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

25-11-2002 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 57th session, Plenary, item 21 of the agenda – Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 25 November 2002

Mr. President,

At the CAP launch in Bern last November 19, our Director-General made the observation that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) remains firmly convinced that there is Hope for the Future. It is however unfortunate that the humanitarian situation has not registered any significant change for the better. In most conflicts prevailing today, civilians, in particular women and children, continue to bear the brunt of the suffering. Many are exposed to disease and starvation, others are displaced from their lands, separated from their families. Many die. Children are kidnapped, forcibly recruited, their lives irremediably destroyed. When peace does not prevail, the only way to fundamentally change this situation would be to ensure constant and absolute respect for international humanitarian law in all conflicts. The ICRC tirelessly works towards this goal. It has been calling and continues to call upon States to spare no effort in abiding by their obligation to do so under common Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I.

At the same time, it fully recognizes that the universal humanitarian effort can indeed be rendered more effective through increased and appropriate coordination.

Mr. President,

Coordination among humanitarian actors is inevitable, for the dimensions and complexity of humanitarian needs in most conflict situations couldn't possibly be dealt with by any single  organization. For the ICRC, coordination signifies seeking the greatest possible complementarity with the United Nations agencies and other humanitarian actors, within the framework of respective mandates and operating princ iples and methods. It is principally motivated by the desire, shared with other humanitarian organizations, to harmonize efforts and avoid duplication, thereby utilizing most adequate resources and expertise for the people in need.

It is in this perspective that the ICRC, together with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, cooperates with the UN coordination mechanisms and structures, such as the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). As an IASC Standing Invitee, we participate in various meetings of this forum and its subsidiary bodies, sharing information and views on a host of thematic and operational issues. For instance, the ICRC contributed substantially to the preparation of the recent IASC publication " Growing the Sheltering Tree: Protecting Rights through Humanitarian Action " , which is a unique collection of practices to serve all humanitarian organizations working in the field. The ICRC also contributes, among others, to OCHA's work concerning the elaboration of the common humanitarian action plans in various complex emergencies. Another instance of cooperation is that between the ICRC and OCHA's Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Unit in Geneva in the preparation of the Unit's field missions.

In parallel, the ICRC maintains a regular bilateral dialogue with a number of UN agencies and NGOs. For instance, its annual high-level meeting with the UNHCR dealt this year with the IDP issue, mainly in the context of Afghanistan. Another example of cooperation with the UN Secretariat is the training provided within the framework of the UNITAR/DPKO courses for civilian personnel in peace-keeping operations, wherein the ICRC contributes with the module on the special needs of women in conflict.

Mr. President,

While on the subject of humanitarian coordination in crisis regio ns, the ICRC cannot but reiterate its firm position that humanitarian action must be kept distinct from political and military action. Their aims are fundamentally different: the primary goal of military operations should be to establish and maintain peace and security in order to help progress, or sustain, a political settlement of a conflict. While such settlements are key to ultimately ending suffering engendered by conflicts, it is crucial that, in the meanwhile, humanitarian actors be able to independently assist and protect the victims. Consequently, in its relations with the various armed forces, the Committee always strives to promote a better understanding and respect for each other's respective role, constraints and working methods. In this context, the ICRC is preoccupied by what it perceives as a developing tendency, in particular at the level of policy framework elaboration, to increase the military involvement in humanitarian operations. It wishes to stress the absolute need to avoid any blurring of roles that might result from a militarization of humanitarian assistance. This can seriously undermine perceptions of the latter's neutrality, with the attendant consequences on the security of humanitarian workers.

In this perspective, coordination also signifies concerted efforts to safeguard this very independence and the strictly humanitarian nature of humanitarian operations. Such efforts are necessary to maintain a working environment where humanitarian organizations can safely discharge their mandate.

Thank you, Mr. President.