Protection of victims of armed conflict through respect of International Humanitarian Law


Reference Document – 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Geneva, 31 October to 6 November 1999



 Final Goal 1.1.   

 Full compliance by all the parties to an armed conflict with their obligations under international humanitarian law to better protect and assist the civilian population and other victims.  

 1.   During recent armed conflicts, increasing numbers of civilians have been killed, wounded, treated without dignity, arbitrarily detained and/or separated from their families. They have been targeted on purpose, forced to leave their homes, and deprived of their basic rights as human beings, such as the right to supplies essential to their survival. In so-called " failed states " or " anarchic states " , the central government, having effectively lost control over much, or all, of its territory, can no longer carry out its formal functions, which will lead gradually to the disintegration of state structures. As the state's monopoly on the use of force lessens, factions, warlords or bandits take " law and order " into their own hands, while civilians may take up arms to defend themselves: all leading to a spiral of violence. The armed groups'loose chains of command, coupled with their lack of responsibility, favour unbalanced behaviour. When civilians become the actual target of hostilities, as in " ethnic conflicts " for example, the basic rules protecting them are completely blurred. This is a sad characteristic of the post-Cold War era.

Under humanitarian law, the civilian population in general is protected from dangers arising from military operations. However, some groups among the population, such as children, women, the elderly, persons with disabilities and displaced people, have specific needs and are entitled to special attention. Civilians can also expect, under humanitarian law, adequate care and respect. But one of the most acute challenges facing humanitarian organisations at present is access to all the victims of an armed conflict.

The following points – (a) to (g) – look at im portant rules of protection which are of particular relevance in today's conflicts.

 (a)  One of the most important principles underlying humanitarian law is that of distinction between the civilian population and combatants, and between civilian objects and military objectives (Article 48 of Protocol I, Article 13 par. 2 of Protocol II). Attacks must be limited to military objectives, i.e., those objects which, by their nature, location, purpose or use, make an effective contribution to military action, and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralisation, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage. Indiscriminate attacks striking military objectives and civilians or civilians objects without distinction are prohibited. When launching an attack, two other principles have to be respected: proportionality in the military action and due precaution before deciding the attack. Numerous factors have to be taken into account before launching an attack, for example, the military importance of the target, the density of the civilian population, the likely effects of the attack, including the possible release of hazardous substances, the types of weapon available and the accuracy, mode and timing of the attack especially in the case of a mixed target. In case of doubt about the nature of an object, it is presumed to be civilian and should not be attacked.

In reality, far too often civilians and civilian objects, such as houses, places of worship and schools, are targeted on purpose. Attacks are sometimes launched against cities or villages because, it is argued, they contain military objectives. The attacks result in numerous casualties among the civilian population and damage to civilian objects, which, if excessive to the direct military advantage anticipated, are unacceptable. In areas where civilians are concentrated, clearly-separated military objectives should n ot be treated as a single military objective. Unless circumstances do not permit it, each party to the conflict shall give an effective advance warning prior to an attack which may affect the civilian population.

In some cases, civilians and prisoners are used as human shields to protect military objectives from attack. In others, the red cross or the red crescent emblem is used to mislead the enemy and conduct military actions. Simulation of protected status by using the red cross, the red crescent, UN or other protective emblems are considered as acts of perfidy, amounting to a grave breach of humanitarian law.

Basic needs and resources of the people have to be respected in time of armed conflict and starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited. In order to avoid prejudicing the health or survival of the population, humanitarian law stipulates that care shall be taken in warfare to protect the natural environment against widespread, long-term and severe damage. In many conflicts, widespread pillaging of civilian property occurs, and the destruction of crops, drinking water installations and irrigation works places the population under prolonged hardship. The bombing of oil installations or chemical plants has led to major ecological damage in some regions of the world.

 (b)  In a variety of contexts, regular armies, as well as paramilitary and rebel forces, continue to subject the civilian population to countless, unspeakable acts of violence. Widespread murders, " ethnic cleansing " , rape, torture and hostage-taking are commonly recorded violations. The warring parties use threats and spread terror among civilians to reach their military and political objectives. Military operations are sometimes conducted on the basis that no mercy will be shown. Minorities are not always allowed to speak their own language, to practice their religion or to play their music, and are therefore profoundly affected in their cultural and religious identity. Regularly, medical personnel are barred from carrying out their work or are under pressure to perform tasks contrary to the rules of medical ethics (for example, they are obliged to take care of people regardless of the urgency of other cases). Ambulances are used for purposes other than their humanitarian function, i.e., to transport soldiers or arms. Medical personnel and units, as well as religious personnel, are occasionally targeted on purpose.

According to humanitarian law, all people not taking a direct part in hostilities shall be treated humanely in all circumstances, without any adverse distinction. They are entitled to respect for themselves, their honour, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs (Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions, Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 4 of Protocol II). Military and civilian medical personnel and medical units or transports shall be respected and protected in all circumstances.

As a possible means to enhance the protection of the wounded and civilians against the effects of hostilities, parties to a conflict can decide to create different kinds of humanitarian zones (Article 23 of the First Geneva Convention, Articles 14 and 15 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Articles 59 and 60 of Protocol I). Experience shows that such measures are likely to be respected only if they are temporary and well defined. Nevertheless, in situations of increasing threats on civilians and lack of commitment of the parties to respect humanitarian law, security zones may be decided by the UN Security Council without the consent of the parties. In that case, necessary resources and means must be granted to protect the people. However, caution must be taken before d eciding to establish security zones: in particular, the situation of the civilians living outside the zone should be clarified and the right to seek asylum in other countries should not be undermined. Like humanitarian zones, security zones must always be demilitarised and it should be made clear that their aim is to give temporary shelter and not to provide an amnesty.

The massive and continuing violations of humanitarian law can be stopped and deterred only if the responsible parties undertake to translate their commitments into concrete measures. In cases of conflicts, training, regular supervision and evaluation of the conduct of all people under their responsibility become even more important. Strict orders must be given by the commanders in order to prevent any misconduct of their troops and, where necessary, they have to suppress and report the violations to the competent authorities.

 (c)  Tragically, contemporary armed conflicts are frequently characterised by massive displacement of populations, both within and across international borders. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent in non-international armed conflicts, where displacement is often regarded as a strategy of warfare, and sometimes even constitutes the very objective of the protagonists to the conflict.

A large number of those affected live in rural areas, are highly dependent on their land, and thus resist displacement as long as possible. Accordingly, the level of danger has to be particularly high, and flight perceived as the only chance for survival, before they take the decision to flee their homes. In such situations, displacement often occurs in an extremely hostile, chaotic and violent environment where meagre means are available for saving their lives. Apart from the traumatic conditions of their departure and flight, the displaced often experience problems during the time they are displac ed, and frequently face numerous obstacles to returning home. As a result of this, they are extremely vulnerable and it is imperative to provide them with necessary assistance and protection. The immense human suffering, not only of the displaced themselves, but also of those left behind and for host communities, demonstrates the urgent need to reduce the occurrence of forced displacement.

To a large extent, forced displacement results from the failure of parties to an armed conflict to abide by their obligations under humanitarian law. Indeed, in addition to the protection provided by rules governing the conduct of hostilities and those concerning the treatment of persons in the power of a party to the conflict, humanitarian law contains important restraints on the possibility of those parties to undertake forced displacement. Prohibition against forcibly displacing the civilian population for reasons related to the conflict has long been considered a customary rule of international law. In addition, existing instruments also contain express prohibitions of such practices, both in international and non-international armed conflicts (in Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and in Article 17 of Protocol II respectively). When, exceptionally, evacuations take place, there exists an obligation to ensure that these are carried out in satisfactory conditions. An obligation to allow people to return also exists both in cases of lawful evacuations and in cases of illegal displacement. In the former case, this obligation may be expressly articulated and, in the latter, the duty implicitly follows from the more general obligation to redress and minimise violations of the law. Therefore, the full respect of humanitarian law would not only contribute to ease the plight of the displaced, but also considerably reduce the very occurrence of forced displacement.

It is important to note that the protection provided by humanitarian law to displaced people affect ed by armed conflict is supplemented and reinforced by other regimes of international law. Refugees benefit from a number of basic provisions of human rights law and, of course, also from applicable regional and global refugee law instruments. Internally displaced people remain entitled to the full range of human rights law, on an equal footing with any other inhabitants of their countries.   Last year, the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement were presented to the Commission on Human Rights by the UN Secretary-General's representative on internally displaced people. The principles provide useful guidance on how relevant international standards are to be interpreted and applied.

 (d)  In numerous conflict situations, the conditions of deprivation of liberty remain precarious, if not disastrous. In total violation of the spirit and the letter of conventional and customary law, children, women and men continue to live and die in appalling conditions, characterised by inhumane treatment; summary executions; forced disappearances; torture and ill-treatment; lack of medical, sanitary and nutritional attention; arbitrary, abusive and prolonged detention; and hostage-taking. Policies sanctioning massive arrests, the paralysis of judiciary and penal systems, a lack of resources, the subordination of humanitarian considerations to political ones, as well as indifference and neglect are the main factors worsening the situation of detainees.

According to humanitarian law, prisoners of war (PoWs) and detainees have to be protected and respected in all circumstances. The detaining authorities are held responsible for unlawful acts or omissions causing the death or seriously endangering the health of prisoners. If subjected to judicial proceedings, detainees, internees and PoWs enjoy all the fundamental judicial guarantees and no sentence may be pa ssed except pursuant to a conviction pronounced by an impartial and regularly constituted court (Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions, Article 99 ff. of the Third Geneva Convention, Article 71 ff. of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 75 of Protocol I, Article 6 of Protocol II). The ICRC has a right to visit all places where PoWs or internees may be held, and shall be able to interview them without witness and repeat the visit whenever necessary (Article 126 of the Third Geneva Convention, Article 143 of the Fourth Geneva Convention).

In a number of cases, the current lack of respect for humanitarian law and for fundamental judicial guarantees causes arbitrary and abusive deprivation of freedom. Years after the end of hostilities, thousands of PoWs still remain as political bargaining chips and are denied the right to release, repatriation or family reunification, in contradiction with the provisions of the Third Geneva Convention. Likewise, interned persons are not released even if the reasons which motivated their internment no longer exist. Often, the detainees are not informed of the offence they are alleged to have committed, they have no access to a lawyer and wait weeks, if not years, before seeing a judge.

 (e)  For many people, one of the most tragic consequences of armed conflicts is the uncertainty surrounding the fate of their relatives. Many rules of humanitarian law deal directly with this problem. As soon as a combatant is captured by the enemy, he becomes a PoW and the detaining power has the obligation to notify him to the power on which the prisoner depends through the ICRC's Central Tracing Agency. The PoW is allowed to write a " Capture Card " to the ICRC's Central Tracing Agency and to his family, informing them of his capture, address and state of health (Articles 69 and 70 of the Third Geneva Convention). Internees have the same prerogatives (Article 1 06 of the Fourth Geneva Convention).

All the parties to an armed conflict undertake to ensure, in particular, that every effort is made to clarify the fate of all those unaccounted for and to inform the families accordingly. At the end of active hostilities, at the latest, each party to the conflict shall search for those reported missing and relevant information be transmitted to the ICRC's Central Tracing Agency or to the National Society. The remains of people who have died in detention or as a result of the hostilities shall be respected, as shall their grave-sites. The grave-sites shall be properly maintained and marked in such a way that they can be located and recognised. The dead will be identified, their families informed, and the mortal remains returned to them.

Notwithstanding the right of families to know the fate of their relatives, States often appear to lack the determination to comply with their conventional obligations to investigate and provide information on the whereabouts of missing people. In some cases, no authority has been nominated to handle these questions and no central database is organised; the result is confusion and delays. Unidentified prisoners and combatants killed on the battlefield are buried in mass graves. In order to be able to clarify the fate of a person and inform his family as soon as possible, certain measures should already be taken in peacetime and appropriate procedures put into place from the beginning of a conflict. It is imperative that identification cards be distributed to combatants and competent authorities be entrusted with this task.

 (f)  The special vulnerability of children in armed conflicts has long been recognised. Under humanitarian law, specific rules concerning children have been added to the general obligation made to the parties of a conflict to respect the civilian population. Some provisions are directly concerned with children's honour, their well-being or their development (Article 77 of Protocol I and Article 4, paragraph 3 of Protocol II). In particular, the parties to a conflict should provide all children, including those held in detention, with the care and the education they require. The death penalty shall not be carried out against a child who was under 18 at the time of the offence.

Other rules insist on the importance of the environment of the child and require that children can live with their relatives. The parties to a conflict should facilitate the reunion of families dispersed as a result of armed conflicts. In that respect, humanitarian organisations, and in particular the components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, can play a substantive role in helping the concerned authorities. In some exceptional cases, for medical or security reasons, the best way to protect children is to evacuate them to a foreign country or to a safer area inside the country. In such cases, safeguards should be provided to ensure that the consent of the parents is given and that this measure is taken temporarily.

Enforced prostitution, indecent assault and other misuse of children have been observed in various contexts. Girls may suffer specific outrages and particular attention should be paid to their protection. In many regions, child soldiers have been seen on the battlefield, despite the legal interdiction on recruiting children under 15 (see also point 6 below) years of age.

 (g)  In situations of armed conflict, States, including the occupying powers, have, first and foremost the responsibility for protecting and assisting the populations under their control, and should organise and carry out necessary relief actions. In addition, if civilians are suffering hardship because supplies essential to their survival and well-being are lack ing, the warring parties should support and facilitate relief actions undertaken by humanitarian and impartial organisations (Articles 23, 59, 60 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 70 of Protocol I, Article 18 paragraph 2 of Protocol II). States have consistently agreed, mostly through resolutions of the UN Security Council or its General Assembly, that all parties to a conflict are obliged to grant access for humanitarian aid to all people in need.

During recent armed conflicts, warring parties placed obstacles in the way of humanitarian assistance for the civilian population. Frequently, the parties to a conflict impede the activities of humanitarian organisations, such as the ICRC, from carrying out their mandate to assist and protect the victims. Access to the civilian population is denied, either by questioning the strictly humanitarian purpose of ICRC action or by invoking security reasons. In many cases, the refusal is not consistent with the real situation prevailing in the field. It should be noted, however, that the International Court of Justice has confirmed that relief actions carried out in accordance with the Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement cannot be regarded as interference in internal affairs.

 2.   It is essential that, in non-international armed conflicts, rebels, insurgents and other armed opposition groups fully respect the set of rules which apply in these situations, i.e., Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions, Protocol II of 1977 and customary rules. In that regard, armed opposition groups are encouraged to declare publicly their commitment to live up to their legal obligations. However, formal declarations of intent by armed opposition groups are not sufficient; they must be followed by concrete actions. There must be both the capacity and a real will to respect promises to comply with humanitarian law; the commi tments cannot be used merely for political purposes. Armed opposition groups also have a duty to teach humanitarian law to their forces.

In addition, common Article 3 states that " the Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention. " It is regrettable that, in practice, this invitation to go beyond the fundamental principles contained in common Article 3 has rarely been translated into action. Both States and armed opposition groups should, therefore, endeavour to extend the body of applicable law to include, if at all possible, the entirety of humanitarian law. 

Declarations of intent by armed opposition groups and ad hoc agreements between fighting parties will ultimately benefit great numbers of people, and more particularly innocent civilians.


 3.   To be able to carry out its mandate, the ICRC seeks to establish a constructive dialogue with all the parties concerned and requests them to provide satisfactory guarantees that its action and personnel will be respected and protected. The ICRC works relentlessly to persuade all the authorities concerned to respect humanitarian law, to assume their obligations and to co-operate fully with the components of the Movement in accordance with the latters'respective mandates, competence and principles. In particular, the ICRC continues to adopt a strictly independent, neutral and impartial stance when performing its activities. It abstains from any action not exclusively aimed at improving the situation of the victims of the conflict, wherever they may be. In the field, the ICRC and the other components of the Movement are protected solely by the red cross and red crescent emblems and refuse, in principl e, armed protection from anyone. In situations where host governments fail to ensure security while the population are experiencing a grave hardship, the international community has to take the appropriate measures to secure the environment in order to ensure that humanitarian workers are able to carry out their work in accordance with their mandates and principles of action (see also Final Goal 2.4.).

As specified in the Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, one important role of the ICRC is to work for the understanding and dissemination of knowledge of humanitarian law and for its faithful application. In close co-operation with the International Federation and National Societies, the ICRC runs a variety of projects to promote and raise awareness and understanding of humanitarian rules and principles amongst all categories of people. Emphasis is placed on those who are, or may, take part in armed hostilities (see Final Goal 1.4.). When observing violations of humanitarian law, the ICRC approaches the concerned authorities and requests that they take the appropriate measures in order to suppress them. Such interventions towards the parties to the conflict concerned are made on a confidential basis, unless the gravity of the facts, the lack of success of confidential representations and the interests of the victims require a public denunciation. National Societies also play a major role in assisting their governments to promote humanitarian law and ensure respect for it. In many situations, they have to make representations in order to guarantee respect for the red cross and red crescent emblem.

