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Afghanistan Support Group - Annual Conference 5-6 December 2001 in BerlinStatement from the ICRC

05-12-2001 Statement

 Statement by Dr. Jakob Kellenberger, President of the ICRC  

5 December 2001

To begin with, I would like to express sincere thanks to the German Foreign Ministry for the invitation to attend and address the Afghan Support Group.

Ten days ago, I travelled to Kabul in the framework of a series of visits to capitals in neighbouring and donor countries. The objectives of my visit were threefold:

  • first, I wanted to express my gratitude to the ICRC's Afghan staff (1000 in the whole of Afghanistan) for the remarkable work they had carried out following the withdrawal of ICRC expatriates on 15September 2001. With dedication and courage under most trying circumstances, they supplied hospitals throughout Afghanistan, maintained the orthopaedic centres operational, repaired water-supply systems and carried out food distributions;

  • secondly, in my meetings with Professor Rabbani, General Fahim, M. Qanooni and Dr. Abdullah, I insisted on the importance for the rules of international humanitarian law to be respected, in particular the obligation to treat humanely persons surrendering or no longer taking part in hostilities. This, it should be recalled, was at a time when the fall of Kunduz was imminent. I also requested access for the ICRC to all persons detained in relation to the ongoing military operations;

  • thirdly, I informed my interlocutors of the ICRC's current and future priorities.

On this latter point, I would like to underline the ICRC's strong commitment to play a significant role in the phase of transition. For its activities the ICRC can count on a large and experienced local and international staff and a well established network of offices across the country. 53 ICRC international delegates are back in Afghanistan and the ICRC offices in Jalalabad, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, Faizabad, Gulbahar and Kabul are again fully operational. Within a day of the United Front entry to Kabul on 13 November ICRC expatriates had arrived to reinforce the 500 Afghan staff. In Faizabad the ICRC expatriate presence has continued uninterrupted. In addition, an office has just been opened in Taloqan to ensure most efficient assistance in the area which includes Kunduz. 

The ICRC's immediate priorities are:

  • ongoing support to and rehabilitation of the medical structures throughout the country;

  • the running of the 6 orthopaedic centres;

  • mine awareness programs;

  • food and non food to persons in remote and mountainous areas;

  • visits to persons detained.

We are not talking here about intentions but actions under way. Logistics and stocks are ready to assist 540'000 resident and displaced persons. Assessments have already been carried out in various provinces and a mobile team has left for Ghor province with the intention to distribute food to a further 16'000 inhabitants. A convoy of 75 trucks is scheduled to reach Kameny this week. To date, the ICRC has also visited over 400 detainees in ten different detention places in Mazar, Kabul and the Shomali.

Allow me to briefly comment some of these priorities.

  • I begin with th e issue of persons detained: I have had, as I alluded to earlier, the opportunity both in Kabul - as well as in Washington last Friday - to state the importance that the ICRC attaches to the full respect of the rules of international humanitarian law concerning persons detained. I wish to reiterate in particular that all persons who surrender are entitled to a humane treatment regardless, in the case of Afghanistan, of whether they are Afghan Talibans or foreign fighters. This was true for Kunduz yesterday and remains true for Kandahar in the future. Actively promoting respect for the provisions of the Geneva Conventions is a contribution towards reconciliation. This is a responsibility of all parties in Afghanistan and of the members of the international coalition. 

  • Among the priorities that I see security is crucial. I refer here first and foremost to the security for the citizens of Afghanistan. They must be spared from harassment, theft, threat to life or other degrading treatment. They must be in a position to move freely and return to their villages and homes. 

  • Let me state clearly at the same time, that the security factor and the establishment of a stable government in Afghanistan should not become a pretext for delayed action in the humanitarian and reconstruction fields. As a former diplomat, I am well aware of the constraints and the temptations of conditionality. As the President of a humanitarian organisation present in nearly all of today's zones of conflict in the world, I am also well aware of the volatile and dangerous situation that prevails in parts of Afghanistan. I do not wish to underestimate the importance of either of these concerns. 

 On the other hand, I feel strongly that it is currently necessary to lead these processes in parallel. Humanitarian programs are required, just as are concrete early rehabilitation activities. Security aspects must be addressed as the political dialogue proceeds. 

  • I come now to a theme that has been very much at the heart of the objectives of the Afghan Support Group: efforts to improve co-ordination. This discussion has taken place in other contexts, not least in Kosovo. We can honestly admit that declarations of intent have been more numerous than concrete realisations. In this regard the situation in Afghanistan will be a real test. The ICRC will be a predictable and open partner, also in its function as lead agency within the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement for Afghanistan which involves a lead responsibility in the field of co-ordination with other agencies.

 I wish to stress that effective co-ordination, that is useful co-ordination, must involve concrete and down-to-earth issues such as what criteria are applied in a given field of activity, who does the survey in a given region and an attention to avoid mandate overlaps. I realise that the foremost objective of co-ordination efforts is to avoid duplications, a concern rightly highlighted by donors. Let me add that a parallel concern must however be to avoid gaps.

 This explains, to take one example out of ICRC's activities, the decision of the ICRC to focus its food and non-food programs on rural and mountainous areas. Indications available to us are that other organisations are likely to concentrate on towns and border areas, where needs are indeed also important. Wishing to avoid both duplications and gaps, the ICRC has opted to carry out the bulk of its assistance programs in regions that could otherwise be neglected.

  • We all have a responsibility to co-ordinate our programs, towards donors as well as towards beneficiaries. We similarly have a responsibility to make an efficient use of available resources. Co-ordination in the field and at headquarters must take place in a l imited number of fora in order for us all to maintain the necessary overview. 

  • There is finally a responsibility to actively integrate Afghans -men and women- into the co-ordination and implementation processes. Our 1000 Afghan staff have just proven from mid-September to mid-November at a time when the international staff was outside the country what an excellent job they can do.

My feeling is we are all aware of the complexities that we face in Afghanistan, but insisting on the problems, explaining at length why things can supposedly not work, is not a useful contribution. We have a responsibility to think in terms of solutions.

The ICRC is determined to make its effective contribution to the current process.

I thank you for your attention.