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

21-10-2003 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 58th session, Plenary, item 40 of the agenda. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross, New York, 21 October 2003

Mr. President,

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) wishes to thank you for giving it the opportunity to speak on the subject of humanitarian coordination, which it considers of vital importance in the conduct of humanitarian operations in complex situations.

Mr. President,

The ICRC cannot but begin by noting, with extreme sadness and equal concern, that the current year has been profoundly tragic for the international community. While it was still grieving the deaths of three of its own personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq, the ICRC was appalled by the brutal attack perpetrated on the UN Headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August. The ICRC strongly condemned this act of terror targeting civilians, and wishes here to reiterate its heartfelt sympathy to the victims and their families and colleagues.

The complexity prevalent in most humanitarian crises, together with the sheer dimensions of the human suffering resulting from the numerous ongoing conflicts in the world, represent challenges that go far beyond the capacity of any single humanitarian organization. In this regard, the ICRC is deeply distressed to observe the heavy toll continued to be paid by civilians, and especially by the most vulnerable among them, including women and children. Disease and starvation, displacement and separation, continue to wreck havoc on families and communities. In an attempt to address these vast needs, an increasing number of humanitarian actors, with different mandates, areas of expertise and resources, are present in humanitarian crises. Consequently, it is but natural that coordination has come to form an intrinsic part of humanitarian ef forts, in order for such efforts to gain in overall effectiveness.

For the ICRC, the central aim of humanitarian coordination consists in seeking the greatest possible complementarity among all actors, flowing from their respective mandates, expertise and operating principles and procedures. Towards this end, the ICRC participates in coordination efforts through regular dialogue and mutual consultation, both at headquarters and in the field, on thematic issues as well as operational questions. As a standing invitee of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), the ICRC, together with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, takes part in various coordination mechanisms and structures put in place by the IASC itself and by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), sharing experiences and information and thereby contributing to the common goal of rendering humanitarian action more effective. Another example, at the bilateral level, would be the fruitful exchanges with the UNHCR within the framework of the " UNHCR 2004 " process and the Agenda for Protection. In parallel, the ICRC actively participated in the preparation of the IDP response matrix by OCHA's IDP unit. It also held a senior level meeting with WFP to explore possibilities of strengthening cooperation between the two organizations with regard to food assistance.

Mr. President,

The ICRC seizes here the opportunity to thank Mr. Oshima for the cooperation extended to our Institution, and to express its best wishes to Mr. Egeland in the execution of his difficult and complex tasks.

While on the subject of humanitarian coordination, the ICRC wishes to stress its firm conviction that in order to both ensure the security of humanitarian personnel and indeed render possible humanitarian operations in favour of all victims of a conflict, political and mil itary action ought imperatively to be kept distinct from humanitarian action. Were the perceptions of strictly neutral and independent humanitarian action to be altered by a blurring of the distinction between such action and political initiatives or military operations, the consequence would inevitably be greatly impeded access to victims and high security risks for humanitarian workers. In this perspective, coordination also signifies concerted efforts by all concerned to safeguard this vital humanitarian space and thereby protect humanitarian workers and victims alike.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, the ICRC wishes to reaffirm its commitment to the spirit and practice of humanitarian coordination. The ICRC remains equally determined to fulfil the international mandate conferred on it by the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols in relation to the protection and assistance of all victims of armed conflict.

Thank you, Mr. President.