Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects

Mr Chairman,

Over the past year the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has continued to devote considerable attention to the issue of the relationship between humanitarian action and political-military action. The question was studied both within our organization and on the occasion of international meetings such as the conference organized by UNITAR last February. Its importance was further emphasized by the extreme complexity of the operational situations that the ICRC had to face during this period.

As regards questions associated with peacekeeping operations in particular, we should like to start by making a few general comments concerning the safety of humanitarian personnel.

In the ICRC's view, the best form of protection against violence consists in adopting an approach which faithfully reflects the principles of humanitarian action, in particular humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. For the ICRC, observance of these principles is a guarantee of effective and lasting action which is based on the trust of the entire population and on the consent of all the parties to the conflict, coupled with their genuine political will to ensure respect for the relevant rules of international law. The issue of the security of our personnel is examined within this strict framework. As a rule, the ICRC therefore does not use armed escorts in the course of its operations. Indeed, the presence of any armed troops whatsoever alongside our staff increases the risk of confusion.

There a re instances, however, when the agreement of the parties and the various means of passive protection are no longer sufficient to ensure a safe framework for humanitarian action, especially when the breakdown of State structures leads to an explosion of criminal violence and banditry which pose a threat to relief action. In such extreme situations, the use of armed escorts on a limited scale can no longer be completely ruled out in order to permit access to the victims. But we must make the distinction between armed protection for convoys authorized by the parties involved, and attempts to impose humanitarian convoys by force.

In such cases, what role should peacekeeping forces play? We should first of all point out that the operations of UN peacekeeping forces are normally carried out with the agreement of all the parties concerned; however, they are based on a whole range of mandates set by a body - the Security Council - whose role is, by definition, essentially political. So it is quite normal that these operations should not always be perceived by all the protagonists as " neutral " within the meaning of international humanitarian law. Moreover, the fact that peacekeeping forces are frequently assigned tasks which have more to do with providing aid to the victims than with keeping the peace can sometimes lead to confusion detrimental to humanitarian action. Indeed, such confusion has a negative impact on the way is which the neutrality, independence and impartiality of humanitarian work is perceived by the parties. Indeed, their perception of humanitarian action has a direct influence on the degree of acceptance of humanitarian actors and therefore sometimes also on their actual safety.

The action of United Nations forces is military, not humanitarian, even when helping to restore conditions which allow humanitarian law to be implemented. It is therefore important to maintain - both on the ground and in the belligerents'minds - a clear d istinction between the activities of humanitarian agencies and those conducted by international military forces. The main task of the latter should be to re-create a safe environment in which protection and assistance activities in behalf of the victims can be carried out. This means that a clear, unambiguous mandate and objectives should be set down for the international force as soon as possible and in consultation with all those concerned. Indeed, the roles of all the protagonists should be clearly defined in order to ensure as far as possible that their respective activities are complementary; likewise, interfaces should be set up in the field to facilitate communication between them.

The ICRC is pleased to note that similar views have been expressed within the United Nations. Indeed, in his message to the UNITAR conference in Singapore last February, the Secretary-General declared that " humanitarian assistance must not be used as a tool to achieve political goals. The political and humanitarian mandates must not be confused. " He further stated that it was necessary " to acknowledge the differences of the political-military and of the humanitarian perspectives and work together towards common goals. " Similarly, when referring to humanitarian activities in its report on the work carried out last spring, the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations " underlined the importance of maintaining a clear distinction between peacekeeping operations and other types of field operations " . UN Doc. A/52/209, para. 15 By a Presidential Statement on 19 June, S/PRST/1997/34 the Security Council itself stressed the importance of respecting, in this context, the mandates and status of each organization concerned; he further insisted upon the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality of humanitarian action. The ICRC would like to thank, once again, UNITAR, the Special Committee, and the Security Council for having been associated to their work.

Mr Chairman,

In the statements it has made to this Committee in recent years, the ICRC voiced its concerns regarding the applicability of humanitarian law to peacekeeping or peace-enforcement forces. Indeed, the ICRC considers that in certain circumstances humanitarian law applies, mutatis mutandis , to the United Nations. It should also be stressed that national legislation obliges the'blue helmets'to abide by the instruments of humanitarian law which are binding upon their country of origin. Consequently, if they violate the law, they can be brought before national courts. Over the past year, in accordance with its mandate " to work for the faithful application of international humanitarian law " , Article 5, para. 2(c) of the Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement the ICRC has systematically reminded States engaged in operations mandated by the Security Council of their formal obligations under this law. So far the States have never called into question either the ICRC's role or the substance of its message.

In conclusion, Mr Chairman, we should like to say that considerable headway has been made in the study on ways of furthering the establishment of a general framework allowing humanitarian and peacekeeping activities to be carried out in a complementary fashion. But the work is far from over. It was with this in mind that on the occasion of the 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent the Belgian Government proposed hosting an international symposium on the relationship between humanitarian action and political and military action. We are pleased to note that this meeting will be held in Brussels next February.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 Ref. LG 1997-120-ENG