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Address by ICRC president to the general assembly of the Organization of Arab Red Crescent and Red Cross Societies

27-02-2006 Statement

Address by the ICRC's President, Jakob Kellenberger, to the 34th General Assembly of the Organization of Arab Red Crescent and Red Cross Societies, Abu Dhabi (UAE), 27-28.2.06

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank the General Secretariat of the Organization of Arab Red Crescent and Red Cross Societies for the invitation to this important Assembly. I equally thank the host, the Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates for its warm welcome and its generous hospitality. It is a pleasure to be here. I am very much here to listen to you and to understand better your ambitions and your concerns. Partnership is about listening to each other and taking each other’s concerns seriously. The ICRC wishes to strengthen further its relations with the Societies of the Arab world. My presence today is a further illustration of this desire.

The ICRC stands first and foremost for concrete and efficient humanitarian action in the field. It is therefore only natural if I start talking about some of our ongoing operations.

When looking at ICRC’s emergency appeals for 2006, you will note ICRC’s strong humanitarian commitment in the Arab and Islamic world.

Sudan and Pakistan clearly stand out as the two top operations in terms of human resources, finance and logistics, engaged by the ICRC.

Somalia, hit by both an armed conflict and a terrible drought, is one of our priority operations just now. It is also, since a long time, an example for an excellent and trustful cooperation with an operating National Red Crescent Society.

Sudan, with planned expenditures of around 100 Mio USD in 2006, remains ICRC’s largest assistance and protection operation.

Based in eight operation al structures, half of its staff – around 2’000 expatriates and Sudanese ICRC staff together – face the very difficult humanitarian and security situation in Darfur assisting and trying to protect internally displaced persons (IDPs) and residents, mainly in remote rural areas where very few humanitarian organizations are present and active.

Food distributions, the provision of seeds and tools for the agricultural season, the vaccination of livestock, water supply and mobile field surgery are examples of actions that are daily saving lives in this region. In South Sudan, the ICRC is still very present in the medical field, including in support and training for sustainable orthopedic structures. Tracing activities for IDPs and refugees about to return home are increasing.

The close cooperation with the Sudanese Red Crescent Society is very important in this difficult context. I was happy yesterday to meet again its Secretary General recovering well from his serious accident. Various National Societies, including from the Arab world, make important contributions to the alleviation of human suffering in Sudan.

As you know, there is a major livelihood and food security crisis in the Horn of Africa, the most affected areas being South Somalia, South-East Ethiopia and Northern Kenya. The drought is hitting conflict areas, in particular in the South of Somalia where armed conflict and lawlessness have led to massive displacements of families and claim a high number of casualties. A main humanitarian actor in Somalia for years, the ICRC has recently increased its activities with the aim of limiting the effects of the drought. It has already completed a monthly food distribution for 80’000 persons and continues the purchasing of livestock to prevent the destitution of thousands of pastoralists.

Israel, the Occupied and Autonomous Territories are among ICRC’s largest humanitarian operations with a strong e mphasis on protection activities reminding the authorities concerned of their legal obligations under the applicable law .The operational response in the Gaza Strip may have to be increased depending on the changing situation and related needs. The ICRC pays also particular attention to the humanitarian consequences of the construction of the West Bank Barrier.

The ICRC visits over 10’000 Palestinian detainees held by Israel. These detainees and their families continue to rely on ICRC-organized  family visits. In 2005, 200’000 relatives could thus visit prisoners in Israeli places of detention. The ICRC also visits places of detention of the Palestinian authority.  The excellent cooperation with both the Palestine Red Crescent Society and Magen David Adom should also be mentioned here, including in the vital field of medical emergency services.

As promised at the Diplomatic Conference in December, the ICRC is exploring the possibility of additional activities in the medical field in the occupied Golan. Among the identified needs, the establishment of a medical emergency centre is today the priority pursued by the ICRC. The ICRC has provided a number of humanitarian services since 1967 and will continue to do so.

Iraq, with the ongoing conflict and the high number of civilian casualties, is an extremely difficult context to work in. ICRC’s priority remains the visit to persons deprived of their freedom. In 2005, about 14’000 detainees were visited through more than 80 visits to different places of detention in Iraq. The ICRC is also assisting families visiting detained relatives. As a way to maintain the contact between the prisoners and their families, thousands of family messages were also collected and distributed by the ICRC and the Iraqi Red Crescent Society during that period.

