the major NGOs involved in emergency situations and humanitarian advocacy, aims to enhance mutual understanding and to strengthen sectorial coordination and cooperation. On the other hand, the ICRC remains committed to fulfilling its specific role, enshrined in the Geneva Conventions, as an independent and neutral intermediary in situations of armed conflict.

The wide network and intimate knowledge of local conditions which is provided by members of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies represent invaluable assets in this respect. The Sevilla Agreement, adopted in 1997 by the components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, marked an important development in terms of coordination by defining the respective roles of the Movement's components in different situations. The Sevilla Agreement confers upon the ICRC the role of lead agency with regard to   international relief operations in situations of armed conflict or internal strife, including activities in favour of internally displaced persons. By securing predictability and complementarity of action, the Agreement aims at maximizing the impact of the activities undertaken by the ICRC, National Societies and their Federation on behalf of victims of conflict, natural disasters and other emergency situations.

While it is important that humanitarian organizations maintain a global understanding of the situation, it is equally important that the responsibilities for responding to the various needs be allocated to those institutions which, possessing both the expertise and the ability to assume them in a given context, enjoy comparative advantage. For its part, the ICRC focuses its activities primarily on the internally displaced who are still on the run or who have recently been displaced in the midst of conflict. Their needs are urgent. Conversely, there are m any cases where the internally displaced have found relative security in large cities. To some extent, their situation has stabilized, and many have been displaced for a number of years. They, too, may experience security problems, hardship and deprivation and may harbour a strong desire to return to their homes. Such groups of victims deserve attention and support to enable them to re-establish a life in dignity and security. However, all too often, their needs remain unmet. The Committee considers that other organizations are best equipped to deal with long-term displacement where the problem is, in fact, a challenge of socio-economic development.

Mr. Chairman,

I should like to conclude by reaffirming our determination to participate in future discussions aimed at ensuring a more predictable and comprehensive humanitarian response to the plight of internally displaced persons. At the same time, the ICRC will, in conformity with the humanitarian mission which has been conferred upon it, continue to carry out its role as an independent, neutral and impartial Institution, exclusively motivated by humanitarian concerns, with a view to protecting and assisting all victims of armed conflict or internal violence.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

Ref. LG 2000-086-ENG