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Internally displaced persons: ICRC statement to the United Nations, 2010

04-11-2010 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 65th session, Third Committee, Item 61 of the agenda, statement by the ICRC, New York, 4 November 2010.

Mr. Chairman,

The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross said recently: “Internal displacement poses one of the most daunting humanitarian challenges of today. The impact not only on many millions of IDPs but also on countless host families and resident communities is hard if not impossible to measure.”

Among the various factors that cause displacement, armed conflict and other situations of violence are certainly predominant. War-affected persons rank displacement as their most traumatic experience or as one of their greatest fears. Other causes of displacement, such as natural disasters, can also be traumatizing: recent events in Haiti and Pakistan are proof of this. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) works primarily in situations of armed conflict and other situations of violence. National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies as well as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (International Federation) play significant roles during natural and human-made disasters.

In November 2009, the Council of Delegates of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (the Movement) adopted a collective policy to strengthen the protection and improve the assistance provided to persons affected by internal displacement.

In situations of armed conflict, IDPs are first and foremost civilians, and thus at the core of the ICRC's mandate. Insecurity caused by violations of international humanitarian law is the main reason why people are forced to leave their homes and endure harsh conditions. Taking effective measures to limit deliberate attacks on civilians reduces successive displacements and improves prospects for safe and dignified return. The ICRC constantly reminds the parties to conflict of their obligations to protect the civilian population, as set out in the core rules of international humanitarian law.

Taking a needs and a rights-based approach on the issue of internal displacement allows the components of the Movement to impartially deliver humanitarian assistance and services to communities affected by internal displacement, to people at risk of displacement, and to those who have found shelter outside IDP camps. There are operational risks in taking only a category-based approach. Focusing on IDPs in camps may lead to neglect of the needs of host families and host communities, who bear the consequences of large displacements of populations. This approach is unfair and at odds with the principle of impartiality.

Because the ICRC is well-anchored in communities at risk, often through its operational partnerships with National Societies, it has a specific role to play with all parties having an influence on the situation.

Ending displacement is often beset with difficulties. Political considerations, rather than legal and humanitarian concerns, can result in the displaced being left in limbo. When return, local integration or relocation finally become possible, there may be significant new obstacles. Other persons or communities may have settled on the land, or infrastructure may be damaged. Lack of housing and absence of public services or skilled personnel (in health care and education) may also be barriers. Governments and humanitarian organizations must be aware that successful and sustainable solutions to displacement will often require considerable development efforts and resources on their part.  Such important issues should be addressed by States.

An interesting example at the regional level is the recently adopted Kampala Convention, which provides a solid framework for the protection and assistance of IDPs in Africa.  The ICRC welcomes this instrument, which is still under the ratification process. The ICRC is conducting discussions with the UNHCR to determine how best to promote ratification and national implementation of the Convention, in particular incorporating its humanitarian obligations into the domestic legal order.

Let me conclude, Mr. Chairman, by referring to the operational dialogue that the ICRC and the International Federation are engaged in with UN agencies, in particular the UNHCR and the WFP. The subject of these discussions is the cooperation agreements between these agencies and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.  The aim is to ensure that these National Societies, which carry out important work for displaced persons in peacetime as well as during armed conflict, are able to work in accordance with the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement when they cooperate with the UN family.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.