Although the proper and full implementation of humanitarian law remains the major objective, States have shown their willingness to enhance protection of victims of armed conflicts by appropriately developing the law. The ICRC, as promoter and " guardian " of humanitarian law, has taken an active role in elaborating several n ew treaties (the more recently amended Protocol II of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons concerning landmines, Protocol IV of the same convention concerning blinding weapons, the Ottawa Treaty on Anti-Personnel Mines, the Statute of the International Criminal Court and the Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property).


 4.   The question of applicability of humanitarian law to peace-keeping or peace enforcement forces has been of concern to the ICRC for a long time. As the nature of UN forces has drastically evolved in the last decade – leading troops to use force even outside situations of self-defence – this question has become even more acute.

The UN has formally undertaken the responsibility vis-à-vis third States to ensure respect for humanitarian law by " blue helmets " by including a clause in the Status of Forces Agreements (SOFAs) concluded between the UN and the States in whose territories UN peace-keeping forces are deployed. For many years, the UN was of the opinion that its forces were bound by the " principles and spirit " of humanitarian law treaties. The clause in the more recent SOFAs refers to the applicability of " rules and principles " of humanitarian law.

To aid clarifying the scope of application of humanitarian law, the ICRC organised two meetings in 1995 with experts from military and academic circles, former commanders of UN forces and officials from the services concerned at the UN Secretariat. The participants prepared a draft set of guidelines which was reviewed jointly by the UN Office of Legal Affairs and the ICRC, and a final text was established in May 1996.

The guidelines were finally published by the UN Secretary General on 10 August 1999, under the title Observance by United Nations forces of international humanitarian law  


These guidelines should be referred to when UN forces are actively engaged as combatants in either peace-keeping or peace enforcement operations conducted under UN command and control. They do not constitute an exhaustive list of compulsory principles and rules of humanitarian law for military personnel, who also remain bound by their national laws and applicable humanitarian law rules binding their countries of origin.

The ICRC regards these guidelines as an important and common basic military manual for forces under the UN flag.


 5.  As stipulated in Article 1 common to all four Geneva Conventions, the High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and ensure respect for the Geneva Conventions in all circumstances. It is, therefore, the responsibility of States to make all efforts to prevent or impede the continuation of violations of humanitarian law by another party. It is important to stress that this responsibility cannot be shifted to humanitarian organisations, such as the ICRC, although they may contribute in their own right to the implementation of humanitarian law.

However, common Article 1 does not precisely define the means and method to fulfil this legal and political responsibility. The appropriate measures have to be decided upon by the States and recognised interstate organisations, whether regional or universal. It consists primarily of diplomatic and economic measures. When exerting sanctions against a State, an appropriate humanitarian exception to sanctions regimes, adequate in terms of the needs of the pop ulation and the requirements of humanitarian law and human rights law, should always be included. The humanitarian impact of sanctions on the civilian population must be assessed, monitored and considered at all stages of the decision-making process (see Final Goal 2.3.).

Humanitarian law shall not be invoked, as such, as a basis for the use of force. Should the recourse to force be considered the appropriate answer to a very serious violation of humanitarian law, this decision should be taken within the framework of Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Article 89 of Protocol I stipulates that, in situations of serious violations of the Conventions or of Protocol I, the High Contracting Parties shall act, jointly or individually, in co-operation with the UN. But, any international response must respect the United Nations Charter, the principles of international law and humanitarian law. The possible humanitarian consequences must be taken into account.

Whenever possible, regional intergovernmental organisations should participate in the efforts to promote compliance with humanitarian law. When endorsed with the responsibility of implementing measures agreed upon at the UN, regional organisations shall act in conformity with humanitarian law.

In all cases, the ICRC must be in a position to act in a completely neutral and independent manner and free of any politically-motivated constraints in order to carry out its humanitarian mandate in accordance with its principles.


 6.   Today, when new forms of warfare are being developed and belligerents are adopting new combat strategies, children are increasingly affected by conflicts. Far from being spared the horrors of war, children are often placed at the very heart of current conflicts, and become one of its main victims, not only because they form a large part of the civilian population but also because of their extreme vulnerability.

Conflict can wound children, both physically and mentally, for life. They are often helpless witnesses of atrocities committed against members of their families. Far too many children are still killed, wounded or mutilated by anti-personnel mines, torn from their familiar surroundings, separated from their families, detained or imprisoned, forced to flee and to seek refuge in another area or country, left to fall back on their own resources, deprived of their roots and, sometimes, even of their very identity.

Evidence shows that children need even greater care and protection if they have experienced violence, suffering and trauma generated by armed conflict.

This concern has been reflected in numerous statements or declarations in international forums and resolutions adopted in the framework of International Conferences of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. In this manner, the 26th International Conference reaffirmed the absolute necessity to take all measures to guarantee that children enjoy the protection and assistance to which they are entitled under national and international law. For its part, the Movement adopted, in 1995, the Plan of Action concerning Children in Armed Conflict (CABAC) (Council of Delegates, Resolution 5).

Legal provisions do exist both in terms of general and special protection which benefit children. For the most part, these provisions are adequate and must be promoted. It is, therefore, less the search for new instruments than the true implementation and respect for these measures that needs to be reinforced. First and foremost, it is essential that politicians and those bearing arms be made familiar with, and made to apply, humanitarian law. In a world where an ever-greater number of civilians and, by consequence, children affected by conflicts and other forms of violence, it has also become necessary to sensitise a wider population to the principles of humanitarian conduct, as enshrined in humanitarian law. The international community must therefore mobilise itself and contribute more effectively to ensure that children benefit from all provisions and measures aimed at securing their protection and assistance.

It is equally important that children are able, at all times, to have access to education and recreational activities. In all cultures, education in the home, in society and at school plays a central role in passing on modes of behaviour and attitudes. Communities wishing to preserve human values must do their utmost to prevent young people from becoming involved in conflict as either victims or protagonists. Society must teach young people the minimum standards of behaviour which will ensure that human dignity and integrity are respected both in times of war and of peace.

The preventive aspect of such activities should also not be neglected as they are ways of avoiding exclusion and marginalisation, both of which can lead to violence when children are left to their own devices and without social and cultural frames of reference.

It is also particularly worrying to note that the number of children recruited or voluntarily enlisting in actual conflicts keeps increasing, in violation of humanitarian law. Very young children are all too frequently given weapons and urged to commit the worst atrocities under the orders of unscrupulous individuals who recruit them in order to take advantage of their youth, immaturity and distress.

It is therefore vital to prevent and eradicate all forms of participation of children in hostilities. The Statute of the International Criminal Court is an important element contributing to a better respect of humanitarian law provisions as regards a ban on recruitment and participation of child ren in armed conflicts. The Statute includes, in its list of war crimes, the acts of conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 in the armed forces or in armed groups, and making them actively take part in hostilities. It should be noted that the concept of participation must extend both to direct participation in fighting and to active involvement in duties or activities related to combat, such as reconnaissance, spying, sabotage, and the use of children as decoys, messengers or at military checkpoints. 

Certainly some standards can be improved, for example those which relate to the age of recruitment and participation in hostilities. It is in this framework that the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is advocating to raise the minimum age of recruitment and participation in hostilities to 18 years. This should apply in both international and non-international armed conflicts, and to all parties to a conflict, including armed groups.

To complement these normative measures, there must be an effort to encourage the implementation and development of practical means of prevention to give children an alternative which will dissuade them from having to join armed forces or armed groups as a means of survival. It is equally important to implement innovative programmes aimed at meeting the physical, psychological and social needs of child victims of armed conflicts and their families. Finally, it is necessary to help these children and a fortiori former child soldiers to return to their communities and the social and cultural environment from which they came.

The process of rehabilitation and social reintegration is crucial for the future of former child soldiers. Failing this, there is a danger that, on the one hand, they will never be able to readapt to a normal life and, on the other, will become easy prey to be re-engaged in fighting or violence, or will slide into delinquency. Faced with all the aspects of this problem, people's attitudes also need to change notably with regard to education for both adults and children. To achieve these measures, it is important that civil society in the countries concerned should be involved at every stage of the process, in order to promote the respect for guaranteed standards of protection for children in conflict, to permit them to find alternatives to enlisting or to help their reinsertion in their homes and communities


 7.  The problems experienced by women in situations of armed conflict have received increased attention in recent years, both within and outside the International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

A number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have contributed to raising international awareness on this subject, and several initiatives have been taken within academic circles to examine existing normative frameworks and operational responses. The problems have been discussed among governments as well, both in the context of meetings focusing specifically on women (such as the 1995 Beijing Conference), and by forums with a broader agenda, such as the UN Commission on Human Rights, General Assembly or regional organisations.

The desire to better address the problems faced by women in situations of armed conflict has equally been reflected in resolutions pertaining to the International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent as a whole, and in more specific decisions taken within the ICRC.

Thus, the 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, in its resolution entitled " Protection of the civilian population in periods of armed conflict " , urged " that strong measures be taken to provide women with the prot ection and assistance to which they are entitled under national and international law. " It also encouraged " States, the Movement and other competent entities and organisations to develop preventive measures, assess existing programmes and set up new programmes to ensure that women victims of conflict receive medical, psychological and social assistance, provided if possible by qualified personnel who are aware of the specific issues involved. "

Within the context of an internal review process aimed at identifying current challenges facing the ICRC and how these should be addressed (Exercice Avenir), it was decided, inter alia, to follow attentively the needs for clarification or development of humanitarian law pertaining to certain problems or categories of people, and where necessary, to take appropriate measures. Among which, it was decided to develop and implement guidelines of an operational and/or legal nature regarding the role and protection of women in conflict situations.

The ultimate objective is to enhance the assistance and protection of women affected by armed conflicts, by sensitising relevant actors to their specific needs, by improving the quality and the pertinence of activities carried out on their behalf and by empowering the women themselves.

To this end, the ICRC has started a project to examine how women are affected by armed conflict, the extent to which their needs are being addressed, and how the response can be improved. The process would include:

  • The identification and analysis of women's assistance and protection needs, including their access to basic goods and services such as food, water, shelter and primary health care. To some extent, the analysis also includes a review of the " strategic " needs of women, such as their involvement in decision-making processes. Such empowerment would aim at ensuring the better access to the above-mentioned resources and services by war-affected women, including assuring that humanitarian assistance better reaches the intended beneficiaries. It would also aim to enhance the capacity of women to overcome the problems they face during conflict, and thereby also benefit the communities in which they live (for instance, skills training may increase household assets, improve nutrition and reduce child mortality).

  • The drawing up of a realistic and comprehensive picture of activities undertaken by the ICRC in favour of women victims of armed conflict.

  • An assessment of whether these activities adequately respond to the needs identified.

  • The examination of humanitarian law, in order to assess the extent to which it provides an adequate coverage for the needs identified. To some extent, other sources of international law (i.e., human rights law and refugee law) will also be examined, in order to identify relevant sources of law where humanitarian law is silent or no longer applicable.

  • On the basis of the above, the formulation of guidelines enhancing the assistance and protection of women in situations of armed conflict.

It should be noted that this initiative is in line with a basic principle for ICRC activities, namely that victims should be assisted in accordance with their needs. In line with the general objective that operations have the best possible impact on the target groups they are designed to assist and protect, effective programming must recognise the particular situation of women. Programmes therefore need to be designed and implemented in consultation with, and with the participation of, women in order to be effective and to avoid a negative impact on their socio-economic situation. The s tudy aims to draw lessons from past and current experiences and improve the quality, relevance and impact of ICRC services.

To some extent, the study should also help to better address challenges faced by women in post-conflict situations, and thereby be of interest to all the components of the International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent .  


The systematic collection of information has already started, through a request to field delegations to provide periodic reports regarding activities carried out in favour of women and children. In addition to drawing upon documents produced by UN bodies, agencies, NGOs and universities, it is hoped that valuable information will be provided by war-affected women themselves, in the context of the campaign marking the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions (which includes circulating a questionnaire to cross-sections of the population in different countries, and holding discussions among representative groups – including women). In the year 2000, it is envisaged to submit a first draft of the study to a number of institutions and individuals interested in, and with expertise on, the matter, including National Societies and the International Federation, in order to refine and complement the study and the formulation of guidelines.


 Final Goal 1.2.   

 An effective barrier against impunity through the combination of international treaties and national laws concerning the repression of violations of international humanitarian law, and the establishment of an equitable system of reparations.  

 8.  On the basis of the principle of universal jurisdiction, States have a duty to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, serious violations (i.e., war crimes), and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts (Articles 49/50/129/146 of the four Geneva Conventions, 85 Additional Protocol I). They may also hand over such suspects to another State for prosecution ( aut dedere aut punire ). In all circumstances, the accused shall " benefit by safeguards of proper trial and defence. " With respect to other violations of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols, each High Contracting Party is obliged to take necessary measures to ensure their suppression. In accordance with Article 14 of the 1996 Amended Mines Protocol, States shall take all appropriate steps, including legislative and other measures, to prevent and suppress violations by persons or on territory under its jurisdiction or control. These measures include the imposition of penal sanctions against persons who wilfully kill or cause serious injury to civilians and to bring such persons to justice. According to Article 9 of the 1997 Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel landmines, States are obliged to take all appropriate legal, administrative and other measures, including the imposition of penal sanctions, to prevent and suppress any prohibited activity under this treaty undertaken by persons or on territory under its jurisdiction or control.

The creation of the two ad hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda was an important first step to stop the impunity of war c riminals. According to the respective Statutes, States are bound to comply with requests for arrest and surrender or transfer of the accused to the International Tribunals. Since the system of penal repression has rarely been applied by States at the national level, the 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, following recommendations of the International Conference for the Protection of War Victims and of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts for the Protection of War Victims, urged States in Resolution 2:

  • to increase international efforts,

  • to bring before courts and punish war criminals and those responsible for serious violations of humanitarian law,

  • to establish permanently an international criminal court.

While many war criminals still remain unpunished, States adopted on 17 July 1998 at the Diplomatic Conference in Rome, the Statute for the establishment of an International Criminal Court (ICC). This court, which will be created after the deposit of the 60th instrument of ratification, should greatly contribute to ending the present reign of impunity. States parties to the ICC Statute will be duty-bound to comply with requests for arrest and surrender of alleged war criminals, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Statute and the procedure under their national law. However, the primary responsibility for enforcement of humanitarian law rests with national authorities. The jurisdiction of the ICC is intended to come into play only when a national judicial system is genuinely unable or unwilling to act in relation to individuals over whom they would normally have jurisdiction. To benefit from this principle of complementarity, States will need to have adequate legislation enabling them to prosecute war criminals.

Nothing in the Statute releases Sta tes from their obligations under existing instruments of humanitarian law to which they are party or from their customary international law obligations. This fact is important as there are certain humanitarian law obligations which are not covered in the Statute, such as some of the grave breach provisions of Additional Protocol I, and obligations under the Ottawa Convention. States parties to Additional Protocol I and to the Ottawa Convention are still required to enact implementing legislation to give effect to their obligations under these treaties.


 9.   The 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent reaffirmed in Resolution 2 the rule derived from Article 91 of Protocol I that any party to an armed conflict which violates humanitarian law shall, if the case demands, be liable to pay compensation. Articles 51/52/131/148 of the four Geneva Conventions, according to which no State party shall be allowed to absolve itself or any other State party of any liability incurred by itself or by another State party in respect of breaches under the conventions, contain the same principle. The obligation applies to all parties to the conflict. Thus, no distinction is made between the victor and the vanquished, nor between a party which is presumed to have resorted to force unlawfully and a party which is believed only to have exercised its right of self-defence.

Compensation will be due only if restitution in kind or the restoration of the situation existing before the violation are not possible. Such compensation is usually expressed in the form of a sum of money which must correspond either to the value of the object for which restitution is not possible, or to an indemnity which is proportional to the loss suffered. If the compensation is assessed in terms of material goods, it may never consist of cultural property (Protocol of The Hague for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 14 May 1954, Part I, paragraph 3).

These rules form the legal framework for reparations in the law of armed conflicts. However, no generally accepted principles or guidelines with respect to appropriate mechanisms or procedures for the exercise of rights by the victims (e.g., standing of victims, competence of courts, etc.) exist. Since the early 1990s, independent experts received a mandate from the Commission on Human Rights to draft such principles and guidelines. The final report, with a view to its adoption by the UN General Assembly, will be submitted at the end of 1999. Extensive consultations between interested governments, intergovernmental organisations and non-governmental organisations are needed to create universally acceptable guidelines reflecting the various legal cultures and traditions of the world. Considerable efforts have been undertaken in recent years. It is now the time to achieve results which can be implemented and respect existing humanitarian law.

