• Send page
  • Print page

Internally displaced persons: ICRC statement to the United Nations, 2009

03-11-2009 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 64th session, Third Committee, Items 41 of the agenda, Statement by the ICRC, New York, 3 November 2009

Mr Chairman,

The displacement of people, by armed conflict and other situations of violence, remains one of the most daunting challenges of the day. Its impact, on not only the several million internally displaced persons (IDPs) themselves, but also on the countless families and resident communities that host them, is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to measure.

Violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) are the most common cause of internal displacement during armed conflict. Preventing such violations is the best means of averting displacement.

The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 are the core treaties of international humanitarian law and the foundation for the mandate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

This year, the 60th anniversary of these Conventions, the ICRC commissioned surveys to measure the impact of armed conflict on civilians in eight of the most troubled places in the world. Those surveyed frequently ranked displacement as their most traumatic experience. People in other countries also put displacement very high on their lists of the things they feared most, immediately below losing a loved one and economic hardship.

Mr Chairman,

When applicable, and fully implemented, IHL is the strongest international legal framework not only for preventing displacement during armed conflict, but also for meeting the most pressing assistance and protection needs of the civilian population, including IDPs. As you know, the Guiding Pri nciples on Internal Displacement incorporate well-established IHL rules. 

Clearly, the primary responsibility for responding to the needs of IDPs lies with the States in question. However, international law also requires armed groups to refrain from arbitrary displacement of civilians and to provide protection and assistance to IDPs in areas under their effective control, without discrimination of any kind.

Because of their status under IHL (civilians), IDPs are at the centre of the ICRC's mandate; and in partnership with the other components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (Movement), the ICRC provides a major humanitarian response to their needs.

It is part of the daily work of Red Cross and Red Crescent staff to secure access to civilians who are at risk. Far too often, these staff members bring back reports of the destruction of livelihoods and of the absence of security that has forced civilians to flee. Access - not only to those displaced persons close to conflict areas, but also to those left behind or living among host communities - is a constant challenge.

The ICRC pursues a multidisciplinary approach with specific aims: to persuade the parties to a conflict or some other situation of violence to permit access to those affected by the fighting, and to prevent or stop IHL violations. The ICRC also undertakes humanitarian activities of substitution and support – related, for instance, to food, water, shelter, health and the reestablishment of family links. It does so in response to the varied needs of targeted populations in order that these people may recover their rights and their dignity in adequate living conditions.

Therefore, it is vitally important that people everywhere understand the nature of the strictly humanitarian mission of the components of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, including the specific mandat e entrusted to the ICRC by the community of States with regard to all victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence.

Responding to the needs of IDPs, however, cannot be done by one single organization.

Cooperation with other humanitarian agencies, that is mindful of distinct mandates and working procedures, is vital. To ensure that the humanitarian activities undertaken to benefit IDPs have a meaningful impact, the ICRC and other components of the Movement strive to establish action-oriented complementarity.

As they have gone about the task of implementing the major responsibilities entrusted to them in the context of the Cluster approach, UN agencies - UNHCR in particular but also others such as WFP or UNICEF – have become increasingly involved with the issue of internal displacement in recent years.

Durable solutions to problems associated with the return and reintegration of IDPs require, moreover, close dialogue with the pertinent authorities and regular efforts to empower the communities in question.

As humanitarian actors, we share the responsibility of doing more for those in need. Greater operational proximity in the field requires the intensification of dialogue and cooperation. This will help us avoid unnecessary and costly duplication and will enhance the overall response to the millions of civilians around the world uprooted by violence every year. 

It will also, we hope, contribute to reducing the occurrence of forced displacement.

Thank you, Mr Chairman.