The ICRC is also providing medical, water, material and food assistance to civilians affected by the conflict, most ly through the Iraqi Red Crescent, which has been and is doing a remarkable job in extremely difficult circumstances

The ICRC remains strongly committed to the humanitarian assistance to those affected by the terrible earthquake in South Asia in October 2005.

It has focused and continues to focus its assistance activities on the district of Muzaffarabad with the Neelum and Jhelum valley.

By assisting a quarter of the district's population, the ICRC is an important actor in this area. It was also a fast actor. There is an excellent cooperation with the Pakistani authorities – the Army in particular – the Pakistan Red Crescent Society and various participating National Societies, especially in the medical field.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Universality is one of the seven Fundamental Principles of the Movement.

Sometimes I feel tempted to propose credibility as an additional principle.

Principles, as we all know and most probably agree, are only credible to the extent they are respected and guide our behavior.

The adoption of the Third Additional Protocol at the Diplomatic Conference last December was an important step with regard to universality. It was at the same time an important step for the credibility of the Movement. The ICRC and I personally warmly welcomed this adoption.

Committed as I was to this process from my start in office, I urged the participants to the Conference to deal with the issue as a purely humanitarian issue leaving political considerations aside.

I strongly hope that the International Conference in June will approve the amendments to the Statutes of the Movement consequent upon the adoption of the Third Additional Protocol. The legal conditions will then be fulfilled for the recognition by the ICRC and admission by the Federation of Magen David Adom in Israe l and other Societies that might in the future choose the Red Crystal and fulfill the other criteria of Article 4 of the Statutes of the Movement. No need to recall that these criteria have also to be respected once a Society is a full member of the Movement.

The purpose of the Conference is also to create a framework for the recognition and admission of the Palestine Red Crescent Society as a full member of the Movement, a prospect I also warmly welcome.

Should you have concerns with regard to the June Conference, I am happy to discuss them with you. I am here to listen to and understand your concerns.

An important element in the process leading to the adoption of the Third Additional Protocol was the conclusion of a Memorandum of Understanding between the MDA and the PRCS and, in accordance with this MoU, an agreement on operational arrangements between the two societies.  The MOU stipulates inter alia that MDA and PRCS will operate in conformity with the legal framework applicable to the occupied Palestinian Territories, including the Fourth Geneva Convention.

I have to insist that early and full implementation of the commitments contained in the MoU and the operational arrangements is very important. It will improve humanitarian services to those in urgent need of them and it will enhance the cooperation between the two societies in fulfilling their mandates.

Better coordination between humanitarian actors with the aim of improving the impact of humanitarian action is, and rightly so, an issue which attracts more and more public and political attention, inside and outside the Movement.

You are no doubt aware of the important work under way in the UN framework whose implications go beyond the UN system. Some of you, as implementing agencies for example, may be even part of the system.

We have, inside the Movement, an Agreement with rules for coordination. We had a good debate on the Seville Agreement in Seoul. You may have noted that, as Chairman of the Council of Delegates, I promoted an open debate giving the necessary time to it.

The ICRC is ready to invest its efforts in the working group established by the Council whose Chairman has to report to the next Council of Delegates. We expect the same attitude of all other components interested in a well functioning coordination mechanism of the Movement, compatible with the respective mandates of its different components.

We do not feel as a demandeur in this process, but we are sincerely interested in making the Seville Agreement and the supplementary measures work as well as possible. Coordination will never be perfect, but there is potential for improvement. In today’s environment, the Movement network will be increasingly judged by its capacity to coordinate humanitarian action between its components. This is a welcome challenge. The ICRC’s interest in coordination is exclusively humanitarian: increase the impact of humanitarian action by efficient coordination with efficient partners playing by the rules, inside or outside the Movement network. The Movement remains however the privileged framework for the ICRC.

Especially in these times, I cannot end my intervention without insisting on the importance of mutual respect for different religions, cultures and convictions. The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has the unique opportunity to set a convincing example in this regard.

I wish this Conference a full success.

Thank you.