With respect to the competence of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the field of reparations, Article 75 of the Statute stipulates that the court establish principles relating to reparations and, on this basis, in its decision it may determine the scope and extent of any damage, loss and injury to, or in respect of, victims. The ICC may make an order directly against a convicted person specifying appropriate reparations, including restitution, compensation and rehabilitation. However, it must be emphasised that nothing in that article may be interpreted as prejudicing the rights of victims under national or international law (Article 75 (6) ICC Statute).


 Final Goal 1.3.   

 Universal acceptance of international humanitarian law and the adoption of all necessary measures by States at the national level to ensure the implementation of their treaty obligations.  


 10.  The fiftieth anniversary of the Geneva Conventions is a rare opportunity to reflect on the rules designed to protect human dignity in the midst of armed conflict. Their provisions were reaffirmed and developed some 20 years ago in the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions. These treaties, which set out rules to protect the victims of armed conflict from the effects of war – and the civilian population in particular – remain perfectly relevant today.

Many other treaties complete the rules on the conduct of hostilities. Amongst them, the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and its two Protocols. The second of the Protocols to the Convention was adopted on 26 March 1999. Given that the 1954 mechanism of cultural property under special protection never really worked, the Second Protocol establishes a new system. Cultural property of the greatest importance for humanity can be placed under enhanced protection provided it is adequately protected by domestic law and it is not used for military purposes or to shield military sites.    

The 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons applies two general customary rules of humanitarian law to specific weapons. These customary rules are (1) the prohibition of the use of weapons which are by their nature indiscriminate and (2) the prohibition of the use of weapons which cause unnecessary suffering or superfluous injury. The convention is completed by four Protocols : Non-Detectable Fragments; Mines, Booby Traps and Other Devices; Incendiary Weapons; and Blinding Laser Weapons.

Anti-personnel mines cannot distinguish between soldiers and civilians and usually kill or severely mutilate their victims. The 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-personnel Mines and on their Destruction is part of the international response to the widespread suffering caused by these weapons.

The 1998 Statute of the International Criminal Court seeks to put an end to the reign of impunity and to ensure that those who commit grave crimes do not go unpunished. The court will have jurisdiction over war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and over the crime of aggression once defined. By virtue of the principle of complementarity, the jurisdiction of the court is intended to come into play only when a State is genuinely unable or unwilling to prosecute alleged criminals over which it has jurisdiction.

It is also important that States adhere to humanitarian law treaties with the least reservations possible and that they re-examine existing violations with a view to repealing them.

Considerable efforts have been undertaken in recent years to either draft new treaties or update existing ones with a view to ensuring a better protection of war victims. It is now of the utmost importance to implement the existing body of law through its universal acceptance.


 11.  Wide dissemination and full implementation of such law at the national level also needs to be stressed. Implementation is the major challenge facing international law today. The problem of translating States'legal obligations into action is common to all areas of international law. There is, however, a particularly sharp contrast between humanitarian law's highly developed rules, many of which enjoy universal acceptance, and the repeated violations of those rules in conflicts around the world.

While a number of international mechanisms have been developed to promote compliance with humanitarian law, States themselves have the primary responsibility for implementation. Under the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, States have clear obligations to ensure that humanitarian law is implemented and respected, and to adopt a range of national legislative and administrative measures to this end .  

The promotion of national implementing measures has been a long-standing concern of the ICRC and the Movement as a whole. It has been included on the agendas of several International Conferences of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. The United Nations General Assembly reviews on a biannual basis the status of the Additional Protocols, and has also extended the scope of certain resolutions to statutes of other instruments of humanitarian law and the national implementation and promotion measures in general.

The implementation of humanitarian law requires a variety of measures. Firstly, humanitarian law treaties must be incorporated into domestic or national law. Secondly, States must ensure that their law provides punishment for:

  • grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I;

  • misuse of the emblem (the emblems, designations, signs and signals protected by the Geneva Conventions, the Additional Protocols and the Cultural Property Convention);

  • violations of the 1954 Cultural Property Convention;

  • violations of the 1997 Ottawa Convention; and

  • wilfully killing or causing serious injury to civilians through violati ons of amended Protocol II (landmines) of the 1980 Conventional Weapons Convention.

Finally, States must adopt a variety of other implementation measures to give effect to obligations, for example:

  • translation of these treaties into national languages;

  • dissemination within the armed forces and the general public;

  • identification of protected persons and places;

  • protection of fundamental and procedural guarantees;

  • legal advisers in armed forces;

  • national information bureau.

To assist with the measures described above, many States have established national humanitarian law committees to advise the government on implementation and dissemination of this law. Such committees – bringing together representatives of the various ministries concerned with the application of the law, the National Society, civil defence organisations, academics, the health profession, etc. – are recommended as a means to further implementation. More than 45 national committees have been created world-wide and, to improve co-operation among them, the ICRC has either organised or collaborated in a number of regional meetings and exchanges. These national committees are encouraged to send in information on the measures taken and planned to the ICRC Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law .


 12.  In 1995, the ICRC established a special unit, the Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law , to advise governments on the ratification of humanitarian law treaties and on the national measures necessary to fully implement their obligations under humanitarian law. The ser vice's creation was prompted by the recommendation of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts for the Protection of War Victims (Geneva, January 1995) – subsequently endorsed by the 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (Geneva, December 1995) – that the ICRC strengthen its capacity to advise and assist States in their efforts to implement and disseminate humanitarian law.

The ICRC Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law exists to assist States in their efforts to implement the law at the national level. In many States, the National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society is also able to provide assistance and expertise. The service always works in close co-operation with the National Society of the country concerned.

The Advisory Service's three main priorities have been to promote ratification of humanitarian law treaties, to promote national implementation of obligations under these treaties and to collect and facilitate the exchange of information regarding national implementation measures.

Since its establishment, the service has had contacts with representatives from over 100 countries world-wide. National and regional seminars on humanitarian law implementation have been organised in more than 50 countries and over 70 governments have been advised on legislation and related issues. Experts meetings were convened on national humanitarian law commissions (Geneva, 1996), national measures to repress violations of humanitarian law in civil law systems (Geneva, 1997) and the enforcement of humanitarian law in common-law countries (Geneva, 1998). In the light of the discussions during these meetings, the Advisory Service drew up guiding principles offering lawmakers practical guidance on the different issues. A collection of laws and documents on steps taken by States to implement humanitarian law at the national level is being put together. To facilitate the exchange of information, traditional and electronic filing systems are used. An electronic catalogue of all documents has been created. The documents are classified by subject and by country, and may be consulted by any interested party. Furthermore, a database on national measures for the implementation of humanitarian law is being set up. With this database, which constitutes an extension of the general database on humanitarian law, it is possible to compare national measures adopted by States and the relevant provisions of humanitarian law. The ICRC aims to make all the data globally accessible through modern information technology. However, a vast amount of work is required to gather, analyse and update the information.   Since July 1999, the ICRC has made available a new CD-ROM on humanitarian law which, for the first time, includes the national implementation measures of some 20 countries. This information can also be obtained through the ICRC website (


 13.  In an effort to secure the guarantees accorded to the victims of armed conflict, Article 90 of the First Additional Protocol to the 1949 Geneva Conventions provides for the creation of an International Fact-finding Commission. The Commission declared that it would be competent to investigate violations of humanitarian law occurring in non-international armed conflicts, provided that all involved parties consented to its enquiry. However, notwithstanding the commission's great potential and the quality of its membership, it has not been called upon to exercise its responsibilities since its establishment in 1991. As of 15 July 1999, only 55 States party to Additional Protocol I had recognised its competence. States should re-examine the possibility to accept the Commission's competence, and parties to an armed conflict should examine systematically the utility and feasibility of resorting to the Commission in order to clarify facts or facilitate respect for humanitarian law through its good offices, including in situations of non-international armed conflicts.



 Final Goal 1.4.   

 Integration, by all States, of international humanitarian law in the procedures and training of armed and security forces and its promotion to relevant organisations, professional bodies and educational institutions.  


 14.  Today, when numerous international or internal armed conflicts are marked by the " privatisation " of wars and frequent overlapping between military hostilities and criminality, it is more than ever important to promote respect for humanitarian law and the principles on which it is based.

By becoming party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and to their 1977 Additional Protocols, States have engaged themselves to respect and to ensure respect for humanitarian law and to spread knowledge of its provisions. Accordingly, they bear the primary responsibility for raising awareness of its rules, particularly among their armed forces and all those who may be called upon to implement them.

This obligation has become especially significant since the creation of the international tribunals for the repression of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, and even more so with the adoption in Rome on 17 July 1998 of the Stat ute of the International Criminal Court .  


But spreading knowledge of humanitarian law and promoting its respect is also an essential mandate given to the ICRC and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in general. Their role is to contribute as supporters and catalysts for this action.

 15.  Experience shows that after the outbreak of an armed conflict, it is generally too late to teach armed and security forces to respect humanitarian law. Operational priorities monopolise their attention, and procedures, regulations and behaviour need time and attention to be modified.

Knowledge and respect of humanitarian law by armed and security forces is not enough, however, if society at large and major decision-makers are not also sensitised to these issues and if there is no political commitment and an environment conducive to respect for humanitarian law.

Present-day conflicts reveal a series of trends that pose new challenges in terms of conduct of hostilities, respect of humanitarian law and humanitarian action. These are, for instance:

  • an increasing number and the growing role of non-regular arm-bearers;

  • the presence of child soldiers;

  • the high illiteracy rate among fighters and the influence of drugs and alcohol;

  • a mixture of criminal or Mafia-related groups, but also private militias and security firms;

  • the increasing number of conflicts where humanitarian actors have no access to victims;

  • attacks on humanitarian actors; and

  • the involvement of armies in " military-humanitarian " operations that challenge the concept of impartial and independent humanitarian action.

Existing strategies consist of promoting the integration of humanitarian law into education and training standards   of both military and security forces and its incorporation into operating procedures. The ICRC provides guidelines and pedagogical support material to relevant institutions and offers select training of trainers.

The same approach is used in civilian institutions such as universities, where humanitarian law should be taught and researched at least in the faculties of law and international relations, journalism and medicine.

School programmes, developed by the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, are used in civic education lessons or in other subjects where themes such as respect for the rule of law and solidarity with victims and protection of human dignity can be tackled. The purpose of these programmes is to provide young people with basic standards of reference that enable them to form an opinion on humanitarian and social problems. In this respect, the translation and adaptation of standard material to specific local contexts have been facilitated by the network of National Societies and ICRC regional and operational delegations around the world.    

The ICRC and National Societies have also developed approaches and products aimed specifically at irregular actors in war areas, at increasing their security and acceptance and reminding them of the basic rules of humanitarian law. These creative programmes, expressly adapted to a local context, will need to be supported by a stronger universal conceptual background and standard tools as their importance increases.

Finally, a number of broad-based information campaigns have targeted the general public. These campaigns are encouraged world-wide as part of the Movement's efforts to increase knowledge and respect for humanitarian law.

 16.  More than ever, promotion of humanitarian law will mean refining analyses and carefully observing trends to reorient strategies and methods. Critical review of performance achieved through the identification of best practices and definition of professional standards is another major trend.

It is important to ensure that target groups include the key actors in all ongoing conflicts: regional powers and all countries involved in conflicts, armed forces engaged in peace-keeping or enforcement operations, etc. Additionally, irregular and private actors will particularly be targeted for their growing and often controversial involvement in present-day conflicts.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement will also strengthen its commitment to promote the teaching of humanitarian law and its principles in schools, universities and other relevant educational structures, such as youth organisations.


As the task becomes more complex, the Movement will seek more alliances in the future with other specialised institutions to multiply impact and acquire specialised skills.

States should contribute to this approach by enhancing their own commitment to promoting humanitarian law, and by facilitating and supporting the work of their National Society and the ICRC in this field.

The Movement is convinced that States should actively:

  • assess the level of humanitarian law integration into military and police procedures and their operational capacity to apply them;

  • review the teaching of humanitarian law in universities and in the training of relevant civil servants and diplomats; and

  • identify topics such as the basic messages of humanitarian law and solidarity with victims in the curricula of schools and youth organisations.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement will, for its part, provide advice and guidelines, tools and specific programmes for these different target populations. Moreover, it will find new approaches for exploiting ideas contained in the Fundamental Principles of Red Cross and Red Crescent action.

Finally, States should adopt a national plan of action to improve these efforts and facilitate and support the contributions of the Movement where needed.



 Final Goal 1.5.   

 An end to the human tragedy caused by landmines and the establishment of effective controls on the availability of arms and ammunition.  


 17.  When the First Review Conference of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) was suspended just prior to the 26th International Conference in 1995 there was faint hope that a ban on anti-personnel mines would be achieved rapidly. The fact that 123 States signed a comprehensive ban on this weapon just two years later is a lasting testimony to the power of humanity. The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement played an instrumental role in this achievement and continues to have an important role in promoting the new humanitarian law treaties on landmines and ensuring that victims receive the care they need.

While the Rev iew Conference strengthened Protocol II of the CCW, dealing with all mines, booby traps and other devices, by providing greater restrictions on the use of anti-personnel mines, public opinion and many States felt that the modest improvements concerning anti-personnel mines were an inadequate response to the scale of suffering these weapons were causing world-wide.

The result was the " Ottawa Process " through which Canada invited all States committed to the prohibition of anti-personnel mines to join it in drawing up a treaty which would do so. This unique process, which brought together pro-ban governments, the International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and the United Nations, achieved extraordinary results. The " Ottawa Group " of States grew from 50 at the first Ottawa Conference in October 1996 to 97 States which committed themselves to pursue negotiation of a binding international treaty at the Brussels International Conference for a Global Ban on Anti-Personnel Mines in June 1997.

Even beyond the " Ottawa Process " political support for a ban grew rapidly. In December 1996, 157 States voted in favour of a UN General Assembly Resolution (A/51/45S) which called upon all countries to conclude a new international agreement totally prohibiting anti-personnel mines " as soon as possible " . No State voted against the resolution, and only 10 abstained.

Based upon a draft prepared by the Austrian Government, negotiations took place in Oslo, Norway from 1 to 18 September 1997 at the Oslo Diplomatic Conference on an International Total Ban on Anti-Personnel Landmines . Ninety-one States took part as full participants and an additional 38 attended as observers, as did the ICRC, the International Federation, a number of National Societies, the ICBL and the UN. The ICRC contributed, as an expert in humanitarian law, to the treaty drafting process throughout a series of meetings and consultations held in 1997.

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (the Ottawa Treaty) was signed by 123 States in Ottawa, Canada in December 1997. On 1 March 1999, following the deposit of 40 instruments of ratification with the UN Secretary-General, the treaty entered into force. Never before had a multilateral arms-related treaty entered into force so quickly. A new international norm had been established and an important step taken towards ridding the world of these weapons. As at 15 July 1999, the number of ratifications had grown to   83 States. The first meeting of States Parties to the Ottawa Treaty was held in Maputo, Mozambique from 3 to 7 May 1999. This meeting focused on the ambitious tasks entailed in the treaty's implementation and was attended by 107 States, the ICRC and non-governmental organisations - many of which will be instrumental in the Treaty's implementation in mine-affected communities. The meeting launched an ongoing process of working meetings through which States, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGO's will work together to ensure that the treaty's commitments become a reality on the ground. Indeed the Red Cross Movement is specifically identified as one of the channels for the provision of assistance to mine victims under Article 6 of the Ottawa Treaty.

The adoption and rapid entry into force of the Ottawa Treaty are historic achievements. However, it is essential to recall that while the Treaty itself is a prescription for ending the global scourge of anti-personne l mines, its universalisation and full implementation will be the cure . The International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent continues to have a crucial role to play in this process.

Promotion of the norms of both the Ottawa Treaty and Protocol II of the CCW (as well as its Protocol IV on blinding laser weapons) remain essential. In this regard the ICRC has prepared ratification kits for each instrument which have been widely used by National Societies and ICRC delegations. Between 1997 and 1999, the ICRC hosted and provided substantial support for regional conferences in Harare, Manila, Johannesburg, Budapest, Moscow, Dhaka, Mexico City and Beirut. To promote greater understanding of the Ottawa Treaty, the ICRC has produced both a teaching video and a travelling exhibition in several languages explaining its provisions. These are available for public events throughout the world. Strengthened restrictions on the use of anti-vehicle mines are also needed and will be promoted by the ICRC in the period leading up to the 2001 Review Conference of the CCW.

