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Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance

27-11-2000 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 55th session, Plenary, item 20 of the agenda – Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 27 November 2000

Mr President,

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) welcomes this renewed opportunity to share its views in this assembly on the subject of humanitarian coordination.

Mr President,

In essence, the situation of conflict victims has hardly changed for the better. In many instances, it has further deteriorated over the past year. As a humanitarian organization active principally in situations of armed conflict and internal violence, the ICRC is appalled by the continuing suffering inflicted on civilians, including women and children, in flagrant violation of the most basic principles of international humanitarian law. In too many ongoing conflicts, civilians are increasingly being targeted, killed, wounded, uprooted, separated from their families. They are denied basic resources and are seeing their survival and dignity threatened. This in turn entails several humanitarian consequences. It triggers displacement of important numbers of persons within and across boundaries. Children find themselves forcibly enrolled, their lives often destroyed. Women bear the brunt of sexual assault and the tragedy of widowhood. To make matters worse, the proliferation of armed carriers has aggravated violence and insecurity. Humanitarian action has itself become dangerous to carry out in many contexts.

As a direct consequence of the above, humanitarian needs, in terms of both assistance and protection, have not only increased in a spectacular manner but also become more and more difficult to adequately address. This leaves far too many to their fate, unassisted and unprotected. In parallel, the overall humanitarian response has itself become highly comp lex due, among other reasons, to the large number of actors, imprecise mandates and difficulties in achieving effective coordination. Such obstacles are at times compounded by a lack of commonly agreed principles of action.

The International Committee therefore strongly believes that the strengthening of the humanitarian coordination is of paramount importance, both in order to better respond to the needs of victims and to render the deployment of humanitarian action safer. Towards this end, it is crucial to ensure that the nature, principles and goals of strictly humanitarian action are well understood, and therefore accepted, by all parties involved. In this context, the ICRC can never tire of repeating that political action has to be kept distinct from humanitarian operations. In its view, an emergency situation warrants two types of responses: one is the search for a stable political settlement; the other is the alleviation of humanitarian consequences of conflicts. Such a statement does not amount to a denial of the evident interrelations that exist between humanitarian crises and the political, military and economic factors involved. It rather is a recognition of the fact that, however well intended, a confusion of the two responses is likely to produce, de facto, biases in the provision of assistance and protection. This may compromise the neutrality of a strictly humanitarian endeavour in the eyes of the warring parties, and as a consequence, jeopardize its security. Ultimately, this may well increase the number of civilians beyond the reach of the aid community.

Mr President,

Bearing these considerations in mind, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has undertaken steps, in particular through the Sevilla Agreement, in order to harmonize coordination within the Movement itself, in function of the respective mandates of its components, namely the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, their In ternational Federation and the International Committee of the Red Cross. In conflict situations, it is incumbent upon the ICRC to coordinate the efforts of this Movement -- and such coordination could simply not be possible without the invaluable support of National Societies which play a vital role in the strengthening of local coping mechanisms. Furthermore, in a number of contexts, the ICRC heavily and, at times, exclusively relies on the personnel of the National Societies, working in very difficult and precarious situations. It therefore expresses its profound gratitude and sincere admiration to them. Finally, within the framework of its field activities, the ICRC increasingly involves National Societies of third countries which show an interest in its operations.

Mr President,

The ICRC reiterates its full commitment to achieving the greatest possible complementarity with other humanitarian actors. In this spirit and in its capacity as a Standing Invitee, it substantially contributes in the various meetings of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) and its subsidiary bodies, be they on thematic or operational issues. In the field, it cooperates with the UN-led inter-agency coordination efforts and supports ad hoc arrangements designed to take into account rapidly changing circumstances. One very recent example is its interaction, within the limits of its mandate, with the Senior Inter-Agency Network on Internal Displacement, both at Headquarters and in the field. Another is ICRC's contribution to the IASC Sub-Working Group on Gender and Humanitarian Response on the theme of women and war. A third, in relation to children in armed conflict, is the joint UNICEF-ICRC publication, in 1999, of an educational module regarding the use of child soldiers and implementation of the law.

In parallel, the ICRC pursues a sustained bilateral dialogue with a range of UN agencies and bodies, such as the United Nations High Comm issioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as well as with concerned NGOs, the fundamental objective of which is to determine the modalities of an improved humanitarian coordination in the field. In this context, the International Committee also wishes to mention its regular relations with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The rationale behind such exchanges stems from the complementarity of our organizations which, acting on the basis of respective mandates and working methods, strive to safeguard human dignity.

Another area in which the ICRC's approach has evolved is the enhancement of complementarity and coordination in the transition from emergency relief to rehabilitation and development. The focus of its emergency relief operations is increasingly oriented towards rehabilitation. It takes into account the capacities and roles of the civilians themselves, the National Societies, the authorities of the countries concerned, as well of organizations such as the World Bank.

In conclusion, Mr President, the ICRC wishes to emphasize that appropriate and enhanced coordination is more than ever necessary to tackle the complexity and the dimensions of humanitarian needs in present-day emergency situations. At the same time, it is also firmly determined to effectively fulfill its special role as an independent and neutral intermediary in situations of armed conflict, as enshrined in the Geneva Conventions, and to gain access to all victims, wherever they may be.

Thank you Mr President.

Ref. LG 2000-115-ENG