The Movement has a particular responsibility both to promote and to provide medical assistance and rehabilitative care to mine victims and other war-wounded. Surgical assistance and physical rehabilitation programs have been provided or supported by the ICRC, often in co-operation with National Societies, in some 22 mine-affected countries; two new rehabilitation centres have opened in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition, the ICRC and/or National Societies are currently running mine awareness programmes in Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Georgia, Mozambique, Sudan and Yugoslavia. In some contexts mine awareness delegates are National Society staff seconded to the ICRC while in others the ICRC is working closely with the National Society to develop a local capacity in this area; some Societ ies run programs independently. The ICRC considers mine awareness work to be an integral part of its work for the protection of civilian populations.

To ensure a coherent long-term contribution to eradicating the scourge of landmines a comprehensive " Movement Strategy on Landmines " - identifying the roles and responsibilities of the ICRC, National Societies and the International Federation in terms of advocacy, mine awareness and victim assistance - is to be adopted by the Movement's Council of Delegates in October 1999. It outlines the need for close co-operation to ensure that these activities are carried out in an effective and sustainable manner and identifies the components of the Movement responsible for achieving this.


 18.  States have an obligation to review the legality of weapons they intend to use. This principle, as it applies to new weapons, is enshrined in Article 36 of Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. One reason that a weapon might be deemed illegal is that it causes " superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering. " The SIrUS Project ( S uperfluous I njury o r  U nncessary S uffering) is an attempt to bring objectivity to the legal notion of " superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering " and so aims to facilitate the review of the legality of weapons.

Since 1868 the principle that the only legitimate purpose of war is to weaken the military forces of an opponent has been an accepted element of humanitarian law .[1 ]  At that time it was established that this purpose would be served by disabling enemy combatants and that it would " be exceeded by the employment of arms which uselessly aggravate the sufferings of disabled men, or render their death inevitable " .[2 ] This principle has been reaffirmed in various international instruments in the form of a prohibition on the use of " weapons, projectiles and material and methods of war of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering " .[3 ]  In 1996 the International Court of Justice stated that this rule constitutes one of the " intransgressible principles of international customary law and is a fundamental rule to be observed by all States " .[4 ]

Despite the firmly established nature of this prohibition, its application has often been difficult or has not even been attempted due to the difficulty for lawyers, weapon designers and political leaders to make determinations of the degree of human injury or suffering inflicted. Judgements as to whether a specific weapon causes superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering have most often been made primarily on the basis of subjective influences, often led by generalised public abhorrence of a particular weapon, rather than on an appraisal of whether the weapon's effects might outweigh the military need.

The notion of'superfluous injury and unnecessary suffering [5 ] relates to the design-dependent effects of specific weapons on health. Indeed the prohibition refers to weapons of a nature to cause [6 ] these effects. Although much of humanitarian law is aimed at protecting civilians from the effects of armed conflict this rule of customary international law constitutes one of the few measures intended to protect combatants from certain weapons which are deemed abhorrent or which inflict more suffering than required for their military purpose.

The SIrUS Project grew out of a symposium organised by the ICRC in 1996 on " The Medical Pro fession and the Effects of Weapons " . The Project has been developed by a group of experts at the invitation of the ICRC and identifies objective facts about injuries from weapons in the conflicts of recent decades; these facts could assist policy-makers in making judgements on the legality of weapons under humanitarian law.[7 ]  The Project takes its name from that which it seeks to prevent: S uperfluous I njury o r  U nnecessary S uffering (= SIrUS).

The SIrUS Project has been endorsed by a growing number of the international medical community. In October 1998 the World Medical Association called on all its member national medical associations to endorse the criteria contained in the SIrUS Project. Thirteen national medical associations and 16 other medical institutions had endorsed the SIrUS Project as of April 1999. By endorsing the SIrUS Project, these institutions recognise the validity of the study and recommend that the findings be used when making a determination of which weapons cause'superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering'.

 The SIrUS Project: a study of the effects of weapons.     

The group of experts who worked on the SIrUS Project, most of whom were health professionals, collated data relating to the effects of weapons used in conflicts over the last 50 years. These data originated from both military medical publications and the ICRC wound database of 26,636 weapon injured. In relation to different causes of injury the following information was retrieved:

  • the proportion of large wounds (according to the Red Cros s wound classification),

  • overall mortality,

  • the relative proportions of central and limb injuries,

  • the duration of hospital stay,

  • the number of operations required,

  • the need for and volume of blood transfusion,

  • the number of lower limbs amputated among the survivors.

From these data, the expert's group found that the measurable effects of weapons which cause injury by explosions or projectiles but which do not target a specific part of the body as a function of their design:

  • do not cause a field mortality of more than 22% nor a hospital mortality of more than 5%;

  • cause grade 3 wounds (as measured by the Red Cross wound classification) in less than 10% of those who survive to hospital; and

  • can be treated for the most part by well established medical and surgical methods.

High mortality or large wounds can obviously be caused by legitimate weapons such as rifle bullets and fragmentation munitions under certain circumstances. Whether an individual is wounded slightly, wounded severely or killed by such weapons is determined by 1) the design of a weapon, 2) how it is used and 3) random factors such as his or her proximity to the detonation (of a munition) and the part of the body that is hit. The data in the SIrUS Project about the effects of weapons commonly used in recent conflicts take all these factors into account.

On the other hand, some weapons can be expected to inflict certain effects virtually all the time. These effects result specifically from the nature or technology of the weapon i.e., they are design-dependent. Examples include: exploding bullets which would usually be lethal or cause grade 3 limb wounds; chemical and biological weapons which inflict specific disease or abnormal physiological states; blin ding laser weapons which cause specific permanent disability to the eyes and effects for which there is no proven medical treatment; and " point-detonated " antipersonnel mines which result in a severe (grade 3) injury to the foot or leg which in turn results in specific disability and disfigurement .

All weapons, the use of which is specifically controlled or prohibited under humanitarian law, exceed the baseline of weapon injuries seen in recent conflicts, as described by the SIrUS Project. Had such an approach existed when the problems related to these weapons were being discussed their control or prohibition might have occurred through a more rational and efficient process. Subsequently, consensus on and universalisation of the relevant rules might also have been achieved more rapidly.

 Proposals of the ICRC based on the SIrUS Project.  

The SIrUS Project has established that the following effects of weapons on humans have NOT been seen commonly as a result of armed conflicts in the last five decades:

  • disease other than that resulting from physical trauma from explosions or projectiles;

  • abnormal physiological state or abnormal psychological state (other than the expected response to trauma from explosions or projectiles);

  • permanent disability specific to the kind of weapon (with the exception of the effects of point-detonated antipersonnel mines - now widely prohibited);

  • disfigurement specific to the kind of weapon;

  • inevitable or virtually inevitable death in the field or a high hospital mortality level;

  • grade 3 wounds among those who survive to hospital;

  • effects for which there is no wellrecognised and proven medical treatment which can be applied in a well-equipped field hospital.

 Proposal 1  


That States, when reviewing the legality of a weapon take the above facts into account by:

  • establishing whether the weapon in question would cause any of the above effects as a function of its design and if so;

  • weighing the military utility of the weapon against these effects; and

  • determining whether the same purpose could reasonably be achieved by other lawful means that do not have such effects.

 Proposal 2  

That States make new efforts a) to build common understanding of the norms to be applied in the review of new weapons and b) to promote transparency in the conduct and results of such reviews.

These proposals have been made after taking into account comments on the SIrUS Project from a group of governmental legal and medical experts invited to Geneva on 10-11 May 1999.

 Weapons, law and health.  

The ICRC's work relating to chemical and biological weapons early in this century and its more recent work on landmines and blinding laser weapons was driven by its concern with their horrific effects on health  . The whole body of humanitarian law is based on concern with the effects of certain weapons rather than their specific technologies which cause these effects. The ICRC's support for the SIrUS Project reflects the institution's commitment to a health-based approach to weapons under humanitarian law.

The ICRC considers that the data provided by the SIrUS Project constitutes a tool    for making judgements as to which weapons may be deemed abhorrent or to be of a nature to cause'superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering'. These data do not and will not provide a definition of these concepts.

Use of the findings of the SIrUS Project in weapon reviews would not prevent governments from prohibiting weapons, by treaty, on the basis of other considerations such as public abhorrence, public interest criteria or the specific effects of a weapon. The proposals would have no effect on existing treaties.

 Plan of action.  

The ICRC presents the SIrUS Project and the above proposals to States, the medical community and concerned organisations and individuals as a means of promoting both debate and consensus on a health-based approach to arms under humanitarian law. In so doing the ICRC invites:

  • States to analyse the approach proposed in this paper and to take the available data [8 ] concerning the nature of injury in recent conflicts into account when determining, as called for under Article 36 of 1977 Additional Protocol I, whether a proposed weapon, by its design, causes effects on health which may constitute'superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering'.

  • States to make new efforts a) to build common understanding of the norms to be applied in the review of new weapons and b) to promote transparency in the conduct and results of such reviews.

  • States, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and other interested organisations to support the approach taken by the SIrUS Project in their efforts to strengthen respect for the prohibition of weapo ns which are inherently abhorrent or of a nature to cause'superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering': Such efforts may include public discussion and fora such as the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (1999) and the 2001 Review Conference of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

  • National medical associations to consider the contribution medical professionals can make to promoting effective implementation of humanitarian law through discussion and endorsement of the SIrUS Project.

  • Medical professionals and other individuals concerned with the effects of weapons and armed conflict to promote a health-based approach, including consideration of the SIrUS Project, in professional and public discourse on these issues.


 19.  As international arms transfers, particularly of small arms, have become easier the promotion of respect for humanitarian law has become vastly more difficult. The proliferation of weapons in the hands of new and often undisciplined actors has outpaced efforts to ensure compliance with basic rules of warfare. The result is appalling levels of wanton violence and a stream of horrific images which threaten to immunise the public and decision-makers to ongoing violations of humanitarian law. In the absence of vigorous action to restrain the availability of military-style arms and ammunition, those responsible for training combatants in the laws of armed conflict have little hope of reaching all those capable of waging war. The price to be paid is high, in terms of human suffering, social and economic disruption and the burdens of intervention when the international community decides to act.

In recognition of these trends, the Intergovernmental Group of Experts for the Protection of War Victims ( January 1995) and the 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent called upon the ICRC " to examine, on the basis of first-hand information available to it, the extent to which the availability of weapons is contributing to the proliferation and aggravation of violations of international humanitarian law in armed conflicts and the deterioration of the situation of civilians " . The Council of Delegates has also, on two recent occasions, requested that the Movement's role and attitude on the question of arms transfers be studied and clarified. This request was made in Geneva in 1995 (resolution 2.8) and repeated in Seville in 1997 (resolution 4.3). The Seville resolution also expressed concern about the " easy access of combatants and civilian populations unfamiliar with the requirements of international humanitarian law to a wide variety of weapons, particularly small arms, and their frequent use against civilians in violation of basic humanitarian principles " . The role and position of the Movement on this issue is to be clarified at the Council of Delegates in October 1999, just prior to the 27th International Conference.

In fulfilment of its mandate from the 26th International Conference the ICRC has, since 1996, attempted to distil its experience on the effects of arms availability on civilian populations through a variety of methods. It has carried out two case studies analysing information drawn from the ICRC's large medical database on patients treated in ICRC hospitals and by its medical teams. These provide unique insights into the nature of arms-related casualties in two contexts in which the ICRC has worked. To our knowledge, these are among the few systematic studies which have been published on the nature of arms-related casualties among the local population in war-torn societies.

In addition, a survey was carried out among senior ICRC delegates with a collective experience of 41 assignments in conf lict and post-conflict settings on four continents since 1989. The objective was to gather the perceptions of ICRC staff on the degree of availability within various segments of given populations, the nature of arms-related incidents involving civilians and the direct impact of arms availability on ICRC field operations. The perceptions and conclusions of the ICRC are published in the study Arms Availability and the Situation of Civilians in Armed Conflict which is being transmitted to States and National Societies as a basis for discussion at the 27th International Conference.

The ICRC study highlights the high price civilian populations have paid in recent conflicts. Civilian casualties outnumber those of combatants in many internal and ethnic conflicts and have increased throughout the century in parallel with the development of new military technologies. Disease, starvation and abuse increase when humanitarian agencies including the ICRC are directly attacked and must suspend operations or leave a country. Suffering can continue, often for years after the end of conflicts, as the availability of arms engenders a " culture of violence " , undermining the rule of law and threatening efforts at reconciliation among former warring parties. This was vividly illustrated in an ICRC case study which showed that arms-related casualties decreased by only 33% during the 18 months following the end of hostilities in a given region where arms were allowed to remain in circulation.

Although the ICRC study does not suggest that arms availability alone is a cause of violations of humanitarian law or a deterioration of the situation of civilians, it indicates that the unregulated transfer of weapons and ammunition can increase tensions, heighten civilian casualties and prolong the duration of conflicts. Among the central conclusions is that the current pattern of transfers of small arms, light weapons and related ammunition, because it is largely outside of international control, should be a matter of urgent humanitarian concern. While the primary responsibility for compliance with humanitarian law falls upon users of weapons, States and enterprises engaged in production and export bear a degree of political, moral and, in some cases, legal responsibility to the international community for the use made of their weapons and ammunition. At the same time efforts to teach and promote humanitarian law must be redoubled so that arms bearers understand its basic norms and are expected by their own communities to respect it.

The international community has in recent decades enacted important prohibitions and limitations on the transfer of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, missile systems and components of these technologies. Certain geographical regions have established controls on the transfer of major conventional weapon systems. However, until recently little attention has been given to the transfer of small arms and light weapons, which have inflicted most of the death and injury in recent conflicts. The ICRC study encourages governments, regional organisations and non-governmental organisations involved in the development of arms transfer limitations to recognise that humanitarian law is often the body of law most relevant to the stated purpose for which military-style arms and ammunition are transferred. The proposal that criteria based on humanitarian law considerations should become an important component of any new limitations on arms availability developed in the coming years will be an important point of discussion at the 27th International Conference.

The ICRC considers that, in requiring respect for humanitarian law from those who would arm themselves, States will make a major contribution to the protection of civilian populations from the type of unspeakable suffering which has been inflicted in conflicts throughout this century. In so doing they will significantly strengthen the basis for both lasting peace and the rule of law in the increasingly global society in which we live.

go to top of page



 Final Goal 2.1.   

 Effective response in disaster situations through improved national and international preparedness  


 1&2  The importance of States ensuring that their countries have up-to-date and comprehensive disaster preparedness plans needs little introduction. All countries may be struck by disasters of one form or another, and it is vital that national contingency plans are drawn up so that an adequate response can be made to cope with the humanitarian consequences arising from such events.

Disaster types will vary according to the geographic situation of the country. Cyclones, earthquakes and droughts, for example, are usually region specific, even if the timing of their occurrence may be less unpredictable. In today's world, technological disasters and major accidents can strike any country in the world, and recent trends in weather patterns have shown that extreme flooding can affect the most unlikely areas within and between countries. Furthermore, political tensions and civil unrest are phenomena that can affect countries in the North and South alike.

However, a good disaster preparedness plan should not be judged by its ability to forecast likely disaster events alone. Another prime requirement is that the plan should outline the roles of the main actors in responding to the disasters foreseen in the national context. This would include the main emergency and assistance bodies of the government, but also the National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society. Disaster response is one of the core functions of National Societies and, in most countries, they have a long and creditable track record of providing disaster assistance. Their structures usually cover the whole country from the national to the grass-root levels. Their branches and volunteer network especially in remote and/or high-risk areas, constitute the first preparedness/response " defence " line. This can be particularly crucial in situations where governments may have a weak service-delivery infrastructure at the local level.

Their network and infrastructure is not only important for the Movement and governments but also for the international humanitarian system as a whole. The existence of a well-functioning local organisation is of potential benefit to UN and other international bodies which are looking for effective ways to channel their assistance to disaster victims, especially in remote areas. While being mindful to protect their own independence of action in some sensitive cases, there are numer ous examples of National Societies fulfilling this role both in the emergency and follow-up phases of relief operations.

Another significant advantage of National Societies being closely associated with national disaster preparedness plans is the ready access they have to additional support at the international level. In times of disaster, both the International Federation and the ICRC stand ready to mobilise international assistance to come to the aid of the stricken country and support the National Society in its task of implementing relief operations. This assistance can take a variety of forms depending on the nature of the disaster, but societies in the North have extensive experience in mobilising material, financial and human resources very quickly in the immediate aftermath of major disasters. Furthermore, with their global experience in disaster preparedness and response, both institutions carry out programmes designed to provide co-ordinated technical support, experience and expertise to assist many National Societies. In addition, the International Federation also works to support governments in their disaster preparedness planning and training activities.

It has to be recognised that in many cases today the limited resources available to Societies can mean that they face problems in maintaining their preparedness capacities and responding in the most effective manner. Not only are national resources in these countries scarce, but also by international criteria, preparedness often falls between the budget lines of relief and development. Good preparedness needs to be seen also as the result of a consistent effort to build and maintain the society's programme and organisational capacity, and to seek ways to contribute most appropriately to the overall governmental preparedness efforts. Disaster preparedness programmes therefore deserve to be considered for government funding, both in the context of disaster response and sustainable developm ent.

With this in mind, the International Federation has intensified efforts to lobby for the inclusion of disaster preparedness into international co-operation frameworks such as the Lomé Convention. This convention which is the legal framework covering trade and development between the European Union (EU) and 71 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries is currently being renegotiated. It also governs relations in areas like emergency assistance, rehabilitation and refugee assistance which are of concern to the Red Cross/Red Crescent. In the current convention, disaster preparedness is hardly mentioned, and the International Federation and National Societies in EU and ACP countries have been lobbying the EU Commission and national governments to give appropriate attention to disaster preparedness in the future convention. Further support from both EU and ACP governments will be needed to ensure that disaster preparedness is given proper attention   in   the new convention .  

National disaster preparedness plans can serve as a key entry point for establishing and reinforcing relations between a National Society and its government. Beyond the general points made above, there are several practical mutual benefits to linking National Societies to the governmental disaster preparedness plans. These include:

  • giving the National Society, and its International Federation and ICRC partners, a clear formal status and a mandate to act, according to capacities, knowledge, expertise and experience;

  • the National Society will be able to play a stronger role in disaster preparedness and response co-ordination mechanisms set up at the national level, and will be able to bring its experience and expertise to strengthen such mechanisms;

  • a well-f ormulated disaster preparedness plan can be used as an effective fund-raising tool to mobilise support for the national programme; and

  • above all, it will facilitate, speed up and improve the response process.

Based on the roles and responsibilities given by its government, the National Society will in turn translate such co-operation into its own preparedness plan, spelling out the society's approach, focus and programmes to build its capacity in order to improve response.

Today, business continuity provides an extra dimension to disaster preparedness. The business community, governments and humanitarian agencies have all become more aware of the importance of ensuring their own ability to continue operations following a disaster. A " disaster " here may be a major " external " event such as a flood, a conflict or a failure of power supply, or it may be " internal " such as a localised fire, or a failure of computer systems.

Business continuity is of particular importance to those sections of government, the Red Cross/Red Crescent and other humanitarian agencies which aim to provide assistance in case of disaster. A disaster agency itself disabled by disaster cannot presume to assist others efficiently. To be able to do so, they must ensure that their preparedness includes business continuity planning for their own critical systems. This has implications for design and maintenance of physical assets, computer and other systems and personnel planning.

Exploration of this area by the International Federation with a coalition of business, government, the UN's International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) and voluntary agencies has highlighted the importance and potential benefit of co-operation in disaster preparedness between public and private sectors. Indeed, the recovery of each sector depends to a significant extent on the action of the other. Thus, the business sector can provide advice and support on its business continuity experience as well as resources for disaster response. However, the rapid recovery of the business sector after a disaster itself depends on the complementary action of government and humanitarian agencies to assist the families of its employees affected by disaster to enable employees to return to work. This recovery of the business community is a significant factor in supporting the economic recovery of the wider community.

 3.  Predictions within the scientific and reinsurance communities, based upon the respected work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, suggest that disasters triggered by natural phenomena will significantly increase in number and severity over the next decade. With almost a billion people living in unplanned urban shanty towns, deforestation seriously weakening ecological defences against extreme natural events, and global warming making such extreme events more frequent but harder to predict, humankind is increasingly threatened by, and is in turn altering, the forces of nature.

Global warming is already credited with generating stronger storms and rainfall in many coastal areas. Compared to the 1960s, the past decade has seen the number of significant natural catastrophes triple, costing the world's economies nine times as much.

Response data from the International Federation for the 1990s support concerns over an increasing threat from natural disasters. In 1998, the International Federation assisted some 5.8 million people caught up in so-called natural disasters. In 1997, the figure was 6.2 million, almost double the average for the preceding years, representing a significant increase of the proportion of the average 16.4 million people the International Federation has assisted annually.

In re sponse to this threat, the Movement believes it must adjust both its disaster preparedness and response systems accordingly. National Societies need to advocate for, and participate in, better co-ordinated national disaster preparedness planning. Response systems to natural disasters need to be able to operate both at the local level within a National Society and at the international level, enabling a society to quickly call for assistance from the International Federation.

Many of the general predictions on climate and environment change have still to be properly examined from the perspective of their potential consequences on disaster occurrence and impact, particularly when it comes to differentiating these consequences region by region. As part of its ongoing programme of disaster preparedness, the International Federation therefore proposes to foster a debate within the international community, in collaboration with leading climatic and environmental institutions, on the potential consequences of climatic change on disaster patterns and the implications of these consequences for disaster preparedness and response systems.


 Final Goal 2.2.   

 Strengthened mechanisms of co-operation and co-ordination amongst States, the Movement and other humanitarian actors  

 4.  The Council of Delegates held in Seville in November 1997, adopted an Agreement on the Organisation of the International Activities of the Components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The agreement aims to foster a spirit of co-operation based upon shared principles and a commitment to the alleviation of suffering and the protection of war and disaster victims.

In 1998, the agreement was put to the test. Two devastating earthquakes hit north-east Afghanistan four months apart in 1998. Under the Seville Agreement, ICRC was recognised as the " lead agency " within the Movement for these operations, with the International Federation providing its expertise in natural disaster response and National Society development. This co-ordinated action was an important part of the implementation of the agreement, allowing ICRC to take advantage of the International Federation's expertise, while retaining the overall co-ordination of relief efforts in a conflict situation.

A few months later, in Central America, the roles were reversed with the International Federation playing its role as lead agency in response to Hurricane Mitch.

This year with the Movement’s response to the Balkan crisis in April, the implementation of the agreement has gone a stage further with an integrated Movement appeal being put in place allowing National Societies, the International Federation and ICRC operations to be better co-ordinated and to act in mutual support of each other. It is, however, too early to draw definitive lessons from this operation.

Whilst the Seville Agreement is a co-operation mechanism internal to the Movement, it demonstrates how it is possible to both capitalise upon the diversity of the humanitarian community by co-ordinating activities appropriately to improve the service to disaster and conflict victims.

Similar initiatives are possible within the wider response community, whether at the national level through effective national disaster preparedness planning or internationally through agreement on operating norms and principles and the timely sharing of information and analy sis. The Movement has the possibility to foster better co-operation within both national and international humanitarian response communities and looks to both its internal components and States to help it promote better humanitarian co-operation.

 5 .   Building on the experiences of formulating the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in disaster relief and the expressed wish from many agencies to see a clearer formulation of the practical implications of the Code, the International Federation, with the co-operation of the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response, InterAction, the ICRC, the International Council for Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) and VOICE set out, in 1997, to collectively draw together a set of minimum standards to guide operational humanitarian work. The resulting product, the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response (printed in December 1998 by the Sphere Project), aims to tackle system-wide problems in protecting the life and dignity of disaster-affected people by providing a framework for rights-based humanitarian assistance and accountability. Over 200 agencies (governmental, UN agencies and programmes, components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, NGOs) have collaborated to improve practices based on agreed core principles and actions.

The Sphere Project, which continues to develop, aims to link humanitarian principles and basic human rights with minimum standards in water supply and sanitation, nutrition, food aid, shelter and site planning, and health services. 

The elaboration, through the Sphere Project or similar initiatives, of standards for humanitarian norms is premised on the assumption that access to the victims, security and availability of resources for humanitarian assistance are limiting facto rs whose control lies primarily with states. In this regard, the setting of such minimum standards or their recognition by governments can never relieve these governments of their obligations under international humanitarian law.

The Movement is looking to States to support efforts to develop minimum standards for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and take note of the standards developed in the Sphere Project.

 6.  The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has consistently sought to develop appropriate mechanisms and activities to meet the evolving needs arising from conflict. 

The 1949 Geneva Conventions have provisions aimed at protecting victims of war even after active hostilities end. The ICRC is engaged in a wide range of activities such as working for the release and repatriation of prisoners of war and civilian detainees, tracing people who have disappeared and reuniting families separated by conflict, returning displaced people to their homes, and contributing to the demobilisation and resettlement of armed forces. Dissemination of international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles do not cease when hostilities come to an end; educational activities in these fields can, and must, build or strengthen the foundation for lasting peace.

Many National Societies are actively involved in programmes which fall within the rubric of conflict reduction and post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction, such as:

  •  Peace-building (strengthening civil society): Ranging from development programmes which enhance National Society capacity to function more effectively as a community-based – i.e., civil society – organisation, to service delivery programmes which focus on deprived people from specific socio-economic categories or ethnic backgrounds, to the provision of basic public health services.

  •  Reconciliation and tolerance: National Society development programmes and post-conflict rehabilitation programmes involve the reinforcement of a nation-wide network of branches. This, in turn, requires a continued commitment to reconciliation and tolerance of diversity within society. This active and daily practical demonstration of the values of tolerance and reconciliation acts as a living example of the potential for reconciliation in post-conflict situations.

As lead agency for the Movement in post-conflict relief and rehabilitation programming, the International Federation plays a special role in support of National Societies in post-conflict situations. In this regard, the International Federation has initiated a programme of action-research within the framework of the Local Capacities for Peace Project (LCPP), a collaborative action with other humanitarian agencies, research bodies and donor governments. The project seeks to find practical ways in which programming in post-conflict, but still potentially unstable, situations can be adjusted to minimise the chances of inadvertently leading to violence whilst maximising the support given to those institutions and systems which promote normalcy.

In addition, in the context of post-conflict situations in Africa, National Societies, in collaboration with the International Federation, seek to better understand and define their role in rebuilding public health systems and knowledge appropriate to the post-conflict environment.

 7 .   The 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (Geneva 1995) welcomed the updated and revised Principles and Rules for Disaster Reli ef which provide the framework for co-ordinating the work of National Societies during international relief operations as well as the Code of Conduct for NGOs and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in Disaster Relief, which has proved an essential tool in co-ordinating humanitarian action more generally. The International Federation's 1997 General Assembly adopted a policy on Emergency Response, laying out guidance on the purpose, nature and longevity of National Society and International Federation relief actions. The " Seville Agreement " referred to in paragraph 4 of this section has provided the basis for strengthened co-operation and more effective response by the Movement.

These policy initiatives have lead to significant improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of relief actions. However, co-ordination still remains a challenge within such a diverse and global community .

 (a)  The need for specialised professional services within relief operations – the operation of field clinics, water supply systems, telecommunications systems – has lead to the development by the International Federation of National Society-based Emergency Response Units, operating to standardised procedures and specifications and ready at short notice to mobilise for international operations within the framework of an International Federation appeal. Advances have been made in standardising reporting and financial systems. The challenge now is to implement these systems more universally within the International Federation and test their applicability to the full range of disaster situations within which the International Federation works.

The International Federation proposes to continue developing relevant co-ordinating mechanisms and systems for improving the effectiveness and timeliness of disaster response in a manner which promotes, where appropr iate, the lead role of the operating National Society, whilst making the most effective use of the diversity and resources of the rest of the International Federation.

The philosophy driving these initiatives within the Federation should be extended to the wider disaster response community. Making the most of modern technology, valuing timelines and flexibility of action and emphasising professionalism are all attributes which states can promote in their co-operation with the Movement and other humanitarian organisations in order to ensure that the overall international disaster response system maximises its ability to deliver rapid, flexible and effective support to disaster victims.

 (b)  From 55.4 billion US dollars in 1996, global aid from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Assistance Committee's (DAC) donors fell by US$ 7.9 billion to a 1997 total of US$ 47.6 billion – down 7.1 per cent in real terms. Official development assistance (ODA) has consistently declined over the last six years.

Emergency aid continues to fall from its 1994 peak (US$ 3.5 billion) to just US$ 2.1 billion in 1997 – over a third of which came from the European Commission. Mid-1990s demand for emergency aid came mainly from'complex emergencies'. But more than 700 major natural catastrophes in 1998 caused over US$ 90 billion in economic losses world-wide. Hurricane Mitch prompted agency appeals totalling over US$ 200 million.

Operational data from the Federation and the ICRC suggest that a significant proportion of their humanitarian response work load carries over from one year to the next, as operations in support of refugees, war victims, the destitute or those facing food insecurity continue to be necessary whilst communities and states seek longer term solutions to the chronic problems underlying such crises. At the same time, there is no evidence of any decrease in the number of disaster or conflict victims the Movement will be called upon to assist in the future.

Given this situation the efficiency of financing disaster response through reactive funding systems - including both the public and multilateral private sectors - needs to be examined. Aid agencies are primarily reliant on a few Northern government donors for the vast majority of their funding.

Funding of humanitarian operations remains an ever present preoccupation, in this regard components of the Movement would like to look more closely at funding issues and mechanisms and invite States to examine their long-term commitment to funding humanitarian assistance.


 Final Goal 2.3

 Provision for the rights and needs of the most vulnerable people as the first priority for humanitarian action  

 8.  The growing concern over the plight of the displaced persons which has been demonstrated by the international community has to some extent been provoked by the end of the Cold War, which has led to a proliferation of armed conflicts and a resulting sharp increase in the numbers of those displaced. At the same time, the improved international political climate has allowed for an enhanced assertiveness in addressing problems which, in the past, had been considered as falling within the internal affairs of states, and thus often precluded international involvement on grounds of national sovereignty. The international community has gradually gained an improved understanding of the conditions generating displacement and the serious p roblems experienced by those affected, be it the displaced themselves, those left behind in the home areas or host communities. The multiple challenges facing governments and humanitarian organisations have also been better identified.

As regards internal displacement, co-ordination mechanisms have been established to promote a clearer division of tasks between relevant human rights, humanitarian and development organisations. Important achievements have also been made to clarify the legal status of the internally displaced, although it has long been clear they are entitled to the protection provided by human rights and humanitarian law. In the past, it was sometimes difficult for governments, organisations and the displaced themselves to identify applicable guarantees in specific situations. The " Compilation and Analysis of Legal Norms " , undertaken by Dr. Francis M. Deng, the UN Secretary-General's representative on internally displaced people, and the set of " Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement " which he presented to the Commission on Human Rights in 1998, have considerably helped reduce this uncertainty. Although not altering or replacing international humanitarian law, these principles provide useful guidance on how international standards are to be interpreted. The ICRC and the International Federation therefore support their dissemination and use at the operational level.

The UN General Assembly, in its 1998 resolution (53/125) on the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, noted the relevance of the principles on internal displacement. At its March 1998 meeting, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee welcomed the Guiding Principles, encouraged its members to share them with their executive boards and with their staff, especially those in the field, and to apply them in their activities on behalf of the internally displa ced.

Among the hardships experienced by internally displaced persons and refugees, the problem of insecurity in camps may at times be particularly acute. A major reason for this insecurity is that camps may be perceived as constituting a security threat to one of the parties to a conflict, for instance because it suspects that armed elements from the enemy side hide among the civilians, or undertake recruitment and training in the camps. In such cases, there may be a serious risk that the camps are attacked or forcibly dismantled. There may also be considerable insecurity within the camps, in particular when armed elements are present. This problem may affect the entire camp population, but can be particularly serious for vulnerable groups, such as unaccompanied minors or women-headed households, due to the separation from their male adult relatives or community leaders.

While these problems are common to many camps housing internally displaced persons, they may also be acute in cases where the refugee camps are located close to the border or in a hostile environment. It is therefore important that all parties to an armed conflict abstain from jeopardising the civilian character of camps. Other States, in accordance with their obligation to ensure respect for international humanitarian law, should impress upon the parties their duties in this respect, and otherwise take all appropriate measures to ensure that the humanitarian and civilian character of camps can be preserved.

 9.  Forced displacement is frequently associated with loss of sources of livelihood and acute threats to the security of those concerned. This is particularly true for the internally displaced, who have been uprooted but remained within the borders of their country, but is also all too often the case for refugees.

Patterns of displacement have change d over the last decade, as the number of internally displaced people has caught up with, and today even exceeds, that of refugees. While this phenomenon may to some extent be explained by factors such as distance from borders or perceptions that security is available in familiar surroundings, it is likely that it also reflects a new alarming trend: the unavailability of other alternatives due to the increased reluctance of states to open their borders to those fleeing wars and persecution.

Notwithstanding the protection responsibilities of international organisations mandated for this purpose, it has been generally acknowledged that all humanitarian organisations should give due regard to the protection needs of displaced persons when carrying out their activities. As a result, all components of the Movement, including National Societies and the International Federation, must ensure that they understand their roles and responsibilities with respect to the protection function.

While the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has the primary mandate to ensure protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers, National Societies and the International Federation have also been recognised as having a special responsibility for these groups. In line with their task to assist and protect the most vulnerable in society, National Societies and the International Federation have for decades carried out important activities on their behalf. Apart from humanitarian assistance programmes, these activities have traditionally included advocacy for refugees and asylum seekers, both towards national authorities and society at large.

Several recent cases, in which refugees and asylum seekers have experienced serious problems, testify to the continued relevance of these efforts and demonstrate the need to reinforce and further develop relevant activities. It is, therefore, necessary not only to co ntinuously remind states of their legal obligations towards refugees and asylum seekers, but also to promote an understanding and solidarity with these vulnerable groups among the general public. National Societies are particularly well placed to carry out this task. Given that refugee problems are inherently also of an international character, the International Federation has an important role to play, supporting the work of National Societies and providing a channel through which the efforts of National Societies can be shared and co-ordinated.

 10.  In its first 45 years, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolutions on economic sanctions in only two cases: Rhodesia (1966) and South Africa (1977). Since the end of the Cold War, the UN Security Council has increasingly resorted to collective economic sanctions, in times of both peace and armed conflict.

Although sanctions are permitted under the UN Charter, as a statement of general principle it is clear that there are limits to the extent of suffering which sanctions may legitimately cause and that States and the UN are bound to observe the principles of international humanitarian law, human rights law and elementary considerations of humanity when designing, monitoring and reviewing a sanctions regime. In assessing a particular sanctions regime, it is necessary to look at the humanitarian consequences of the sanctions – which will depend on such factors as their nature, the suffering caused by them and the provision which they make for the humanitarian needs of the population in the target State.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is concerned about sanctions, particularly comprehensive trade sanctions, because of their humanitarian consequences. Through its field operations, the Movement has been able to observe the severe humanitarian consequences of some of the sanction s regimes. Sanctions may adversely affect not only the humanitarian situation of the population of the target State but also the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

The Movement, together with States, expressed concern over the effect of sanctions through Resolution 4.F of the 26th International Conference. This resolution encouraged States, when designing, imposing and reviewing economic sanctions, to take into account their possible negative impact on the civilian population and on third States, to assess and monitor the short- and long-term consequences on the most vulnerable, to provide relief to the most vulnerable groups in their territories. The resolution called upon States to permit humanitarian relief operations, and it called upon the ICRC, the International Federation and National Societies to contribute to the reduction of the undesirable side-effects of sanctions on the humanitarian situation of the civilian population, through assessing the impact of the sanctions and providing relief to the most vulnerable groups, in accordance with their mandates.

The Movement has taken action to respond to economic sanctions on a number of occasions over the past years. The ICRC and the International Federation, through their operations in target countries, have contributed directly to alleviating the suffering of the civilian populations by providing humanitarian assistance. National Societies in sanctions-affected countries have often acted as the conduit through which such assistance is targeted.

In its dealings with States, the Movement has consistently called for the inclusion of adequate humanitarian exemptions to the sanctions regime, in terms of the needs of the population and the requirements of international humanitarian law, human rights law and elementary considerations of humanity.

In its contacts with those involved in a particular sanctions regime – the sender states, the tar get state, the UN Security Council, the sanctions committee – the Movement provides detailed information regarding the humanitarian situation of the population in the target state, including the difficulties caused or exacerbated by the imposition of economic sanctions and enters into discussions with the bodies responsible for the implementation of the sanctions to ensure that the humanitarian exemption procedures function satisfactorily, enabling humanitarian organisations to provide assistance to the population in the target state.

The ICRC also reminds the international community that sanctions imposed during a time of armed conflict must comply with the relevant provisions of international humanitarian law (the prohibition of starvation of civilians, the obligation on parties to a conflict and States party to the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols to permit the supply of certain goods and to allow relief assistance).

In recent years, the international community, UN, States, NGOs and academic scholars have become increasingly aware of the negative impact of comprehensive economic sanctions on the civilian population of the target state, and there is a wide consensus that these consequences should be avoided or limited as much as possible.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement welcomes this increasing awareness and supports all efforts and measures aimed at alleviating the suffering of the civilian population under comprehensive economic sanctions regimes. It stresses the necessity that sanctions regimes include humanitarian exceptions appropriate in terms of the needs of the civilian population and in conformity with international humanitarian law and other relevant instruments, and that the humanitarian impact of a sanctions regime be closely monitored and necessary adjustments made.



 Final Goal 2.4.   

 Understanding of the respective roles of political, military and humanitarian actors, and protection of humanitarian personnel .

 11. Saving lives and protecting victims are fundamental objectives of humanitarian organisations. When these are to be compromised or made subject to political interests, the humanitarian action will fall short. At the same time, valid State interests and potential political effects of humanitarian activities upon players on the political scenes must be correctly taken into consideration. Humanitarian action by itself cannot resolve the fundamental and political root causes of conflicts. When humanitarian agencies are left alone with problems requiring political and military responses, they might even unwittingly compound such problems. They risk being identified as party to a conflict, and eventually becoming scapegoats for political inaction.

The question of the link between political, including its military component, and humanitarian action gave rise in the past years to numerous seminars, conferences and publications. The International Conference is also an important forum for such a discussion. Effective response to crisis demands that all players in the humanitarian, political or, even, development spheres manage each situation in a comprehensive manner, taking due account of their respective responsibilities, mandates and specific competencies. The relations of dialogue and complementarity which the different goal actors should seek to establish and maintain with each other will stem from their determination to adopt such an approach. At the height of a conflict, this interaction sho uld focus primarily on access to the victims and on their protection. Humanitarian action intervenes in a political environment, but it must never lose sight of the victims, whose protection and assistance represent its only objective.

Although everything is inter linked, although everything has political implications and although the different spheres overlap, the different players cannot act as substitutes for each other. The different spheres have boundaries, even if those boundaries are changing. The central question is how to enhance coherence at the policy level and the co-ordination in the field. The overall objective must be to strike a balance between the requirements for coherence on the one hand, and more effective action on the other. It is of paramount importance that any new system to be set up should remain squarely victim-oriented, without being politicised, and that it should not hamper speedy reaction in the face of sudden emergency or the necessary flexibility allowing humanitarian organisations to adapt their action to changing circumstances.

 12.  There has been a marked increase in violent situations, which are destabilising traditional methods of action and posing a greater danger than in the past to the physical and mental stability of relief workers (for example, disintegration of state structures, lawlessness or anarchy, banditry, criminality, Mafia groups). Field approaches based on the agreement of the parties to the conflicts are becoming less effective. In situations in which the lowest possible profile must be adopted, even the use of the protective red cross or red crescent emblem is questioned. It is, therefore, vital for the community of States to tackle this issue and take all possible measures at the national and international levels to further facilitate the access of humanitarian organisations to the victims of conflicts with adequate security.

The possible causes for the present insecurity are many, from the disintegration of the state to the lack of respect for humanitarian principles. State disintegration appears to occur when a government no longer maintains real control over a given territory or over the population. This disintegration can also occur at various levels of intensity and its geographical extent may vary. In circumstances where the government is no longer able to exercise its authority or any monopoly of the use of force, anyone can acquire light and heavy weapons, leading to a proliferation of real " private armies”. Chaos and crime become widespread, factions do not have any real control over their members and their chains of command are often parallel and not readily identifiable instead of being clearly laid down. There are no more representative and valid negotiators. Lack of security is then a serious problem.

In many contexts, humanitarian principles are not recognised; instead, they are seen as running counter to the reasons for the war. Like other organisations working to the same end, the Red Cross or Red Crescent is regarded as an enemy because it seeks to provide aid and protection to the other side, which has been demonised and which has not – or not yet – been possible to destroy. This helping actor is in danger of being regarded as an unwelcome witness of events in the field, because it can report what it has seen, and everything possible will be done to prevent it from working.

Likewise, new forms of conflict present greater security hazards. Lawful recourse to force and its use by established entities is tending to shift to an increasingly private sphere, evading the control of structures set up to exercise it within a constitutional framework. For example, in the case of conflicts surrounding drug trafficking and drug cartels, extreme caution is required when working in areas controlled by these groups; activities related to protection or to assistance following military or police operations are particularly dangerous, as they may be seen as a threat to certain interests and therefore risky from the standpoint of security.

There is also a very strong and very regular trend towards an increase in acts of pure banditry including threats, ransom and extortion, which can also affect humanitarian workers. They are carried out by heavily armed groups whose only purpose is enrichment – or survival. The danger takes the form of attacks on moving targets, or hold-ups, and kidnappings. Banditry often emerges from a badly-handled peace process which leaves the combatants without any context or resources other than their weapons, which are not taken away from them despite commitments to disarm.

Finally, the hidden power of private security companies and the possible ambiguities between their security measures and the regular armed or police forces must be mentioned. Private companies and their security personnel (evidently lacking any knowledge of humanitarian law or principles) represent a form of privatisation of war for economic reasons; for them, humanitarian activities might appear contrary to their own interests.

As indicated in the previous chapter, the ICRC and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement as a whole intend to pursue their efforts to overcome the security problems and to continue to assist war victims in conformity with humanitarian norms. Bearing in mind and accepting the irreducible risks inherent in any field activity, Red Cross and Red Crescent organisations will nevertheless take all active protection measures (for individuals and structures), as well as passive environmental protection measures, to reduce risks to the maximum extent possible.

The Movement has laid down a clear policy of not relying on armed escort; this policy continues to serve as a guideline. It must be noted here that in some situat ions of conflict the ICRC is working alongside peace-keeping and peace-enforcement troops whose mandates often includes protection of humanitarian workers. Their frequently vague mandates, mixing the political goal and military resources under a humanitarian umbrella, create areas of confusion which have a negative impact on the acceptability and therefore the security of neutral and independent humanitarian activities. The use of force may nevertheless create a favourable environment for the conduct of humanitarian operations. It is important not to confuse a “safe environment” with “protection of humanitarian workers”. In some cases, humanitarian workers clearly need strong action to enable them to do their work. This action, however, must be carried out in such a way as to ensure acceptable working conditions, in the form of an environment that has been made safe and not in the form of providing escorts or guards.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement offers a good example of humanitarian networking, bringing together the local resources and knowledge of a National Society with the specific expertise of its international components. The diversification of local contacts, as well as an increased analytical capacity to assess external perceptions, will foster the acceptance of Red Cross and Red Crescent work, and in particular favour the operational involvement of the ICRC for victims of armed violence. In situations in which the nature of the risk results from a lack of understanding or a questioning of working methods, the ICRC, in co-operation with the local Red Cross or Red Crescent Society, will continue to advocate a continuing dialogue with all the parties. Such a dialogue is essential to obtain assurances regarding personnel and infrastructures.

It is, however, almost impossible to provide protection against deliberate attacks. That is an unacceptable risk that entails the setting of a limit: a response can be the suspension of activities or the withdrawal of the targeted personnel; at the same time, that departure or evacuation can also prove to be a temporary additional risk in some cases, while remaining may mean an even more violent attack. A decision to withdraw expatriate aid workers must therefore be offset by other ways of achieving efficiency, and the criteria and form of presence must be determined. Within the International Movement, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies can play here a important role. Left alone, without the support of, say, the ICRC, they may nevertheless be put under pressure or unacceptable risks. Dialogue between humanitarian organisations and the political and military leaders involved in a conflict situation should thus be maintained, or even intensified, so as to provide humanitarian workers, national and expatriate, with a satisfactory security environment enabling them to carry out their mission.

Under international humanitarian law, humanitarian workers have civilian status and thus enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations. The fact that they may not be the object of attack is a basic customary rule and violation thereof constitutes a war crime. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court includes as a war crime the fact of intentionally directing attacks against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance or peace-keeping mission, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

Furthermore, subject to certain conditions, several provisions of international law accord special protection. Thus, staff taking part in relief operations and civil defence personnel must be protected and respected. The latter are recognisable by an international distinctive sign (equilateral blue triangle on an orange ground). Protocol II to the 1980 UN Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons requires States t o take specific measures to protect UN peace-keeping forces and missions, and missions of the ICRC, National Societies or their International Federation, as well as other humanitarian organisations from the effects of mines.

Finally, within the limits set by international humanitarian law and national legislation, the components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement enjoy special protection and may use the distinctive emblem of the red cross and red crescent. Perfidious use of the distinctive emblem of the red cross or red crescent or of other protective signs recognised by the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols constitutes a war crime.

The Movement cannot expose its activities and its workers to risks beyond those considered acceptable; as indicated, continuing dialogue with field partners and effective analytical tools are inescapable and decisive factors in establishing this threshold. It is, however, the responsibility of States and parties to the conflict to respect and protect humanitarian activities. It is also essential to put an end to the impunity which prevails in this area by bringing those who commit violent acts against humanitarian workers before the competent courts.

go to top of page




 Final Goal 3.1.   

 Improved health for vulnerable people based on strengthened co-operation between States and National Societies.  

 1.  Some 1.3 billion people currently live below the poverty line and more than 800 million suffer from chronic malnutrition.

Global economic constraints have forced many governments to reduce their investment in the health sector, while rapid technological developments have led to considerable increases in the cost of health services in many cases putting them out of the reach of the poor.

At the same time, however, the health of the population is increasingly acknowledged as being fundamental to national development and respect for human rights essential for development and economic prosperity. Health, including social well-being, is a right which is violated when people are deprived of the means and services necessary for the preservation of health.

In " Health for All in the 21st Century " , the World Health Organisation (WHO), referring to primary health care as outlined by the 1978 Alma Ata conference, writes:

" (It) stated that primary health care was the key to attaining Health for All as part of overall development. This call for [Health for All ] was, and remains fundamentally, a call for social justice " .

The International Federation and each individual National Society must advocate for improved health for all, particularly the most vulnerable. For this advocacy to yield results, governments need to recognise the role and responsibility of National Societies and draw on their experi ence by involving them in national policy-making, planning and implementation bodies.

 2.  Governments have overall responsibility for health services in their countries, but a multitude of actors and partners, including the people themselves, contribute to and determine the health of the population. The goal of " Health for All " can only be achieved if all partners work together.

An invaluable asset for the International Federation and National Societies are the millions of volunteers who help people and communities at grassroots level, in both everyday and emergency situations. They represent an enormous resource which should be fully exploited to better assist the most vulnerable populations.

While National Society volunteers and staff are often an indispensable part of national health and social services, they cannot operate effectively without the technical, policy and financial support of governments and/or international organisations. National Societies need this support to extend their services to areas and communities - including deprived areas of major cities - that may otherwise have limited access to services.

 3.  Despite remarkable achievements in the health sector this century, new infectious diseases (HIV/AIDS and Ebola, for example) and re-emerging communicable diseases (such as tuberculosis (TB) and malaria) are gaining ground. Although the populations of industrialised countries are not immune, communicable disease affects to a far greater degree the poor and the disadvantaged. Illiteracy, poverty, malnutrition, poor living conditions, and inadequate or complete lack of health and hygiene facilities and infrastructure, coupled with a lack of information, are all factors increasing a population’s exposure to, and contamination by, infectious disease.

Given the necessary support and resources, the International Federation and National Societies, with their extensive national networks, can help combat disease through education and information programmes and by promoting healthy lifestyles. National Society youth sections are particularly effective in youth peer education to prevent HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. This approach is equally valid for TB, malaria and other diseases which are preventable by vaccination.

On many occasions, the International Federation and National Societies have proven their efficiency in controlling outbreaks of epidemics. They were active recently in Gabon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) when Ebola broke out, in the republics of the former Soviet Union to combat diphtheria, and in a number of countries around the world where populations were affected by epidemics of cholera, meningitis and Japanese encephalitis.

 4.  In most emergencies, the speed of initial response and assistance can make an enormous difference to whether victims live or die and in the magnitude of physical damage to the stricken area. In floods and earthquakes, assistance in the first 48 hours is generally given by members of the community itself or their neighbours. This period represents a window of opportunity when the victims’ survival rates are highest; after this time, chances of survival decrease rapidly as the days pass.

Prompt first aid also plays an important role in saving lives and reducing the risk of permanent and/or debilitating injury in accidents (whether in the home, the workplace or on the road), natural disasters or medical emergencies (e.g., heart attacks). In times of conflict, too, first aid is crucial to the well-being of victims.

First-aid training is an effective, low-cost method of alleviating d ay-to-day health hazards and accidents which affect the public at large, as well as constituting a timely response. While training can benefit everyone, some segments of the population in particular profit from first-aid instruction, such as motorists, schoolchildren and youth, workers in industry, community volunteers and the police.

National Societies have a long history as the sole or major provider of first-aid training in their countries. They will continue to offer this service, but their work would be greatly facilitated by increased government recognition and co-operation. If first-aid training was included in school curricula at all levels, National Societies would be able to extend their experience and expertise systematically to educational authorities throughout the country. Similarly, making first-aid training a compulsory requirement for obtaining a driver’s licence would ensure that first aid’s preventive lessons would reach a maximum number of people, for their own benefit and that of others in need of help.

 5.  The importance of first-aid training for drivers carries even more weight when one considers that WHO suggests that by 2020 road accidents will be the third-leading cause of mortality, exceeded only by cardiovascular diseases and depression. In addition, World Bank reports indicate that, in the developing world, the costs incurred as a result of loss of life and damage to property and health due to road accidents far outweigh the total amount of international grants and loans received by these countries.

Improving road safety and reducing the number of accidents and their adverse impact require commitment and decisions on the part of governments. National Societies are well placed to assist governments in formulating and developing policies, and to disseminate the relevant information to the public in general and, especially, all categories of road users.

In the developed world, the increase in the number of vehicles on the road refers generally to a rise in the number of safer cars. In developing countries, however, the increase points to an augmentation in the number of motorcycles and other two-wheeled vehicles which are significantly more dangerous. Poor road conditions, lack of necessary traffic laws, poor enforcement of the existing laws and lack of respect for traffic rules and regulations are major contributors to this situation.

National Societies are valuable partners for governments in disseminating information and education to road users, particularly children – an activity that can help reduce the number of road accidents significantly.

 6.  An essential part of health care is the transfusion of blood and blood products, an established way of treating patients who are deficient in one or more blood constituents.

In this respect, national health policies should include the organisation of blood transfusion services. Where health authorities do not undertake this task and do not delegate it to organisations such as the Red Cross or Red Crescent, commercial blood banks will be established on an ad hoc basis. This may lead to the exploitation of both donors and patients, and to increased risks of transferring diseases by blood transfusion.

Transfusions are an important part of modern health care; vital for the treatment of trauma, problems of childbirth and cancer, they also permit safe surgery. Blood programmes require a serious commitment in terms of financial and human resources. Blood is a resource to be shared with those whose health or life depends on its availability, safety and proper use. This calls for a national blood policy which, ideally, should be supported by government regulations, preferably by legislation governing a national blood programme.

The final responsibility for the blood programme rests with the government. Its support should be non-partisan and offer stability. The national health authority may delegate responsibility for some or all of the activities of the blood programme to one or more government agencies or non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Society, while at the same time respecting their autonomy. In addition, a broadly representative national blood commission is needed to monitor the blood policy.

A formal delegation of responsibilities and a cost-recovery formula should be outlined in a documented agreement or contract between the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the designated NGO.

The selected agency can only accept to be responsible and accountable for providing a blood service if the government allocates sufficient financial and material resources. The agency will also need to guarantee that adequate policies, procedures and personnel are made available to ensure success.

Although it may need substantial resource investment initially, in the long term a financially sustainable blood programme is in the interest of all. However, in some developing countries, the programme may require government subsidies for an indefinite period, putting a strain on national health budgets and difficult to justify in times of economic crisis. This may result in the closure of critical blood programme services.

A blood programme should aim to generate revenue on a cost-recovery basis so that it is self-supporting and financially independent. This will also give the programmes the flexibility necessary to respond rapidly to changing needs.

The aims of a blood transfusion programme should be to provide high quality and safe blood products whenever needed and to manage efficiently its resources a nd expertise. The vast, community-based network of the Red Cross/Red Crescent is well adapted to promote voluntary, non-remunerated blood donation, collection, processing and the distribution of blood products.


 Final Goal 3.2

 New initiatives to meet the needs of vulnerable people and to reduce discrimination and violence in the community  .  

 7.  The Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent are contained in the Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement adopted by the 25th International Conference in Geneva in 1986. The Fundamental Principles are an essential guide to the Movement in its work and a powerful unifying factor for the Movement.

States parties to the Geneva Conventions have also committed, in Article 2.4 of the Statutes of the Movement as follows:

" the States shall at all times respect the adherence by all components of the Movement to the Fundamental Principles. "  

Beyond the definitions of the relations between the Movement and States and the way the Movement operates, the Fundamental Principles, in particular humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence have a broader consequence for humanitarian action undertaken by other agencies.

The Plan of Action has three paragraphs which particularly address the work of the Movement, in co-operation with States, on the Fundamental Principles. These are discussed below:

 (a)  Emphasis is placed on internal communication of the principles, i.e., communication of the principles within the Movement itself, to Red Cross and Red Crescent leaders and volunteers. Without this understanding of the principles within the Movement, there can be no guarantee that it will act coherently in line with its own fundamental ideas. The principles represent the basis for decisions by Red Cross and Red Crescent staff and volunteers in their response to the needs of others. If the Movement and its members cannot live by their own principles, they should certainly not expect others to respect them or indeed the integrity of the Movement. This internal promotion is therefore the essential first step.

 (b)  External communication, and particularly that aimed at local authorities, is of great importance. The issue here is both communication of the principles and of an understanding of the nature and purpose of National Societies, the ICRC and the International Federation. The understanding by public authorities of the Fundamental Principles as the basis of Red Cross and Red Crescent action is important as it affects their readiness to facilitate the work of the Movement and its access to those in need. Similarly, understanding by authorities and others of the principles – in particular the ideas of impartiality and neutrality – is essential to ensure respect for the organisation and its emblem, as well as for its staff and volunteers in their work to assist the most vulnerable and the victims of conflict and other disasters.

 (c)  The Fundamental Principles, notably the Principles of Humanity and Impartiality, not only provide guidance to the Movement in its action, but also provide the basis for the Movement's efforts to inform and influence behavi our in the community, to protect life and health and ensure respect for the human being. Since the last International Conference, the International Federation, together with the ICRC and National Societies, has developed and implemented a " Principles to Action " training programme exploring the understanding and application of the Fundamental Principles in peace time as well as in conflict. National Societies actively promoting the Principles in the community can build bridges between different elements of the community, providing the operational principles and the " space " within which National Societies volunteers and the community can assess needs and define programmes to respond. The value of this work lies not only in the resultant programmes but also in the process through which the community itself learns to assess divergent perspectives and create solutions to the issues it faces.

 8.  States can help the Movement in its communication and dissemination efforts in several ways. They can, in particular, facilitate access to schools and universities to enable National Societies, the International Federation or the ICRC to communicate and disseminate the Fundamental Principles. Here the intent is not simply to develop an awareness of the organisation (what it is and what it does,) but also to expose students to the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent as a basis for discussion of how individuals may act in relation to others in their community. The ideal of respect for the human being and that of not discriminating against others on the basis of nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinion are central to this aspect of dissemination.

Although the focus is on schools and universities, the promotion of the Fundamental Principles outside the formal education system is similarly a vital task for the Movement. The use of appropriate technolog y and outreach to youth and community groups are also important issues for the future work of the Movement.

 9.  The services provided by National Societies in the fields of health and social programmes are a major and well established part of the Movement's contribution. Indeed, in financial terms, the global value and cost of these programmes far exceed that of disaster and conflict programmes. However needs and priorities for such day-to-day services change and it is essential that National Societies review their activities to ensure their continuing relevance in the light of the Fundamental Principles.

In doing this, important and sometimes difficult questions need to be addressed. Do programmes truly bring assistance without discrimination? Do they address issues of prevention as well as alleviation? Are there specific efforts to ensure respect for the human being and to promote mutual understanding, friendship, co-operation and lasting peace among all peoples? The Movement at large and National Societies individually may sometimes take it for granted that all they do is worthwhile as in one way or another all service programmes assist somebody. But the challenge of the principles is more difficult and includes the need to constantly review programmes to assess their relevance to priority needs.

The significance of ensuring that programmes represent the Principles in Action lies not only in the day-to-day context but also in ensuring that the National Society has the credibility and relevance on which to base its action in case of disaster or conflict.

 10.  Most countries are today affected by the tragedy of street children although there are differences in the scale of the problem. It is mainly an urban phenomenon. As experts indicate that the urban populat ion will account for almost 56 per cent of the world's population by the year 2015 (compared to 45 per cent in 1994), an increase in the number of street children can also be expected.

Street children were to be found mainly in South America and Asia, but the phenomenon has now spread to Africa and eastern Europe. Western countries are also affected, although they are more likely to understate the situation.

While initially it was thought that poverty alone forced children to live on the street, the reality is much more complex. Although poverty is an underlying element, it is more often a convergence of a variety of factors, such as family dislocation, domestic violence, breakdown of welfare services, failure at school or sporadic events such as natural disasters or armed conflicts. A child, therefore, rarely moves suddenly to the street but does so gradually. Street children are still too often the victims of ignorance and disinformation, which contributes to the violation of their rights.

The phenomenon of street children affects almost all countries. The children are deprived of many of their rights and hence their future is placed in great jeopardy. They must be helped not only to avoid sliding into delinquency but also to retain their dignity, a basic right to which every human being is entitled. On the basis of the rights of the child, a growing number of National Societies and the International Federation have set up programmes for street children. This action responds to one of the Fundamental Principles of the Movement, namely, the principle of humanity: " to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being. "

To increase the effectiveness of these programmes many National Societies work in co-ordination with other organisations. They also need the support of governments whose responsibility it is to ensure that all children grow up in suitable conditions. In the case of street children, governments should improve their situation by meeting their special needs and by supporting National Societies and the International Federation to develop their activities and advocacy. National Society action takes several forms. Activities are carried out both in rural and urban areas, particularly in districts where the most deprived families live. Not only the children but the community as a whole are targeted, and action relates to various spheres, such as:

  • health: prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, improvement of hygiene, family care, campaigns to address alcohol and drug abuse;

  • education: parental education, especially for single women with children, literacy campaigns;

  • recreational activities: organisation of cultural or sports events for children at risk;

  • social services: establishment of crèches or nurseries and centres for children at risk; and

  • improvement of public awareness of the plight of street children.

In conflict and post-conflict areas, demobilised child soldiers and displaced or unaccompanied children are often potential street children. National Society and International Federation preventive work includes the psychosocial rehabilitation of children affected by armed conflicts and the reunification of families. Similarly, the creation of adequate socio-economic conditions would prevent street children from becoming child soldiers.

 11.  The work of National Societies in addressing issues of discrimination and violence in the community is of central and growing importance in today's world. Issues here may include the possibility of discrimination against refugees and asylum seekers, of people with illnesses or disabilities, of marginalised or minority communities. A number of National Societies h ave also begun new programmes to address the issue of violence in the community in co-operation with their government, other community organisations and the media. This represents an increased awareness that violence is an issue on a day-to-day basis in many communities. The implication of this part of the programme is not only about increased individual commitment by the National Societies to efforts in their own communities. It is also about more powerful co-operation within the Movement to share ideas and experience in tackling issues of discrimination and violence in the community. It is thus related to developing the knowledge and skills of the Movement as a whole in how best to respond to increasing challenges of violence and discrimination existing across the world.


 Final Goal 3.3

 Increased National Society capacities and effective partnership with States.  

 12.  Resolution 5 of the 26th International Conference called upon States and the Movement to reinforce their co-operation in a number of ways, specifically in order to increase National Society capacities to provide for the humanitarian needs of vulnerable people.

 (a)  One important aspect of this relates to the development of National Society capacity. For example in health activities, some recent initiatives in Europe and Africa illustrate the benefits of exploring new types of partnerships between National Societies and national health authorities. The feature that characterises these new health initiatives is the   strength ening of partnership structures between the National Societies and health ministries through medium- to long-term commitments. These partnerships outline the functions and responsibilities the National Societies agree to undertake, sometimes with the support of the International Federation and/or other co-operating partners. They also aim to more fully integrate the National Society in the national policy dialogue on specific   health   issues.

One example has been the development of a major programme that started in March 1999 to combat the dramatic increase of tuberculosis and associated HIV/AIDS, as well as sexually transmitted diseases in Russia, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine, using the Red Cross visiting nurses in each country as the main implementing structure. This programme has a long-term perspective of 10 to 15 years, with an initial phase of 3 years. Following an extensive period of planning and consultations with national and international agencies, the programme focuses on public awareness raising, care and prevention activities, social support and support to diagnostic facilities. Critical to the success of this venture will be the involvement of individuals and community groups which can be mobilised through and alongside the National Societies, working in close co-ordination with, and guided by the national policy context of, the ministries of health and specialist national and international organisations such as WHO and UNICEF.

The International Federation has also recently launched a new initiative to promote a closer collaboration between National Societies and their governments in Africa in order to address the   priority health problems in the continent. Known as the African Red Cross and Red Crescent Health Initiative 2010 (ARCHI 2010), the intention is to devel op a flexible health strategy over the period from 2000 to 2010 to allow ministries of health and the respective National Society to design and implement priority health interventions adapted to the specific needs and capacities in each country. This initiative will be formally adopted at the Pan-African 2000 Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference to be held in Burkina Faso in October 2000. The initiative is already well advanced with National Societies engaging in dialogue and assessments with the International Federation and ministries of health to review current activities and identify future priority interventions in health. 


 (b)  Voluntary service is one of the seven Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. It requires that the Movement does not act in any manner by desire for gain. At an individual level, this spirit of voluntary service is manifested by the enormous amount of work and time that people give in the service of vulnerable people, as Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers. People who volunteer give their time freely, and work without being motivated by personal financial gain. They can work either in a formally organised programme, or by giving help and support informally to relatives, neighbours and other community members.

Volunteering is a valuable activity for all countries and communities for at least four reasons. First, volunteering can be considered as unpaid work, the economic value of which is frequently underestimated or ignored in national accounts. Second, people who volunteer are playing an important role in strengthening the resources and capacities of their communities, by increasing participation and mutual support. Third, formal volunteering carries with it demands for organising and making decisions about work. Participation in the decision-making processes of or ganised volunteering encourages participation in local democratic structures, and helps to strengthen civil society. Finally, volunteering is itself a socialising activity which helps to integrate and involve volunteers in their communities. This is particularly valuable for volunteers who may themselves be marginalised, excluded or have recently arrived as migrants, refugees or asylum seekers.

Volunteering has, in recent years, been significantly affected by social and political upheavals in the world. Changes to social structures in the North have resulted in people having less spare time, so volunteering is in competition with leisure activities for the remaining free time. In the South, there is an increasing need for people to work voluntarily to support relatives, friends, and community members as a result of natural disasters, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and changes in the provision of health and social services. In eastern Europe and the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) volunteering is no longer a state-sponsored activity, and so people face confusion about the meaning and the nature of voluntary work.

It is estimated that 105 millions people volunteer for Red Cross and Red Crescent societies world-wide. The Movement supports volunteering, is dependent on volunteers, and is shaped by volunteers. Red Cross and Red Crescent societies provide community and health services that are delivered, supported, and, in many cases, managed by volunteers. The Movement provides support to informal volunteering through developing the skills and capacities of volunteers and beneficiaries. An example is the provision of community first-aid training. This increases knowledge and skills within a community, and enables people to support each other outside the formal framework of organised programmes and services. Finally, Red Cross and Red Crescent societies are largely governed by volunteers drawn from local communities. In this way, the Nationa l Societies seek to be representative of, and act on behalf of, the communities with which they are working.

Governments can support volunteering by providing an enabling legislative framework in which volunteer-supported organisations can operate, and in which people can volunteer freely. Governments stand to gain most by working with volunteer organisations in a spirit of partnership. Legislation to support volunteering should:

  • allow people the freedom to associate and to form volunteering organisations;

  • offer an appropriate balance between legislation that encourages registration and reporting to guard against corruption and abuse of status and that, at the same time, enables volunteer organisations to form, grow, develop and network; and

  • offer appropriate incentives for legitimate volunteering activities, such as tax concessions or academic credit, in recognition of the value that volunteering contributes to society as a whole;

Some legislation often unintentionally inhibits volunteering. Examples include:

  • legislation that restricts both paid and unpaid work of people claiming state benefits for unemployment; and

  • unnecessarily complex registration, governance or reporting requirements for small volunteer-based organisations with limited resources.

It is in the interests of States, therefore, to seek to promote volunteering activities through an enabling legislative framework.

 (c)  No discussion on the relationship between States and National Societies is complete without looking at financial and funding issues. National Societies are voluntary organisations that have to raise funds from a variety of sources to sustain their activities. In most countries, there is frequently competition for resources between a variety of organisations operating in the voluntary sector. It should nevertheless be recalled that the Statutes of the Movement call upon States in Article 2 paragraph 2 to " promote the establishment on its territory of a National Society and encourage its development " . 

States can, in fact, support the work of the National Society in their countries in a variety of ways. One means quite often used is to provide an annual grant in aid or block grant to the central funds of the society. Another method is to provide more tied funding for specific activities or programmes, sometimes based on specific agreements for certain services carried out. Another approach can be to provide a special fiscal status to National Societies (exemptions, incentives to donors, etc.). A study of such fiscal and other benefits provided to National Societies was published by the International Federation in 1997. The principle of independence indicates that excessive dependence of the National Society on government funding is to be avoided. Nevertheless, a reasonable level of financial support can reflect the value that the government places on the work and services carried out by the society, and serve as evidence of its commitment to fulfil the undertakings contained in the Statutes of the Movement.

Similarly, submitting National Societies to free competition rules may create serious difficulties for them, as it increases their financial burden and limits their ability to undertake their mission. For instance, the submission to the common tax regime or the restrictions imposed internationally on the grant of fiscal incentives may have negative consequences for the possibility of a National Society to finance activities for which funding is sometimes difficult to obtain.

It is also important to consider the international dimension of government support to the International Federation's network of National So cieties. It will be recalled that Resolution 5 of the 1995 International Conference called upon States to support the development of National Societies as a means to strengthening national capacity to provide humanitarian and development assistance and protection to the most vulnerable. It is noticeable that many of the themes contained in this resolution were to be repeated the next year by development ministers and aid agency officials of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In their 1996 report entitled Shaping the 21st Century: The Contribution of Development Co-operation, these OECD/DAC governments reflected on the lessons of development co-operation over a period of 50 years. A key objective of the review was to help develop new strategies for the 21st century. Reaffirming their commitment to development co-operation for reasons of both moral imperative and self-interest, the governments called for a common commitment to achieve an economic goal of reducing the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by half by the year 2015; and a series of social goals focusing on primary education, gender disparity, infant and maternal mortality, and access to reproductive health services. To reach these objectives, the member countries recognised that a change in approach to development co-operation would be needed. Key elements would include the requirement that development strategies must be genuinely locally owned, that civil society must participate more fully in the development process, and that increased priority should be given to strengthening human and institutional capacities.

Given its mandate to promote the development of National Societies, the International Federation invited representatives from donor country government aid agencies and their respective National Societies to an informal meeting in June 1997 to explore possibilities for closer collaboration in the area of the capacity building of National Societies. Twelve National Societies and governments attended this first meeting, with participants generally welcoming the initiative and agreeing to pursue the dialogue, which has come to be known as the " Tripartite process " .

At subsequent meetings in 1998 and 1999, it was agreed that governments and the International Federation shared much in terms of development goals and that it was appropriate to explore more predictable and adequate resources for the International Federation's capacity building activities. As a first step, three National Societies and governments have participated in the joint funding of a pilot project with three National Societies in Africa and Latin America to test this new approach to working together.

The " Tripartite Process " has shown that governments and the International Federation can mutually benefit from enhanced co-operation in development assistance. Government aid agencies support activities that seek to address the full range of economic and social development needs through a variety of bilateral and multilateral channels. National Societies offer a channel of particular value for helping to build a stronger civil society and to enhance the capacity of the most vulnerable in disaster preparedness, health and social sectors. The local knowledge, skills and contacts of the National Society, combined with the support received from the entire Movement, all based upon the world's most universally shared group of humanitarian principles, create considerable potential for the International Federation to play a greater role in international efforts to enhance the development process world-wide.

 13.  In common with many other established international organisations, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is concerned with the representation of groups from all sectors of society, in particular women, young people and ethnic minority groups in its governing and operating structures. In particular, it seeks to involve its major stakeholder groups in decision-making, as well as to redress a certain imbalance between men dominating governing structures, while young people and women are often more prevalent in operating structures.

 (a)  Stakeholder participation in decision-making can occur at many levels within a National Society and its programmes. Three are highlighted here.

First, governance, which seeks both to represent major stakeholders and to make strategic decisions in the latters'interests. Members of governing bodies are elected by a broad membership comprising interested people and volunteers. These governors or trustees are expected to make decisions in the interests of at least three stakeholder groups: the most vulnerable people who may be beneficiaries of Red Cross or Red Crescent programmes, the volunteers and staff of the National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society. Effective and accountable governing bodies will be able to better uphold a National Society's legitimacy in the eyes of a country's population and its government.

The second level concerns the management and delivery of programmes. Here stakeholders can be involved in taking and influencing decisions relating to programme design and delivery, and in carrying out the actual tasks required. Programmes will therefore have beneficiaries’ interests as the primary aim, and not just the interests of the most powerful stakeholders. Programme delivery should also be carried out with the participation of people who are the most appropriate and acceptable to the beneficiaries.

The third level concerns community development programmes. Here it is important that a balance is made between respecting traditional and legitimate fo rums and procedures for decision-making and, at the same time, seeking to ensure that the views of all sections of a community are represented and involved.

Against this background, National Societies need to assess the extent to which they have fully representative decision-making structures. In particular, women, young people and ethnic minorities are too often under-represented.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement seeks to ensure greater participation and involvement in decision-making at all levels of operations. Two broad strategies can be used to achieve this aim. The first attempts to remove barriers to participation for under-represented groups. The second seeks to actively promote participation of under-represented groups, and ensure that decision-making bodies have an equitable representation of key stakeholder groups. These two strategies are not mutually incompatible. They will, however, have organisational implications for the National Societies that adopt them.

Governments can support greater involvement and participation of young people, women and ethnic groups by:

  • initiatives to promote volunteering as discussed in section 12 above;

  • providing the legislative framework to combat discrimination;

  • increasing support, through the responsible ministries, to formal; and

  • non-formal education of young people in particular; and

  • increasing support to the creation of facilities such as kindergartens and child care systems which would enable women to have the time for participating in different ways in Red Cross and Red Crescent work.

 (b)  Since the last International Conference, the International Federation has begun looking afresh at the subject of National Societies'statutes. With the involvement of volunteers and staff of selected National Societies from all regions, and in co-operation with the ICRC, the International Federation co-ordinated the drafting of guidelines for the review of National Society statutes. These guidelines contain minimum standards as well as sample clauses on the most essential parts of National Society statutes, thereby encouraging the societies to move the agenda to become a modern and well-functioning Society.

Similarly, as requested by the 26th International Conference, in 1995, the International Federation co-ordinated the drafting of a model law on Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies for presentation to the 1999 Conference.

The purpose of presenting a “model law” on Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is to encourage governments and National Societies to give due consideration to the legal aspects of supporting and protecting the functions of the National Societies and, at the same time, provide sample clauses covering the main areas of concern for the Movement and from which to draw inspiration for legislative work.

National Societies have a unique mandate defined by States in the Geneva Conventions and the Statutes of the Movement and other resolutions of the International Conference. In their respective countries, National Societies carry out on behalf of the authorities public functions in the humanitarian field. It is in the general interest of States to effectively protect these functions in order to guarantee that their National Societies remain capable of executing them under the conditions created by those States and laid down in international treaties and the International Conference resolutions, including the Fundamental Principles.

In order to assist National Societies to abide by the Fundamental Principles, a commitment from the public authorities granted under the form of law is essential to ensure e.g. that there is only one R ed Cross or Red Crescent Society per country, that it is open to all members of society and has their confidence, that there are no barriers such as taxation to receiving financial support from the public at large, that its name and emblem are not abused, that leading religious, financial or political forces do not influence the Society to favour particular interests instead of the general interest of the most vulnerable, etc.

That has been a sufficient reason for many States to enact special legislation or otherwise accord a legal status to their Red Cross or Red Crescent Society which is distinct from the ordinary legal status of non-governmental organisations.

Such special legislation defines the legal capacity of the Society, its mandate and the principles guiding its activity as laid down in the international instruments referred to above, financial and other support from the State such as tax exemptions on the Societies’ assets and income and fiscal incentives to stimulate donations from the public, etc.

In addition, in order to be recognised by the ICRC in accordance with the Statutes of the Movement, and admitted as a member of the International Federation, it is required that the government recognises its Red Cross or Red Crescent Society as an auxiliary of the public authorities in the humanitarian field so that it is allowed to perform the functions defined for National Societies in the Geneva Conventions. Such recognition should be adopted by the highest possible authority of the government (either legislative or executive branch).

In many countries, the act of government recognition has either been adopted through a law approved by the legislative branch of the government, or is subsequently followed by such a law. It depends, however, on the constitution of each country whether, and in which form, such law may come into being.

This draft model law, bas ed on analysis of existing legislation in force in over twenty countries from all regions in the world, has been established by the International Federation and the ICRC in the framework of their Joint Commission for National Society Statutes. It has been discussed with members from governance and management, and lawyers, from the National Societies of Ghana, Uganda, Surinam, United States, China, Germany, Denmark, United Kingdom, Austria, Sweden, Bulgaria, Russian Federation and Belarus.

It is the intention of the International Federation and the ICRC to further refine this model law, after the 27th International Conference, in conjunction with experts from interested governments and National Societies. Firstly, it will be appropriate to review the draft model law in the light of the assessment of the Societies'legal base as part of the in-depth study about the contemporary relationship between States and National Societies requested from the International Federation and the ICRC in the draft Plan of Action; secondly, the model law is in the first place intended as a tool for use by governments. As a consequence, it would be appropriate to consult with experts from interested governments in order to take into account “user feedback” as well as the diversity of legal systems.

The International Federation will take the lead in this regard in co-operation with the ICRC and interested National Societies and with the latter’s support in the framework of the institutional development component of its Strategic Plan 2000-2010.

A review of the evolving relationship between States and National Societies should not be limited to legal aspects concerning the status of National Societies. Attention should also be given to the raison d'être of National Societies, i.e., their programmes and activities when they are undertaken in conjunction with the public authorities at the national or local level. It should be recalled that Article 2, paragraph 3 of the Statues of the Movement call on States to " (...) support, whenever possible, the work of the components of the Movement. The same components, in their turn and in accordance with their respective statutes, support as far as possible the humanitarian activities of the States. "

 14.  Section 12 (b) above discussed the significance of volunteering and the importance of States providing support to enable the development of volunteering.

 (a)  Faced with the significant social and political changes, Red Cross and Red Crescent societies need to understand better the challenges they face with regard to volunteering. There are, broadly, two sets of challenges. The first is in relation to the nature and purpose of volunteering work: why it is useful and appropriate in different economic, social and political structures, and how it fits in with the strategic goals of the Movement. The second set of challenges is in relation to the management of volunteer-involving programmes: given the social and political changes, how can volunteers be better recruited and supported?

In this context, research and policy development is required so that the International Federation and National Societies develop a better analytical understanding of the challenges they face, and of the strategies, skills, structures, activities and organisation cultures they must foster to meet the challenges of modern volunteering.


 (b)  The nature of the relationship between States and National Societies, which was reviewed at the last International Conference in 1995, is unique and offers many benef its to both parties. Over the years, National Societies'auxiliary but independent status has allowed them to play a significant role in supporting the priority humanitarian needs of their country's citizens in times of peace and war. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the new millennium, it is important to re-examine this relationship between the State and National Societies in order to adapt to the changing needs and realities of the world.

The concept of National Societies as " auxiliary to public authorities in the humanitarian field " , as defined in the Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, has a very clear and specific historical origin. Originally, it was in the narrow domain of relief to wounded and sick soldiers in the field that this concept was used. This was the very idea of Henry Dunant – to have relief societies assist the medical services of armed forces. There was no question of letting such private associations operate on the battlefield without the control of the military authorities, for security reasons and to avoid abuses by third parties and the enemy.

Over time, the functions of National Societies have evolved. Very soon after 1863, the date of the creation of the first Red Cross Societies, they ceased to be limited to relief to wounded and sick soldiers, and even primarily to war-related tasks. Today, most activities undertaken by National Societies relate to social and health programmes and to relief tasks which are not directly linked to conflicts. However, today, at the end of the 20th century, the concept of " auxiliary " still remains valid for the activities of National Societies, as many elements clearly indicate.

The concept of " auxiliary " is enshrined in the Statutes of the Movement, in particular the definition of National Societies and the conditions for their recognition by the ICRC, and their subsequent admission as members of  the International Federation. These texts establish the requirement for a legal act adopted by the State and recognising the National Society, as well as other fiscal provisions or elements linked with the formal relations between States and their National Society. Moreover, this " auxiliary role " is also reflected in the special relationship between States and National Societies'programmes, which often benefit from the support of the public authorities. On occasions, certain major functions have been delegated to National Societies by the State, on the basis of a special agreement. Examples include blood transfusion, ambulance services and nurse training.

The Movement has long seen the possible difficulties which could derive from this auxiliary role. In particular, soon after the Second World War, several International Conferences put emphasis on the need for National Societies'independence vis-à-vis their own government. This need for independence has been reaffirmed by many resolutions of the International Conferences. It has also been recalled by the Fundamental Principle of independence, enshrined in the Statutes of the Movement. These Statutes stipulate that any State party to the Geneva Conventions has, by adopting the Statutes of the Movement, committed itself to respect at all times the adherence of the components of the Movement to the Fundamental Principles.

This balance between the need for close relations between a State and the National Society of its country, on the one hand, and the need for independence of the National Society (in particular for choosing programmes and beneficiaries), on the other hand, has to be maintained. Unfortunately, the criteria for assessing whether this independence is fully respected are not always clear. Though certain aspects may vary according to the socio-economic and cultural situation of the country, there are certainly some elements which can be clarified, in particular those dealin g with the legal base of National Societies.

 (c)  The International Federation’s General Assembly took the decision, in 1997, to start the process of developing a new strategic plan and appointed a Strategic Planning Advisory Commission that was given a dual mandate:

to involve National Societies throughout the International Federation in an evaluation of the evolution of the International Federation during the 1990s and how useful the Strategic Work Plan for the Nineties was in that evolution, and

to prepare a new Strategic Plan which adopts a larger concept, covering all Red Cross and Red Crescent work, and not just re-wording of existing objectives and activities.

Participation and dialogue have characterised the process of building " Strategy 2010 " , that will be presented to the forthcoming General Assembly. The dialogue has involved International Federation governance, leaders from all National Societies, Secretariat and ICRC staff, both in Geneva and the field, and leaders from over 30 peer organisations, all of which contributed their view through interviews, surveys and discussion groups. An Independent Reference Group with evaluation and strategic planning specialists from World Bank, United Nations agencies, DAC-OECD and academic institutions provided advice and monitored the rigour of the process.


" Strategy 2010 " , to be adopted at the General Assembly in October 1999, focuses on improving the lives of vulnerable people: " Strategy 2010 " aims to make Red Cross and Red Crescent programmes more responsive to local vulnerability. Recognising the risk of spreading capacity too broadly and thinly, " Strategy 2010 " proposes to focus on programmes where the Red Cross/Red Crescent can add gre atest value. Four " core areas " for programme development, closely related to the main themes of their Programme of Action, are identified to ensure unity of action. These " core areas " are " the Promotion of the Movement's Fundamental Principles and humanitarian values " , " disaster response " , " disaster preparedness " , and " health and care at the community level " . Focusing will result in better quality services, sharper identity and clearer advocacy positions, through which the International Federation will contribute to a safer world with greater respect for the human being, reducing and alleviating suffering and improving health and care in the community. To achieve this, " Strategy 2010 " addresses the need to build stronger National Societies and to develop co-operation within the International Federation network and with external partners.



1. Even before 1868, a prohibition of poison weapons had been part of ancient laws of war in India, Greece, Rome, and the Middle East based on their excessive effects. The 1863'Lieber Instructions'to Federal forces in the US civil war also " wholly excluded " this means of warfare on the same basis.

2. Declaration Renouncing the Use, in Time of War, of Explosive Projectiles Under 400 Grammes Weight, St. Petersburg, Russia.

3. 1977 Protocol I Additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, Article 35(2).

4. Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons , Advisory Opinion, International Court of Justice, The Hague, 8 July 1996, No. 95, para. 79.

5. Both terms are translations from the single French concept of maux superflus contained in the 1899 and 1907 Hague Regulations (art. 23e). The French term contains both elements of the English terms.

6. This term is translated from the original French propres à causer which is the sole authentic version of the 1899 and 1907 Hague Regulations (art. 23e). The term was incorrectly translated into the English " calculated to cause " in the 1907 Hague Regulations (IV) which introduced a subjective element of the weapon designer's intention. This error was corrected when the original " of a nature to cause " was restated in 1977 Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions, Article 35.2.

7. 1977 Protocol I Additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, Article 36.

8. As indicated in section C of this paper


27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent