Respect for and protection of the personnel of humanitarian organizations

19-01-1998 Report

Preparatory document drafted by the International Committee of the Red Cross for the first periodical meeting on international humanitarian law Geneva, 19 - 23 January 1998

 (Original: French)  



I. Security conditions

1. The environment in which humanitarian action takes place

2. Humanitarian action and principles

3. Humanitarian organizations and their ethics

(a) The local context

(b) The media

(c) The proliferation of humanitarian organizations

(d) The need for humanitarian ethics

4. Humanitarian action and peace-keeping operations

5. The physical protection of humanitarian workers

II. Legal protection of humanitarian personnel

1. Overview

2. The protection of humanitarian personnel under international humanitarian law

2.1 The 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols of 1977

(a) Protection provided by the red cross/red crescent emblem

(b) The protection of humanitarian personnel taking part in relief operations

2.2 Measures of protection against mines

3. Other legal measures of protection

3.1 Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel

3.2 United Nations resolutions

(a) General Assembly

(b) Security Council

3.3 International Conference for the Protection of War Victims

3.4 Privileges and immunities of international organizations

4. Evaluation of legal protection

III. Proposals for improved protection of personnel of humanitarian organizations

1. Preventive measures in peacetime

2. Ethics and operational principles of humanitarian action

3. Consultation between humanitarian organizations and coordination of their activities

4. Specific measures to ensure the safety of humanitarian organizations personnel

5. Criminal investigations and prosecution

6. Responsibilities of the international community



 PERU, 10 February 1996.  "On the way to the airport a car suddenly pulled up in front of us, forcing us to stop. Three people wearing military uniforms and bullet-proof jackets jumped out and ran towards us, pointing their weapons in our direction and identifying themselves as policemen. They demanded my documents, but when I reached for my passport one of them shouted at me and shoved his weapon into my mouth, causing an injury to my upper lip. Then they drove us in a second car to an isolated area, where they interrogated and threatened us. Afterwards, they took us back to the first car - the one they had used to make us stop - and took our money, our watches and my suitcase. Finally we were released and allowed to return to our own car."  

 RWANDA, 18 January 1997. Several places in the town of Ruhengeri were attacked by unidentified armed men. The objectives varied, but included several buildings occupied by humanitarian organizations. On entering the premises of  Médecins du Monde  , the assailants sacked it, killing three Spanish employees with one or more bullets each and wounding an American employee, whose leg later had to be amputated. Following these targeted attacks, the humanitarian organizations working in the area reduced the scale of their activities and nearly all the expatriate staff were evacuated.  


 MALI, 16 September 1993.  "Two armed men approached our vehicle, while two others stayed a dozen metres away. One of them came towards me and made signs for me to get out of the car. I put out my hand to take my bag. He shouted something and fired some shots into the sand by my feet. I tried to speak to him, but he interrupted me at once with another volley. Meanwhile the second man had forced the other occupants to leave the vehicle. He chased us from the track, firing shots after us. The attack lasted ten minutes. The men made off with our vehicle, leaving us in the desert under the mid-afternoon sun, with only a small flask of water."  


 SOMALIA, 14 January 1993. On entering the building of the ICRC sub-delegation in Bardera, three armed men in a state of extreme agitation threatened the team members present and demanded money. While acceding to their demand and turning towards the place where the keys to the cash-boxes were kept, the administrator was shot by one of the armed men. After a slight hesitation, the men seized the cash-boxes and fled.  


 BURUNDI, 4 June 1996. Two ICRC vehicles were driving on the road leading from Mugina to Bujumbura. Suddenly, the first vehicle was subjected to intense gunfire and the three ICRC delegates travelling in it were killed. The second vehicle turned back in its tracks. The ICRC was the last humanitarian organization to work in the province of Cibitoke, the area most seriously affected by the conflict, and had just received all the necessary security guarantees from representatives of the population and the army. After this event, the ICRC decided to suspend all its activities in Burundi.  


 BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA, 18 May 1992. After passing the last Serb checkpoint, while entering Sarajevo, an ICRC convoy including a truck loaded with humanitarian supplies was stopped by gunfire. Some of the occupants of the convoy managed to take shelter behind a wall several metres away, from where they could watch the shells falling on the convoy. The sources of the shelling seemed to be very near. A projectile delivered by remote control hit the truck, setting it on fire. Machine-gun rounds were also heard.  "At that point I became sure that it was not an unfortunate accident, but clearly a planned attack... We had absolutely no idea of where the others were, whether they were safe, or whether they had been hit."   The incident resulted in the death of one delegate and caused the ICRC to withdraw temporarily from Sarajevo, and then from the whole of Bosnia.  

 ZAIRE, 5 May 1997. After entering one of the areas of Kenge affected by the fighting in order to provide assistance, a relief worker of the Zairian Red Cross who had observed the cooperative attitude of the military forces present left in search of nine colleagues to help him carry on his activities in another region. However, the soldiers they met there arrested them and killed them in cold blood, despite the fact that they clearly displayed the distinctive sign.  

 LIBERIA, September 1994.  "All the organizations present realized that what the military wanted more than anything else was cars. It soon became impossible to move out of the compounds without risking a vehicle. Things really got out of hand when the military started to pay us visits after dark to 'borrow' cars. By that time, local humanitarian staff were already being targeted. At one point, a compound     occupied by Médecins sans Frontières was completely looted and destroyed. It became clear to all the humanitarian organizations present that teams had to be reduced as fast as possible. At a later stage, we felt that our lives were in danger and within days the situation had turned to chaos."  

 RWANDA, 4 February 1997. Five members of the Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda were attacked by a group of around fifteen armed individuals on the road in Karengera commune. Four members of the team were killed during the attack. The fifth member died several hours later as a result of his injuries. The team was on its way to attend a meeting organized by prefectural authorities in Gasumo sector. The two cars were ambushed at a small bridge, where one of the attackers opened fire at the first vehicle arriving. This vehicle stopped and the second one attempted to pull back but was blocked by two attackers who arrived from behind. According to preliminary investigations, the attackers had met the day before and planned to carry out an attack in order to create a sense of insecurity.   


 RUSSIA, 17 December 1996.  "In the middle of the night, I woke up to the sound of heavy boot steps on the staircase. I immediately realized that strangers had entered our residence. A few seconds later, I heard a horrible scream coming from the room opposite mine. Just one scream, followed by a dull noise. Then somebody tried twice to kick my door down. The door resisted both attempts. I heard another short single scream, followed again by a dull noise. I was terribly frightened when a few seconds later boot steps again approached my door and somebody tried violently to break in. I was still standing in the middle of my room - paralysed by fear."   During that night, six ICRC delegates were murdered methodically and in cold blood in the Novye Atagi hospital dormitory.  


 AFGHANISTAN, 23 July 1994. While returning to Kabul, a convoy of two ICRC vehicles was stopped, first by a military commander who forcibly placed an Afghan doctor and his wife in one of the vehicles, and then, a little farther on, by six armed combatants. These men forced the occupants to leave their vehicles, beat them up, robbed them of all their personal effects and made off with the vehicles. The ICRC employees managed to reach Kabul, but the passengers imposed on them had disappeared.  


 SENEGAL, 25 January 1993. On an assignment in Casamance, a small, clearly marked convoy of the Senegalese Red Cross stopped near a military unit, which confirmed that it could continue along the track without any problems. One hour later, the leading vehicle, which was carrying relief workers, was shattered by a powerful mine blast. Seven workers were killed and four others injured.  

 SOMALIA, 21 March 1995.  "As we approached the fifth checkpoint outside Gelib, one of the three guards aimed his rifle in our direction and gestured to us to turn back. We stopped and our field officer walked forward. Trying to speak to the aggressive guard was impossible as he was completely under the influence of some drug. He was highly volatile, incoherent and he bluntly refused to let us pass. It turned out that this drugged guard was operating on a freelance basis, extorting high fees from passing travellers. Those that were slow in paying up were simply shot."  


In recent years, the number of people employed by humanitarian organizations who have been attacked or killed while working in conflict zones has risen drastically. Such injuries and deaths are unfortunately nothing new, and the fact remains that humanitarian personnel working in a war situation must be prepared to face certain risks. However, although these organizations still manage to perform considerable work in most conflict situations, the multiplication of serious security incidents, the ultimate consequence of which is to block assistance activities or force humanitarian organizations to withdraw unilaterally from the operation, has prompted them to question the means used to date to ensure the safety of their personnel.

Many Red Cross and Red Crescent employees have died in the last few years during operations in, for example, Somalia, Burundi and Congo, and the single incident in Chechnya in December 1996 claimed the lives of six National Society staff working there in the framework of the ICRC operation.

Most of the major humanitarian agencies have been affected by this phenomenon, as borne out for example by the killing in Rwanda of three employees of Médecins du Monde and five members of the United Nations human rights mission of observation.

The unusual and particularly shocking aspect of the tragedies of these recent years is that those who died were killed in cold blood, despite being clearly identified and known as staff of the Red Cross or Red Crescent, the United Nations or non-governmental organizations.

The problem of respect for and protection of humanitarian personnel in armed conflicts has many different aspects. The first part of this paper describes the security conditions under which humanitarian work takes place and the means at the disposal of the organizations in question to maximize the security of their staff. The second part reiterates the legal provisions that exist for the protection of humanitarian personnel, in particular under international humanitarian law. The last part offers suggestions on how to improve respect for and protection of the staff of humanitarian organizations.

 I. Security conditions  

 1. The environment in which humanitarian action takes place  

Because of the very nature of their activity, humanitarian workers have always been, and will always be, exposed to security incidents. In addition, any assaults on their physical integrity - which were considered taboo until recently - are relayed by the media and shock international public opinion. These two factors make humanitarian action an easy and attractive target: attacks on it are virtually devoid of physical risk and can, in the eyes of the perpetrators, have considerable political impact. Humanitarian workers therefore increasingly run the risk of being used as pawns in a political game.

Moreover, the nature of the conflicts in which humanitarian agencies conduct their work has changed considerably in the last decade.

With the notable exception of the Gulf War in 1991, the vast majority of recent conflicts have been internal. Many of them have resulted from or been influenced by the end of the polarized world order. Others have arisen from recurring historical cycles or unresolved political problems.

Overall, the conflicts of the 1990s have taken place (and continue to do so) in contexts which are much more lacking in structure than before. In the past, when they were far fewer in number, humanitarian agencies had relatively clear points of reference: on the one hand, the regular armed forces, under the control of the political authorities in power; on the other, a guerrilla movement, with a structured chain of command and a well-defined ideology. Both parties to the conflict usually had substantial international support.

In most cases, these structures enabled humanitarian agencies to make the contacts required for the conduct of their operations at all levels of the political and military hierarchy. The protection of humanitarian personnel - both expatriate and local - was essentially the responsibility of the parties to the conflict, and they discharged that responsibility not by providing arme d escorts but through a system of safe-conducts and authorizations that worked relatively well, precisely because it was based on a strong chain of command.

Today, the environment in which humanitarian organizations are required to operate has changed radically.

(a)The system of bipolar backing for the warring parties has given way to chaos; the disintegration of chains of command has taken the place of the more evident hierarchy of the Cold War era; the parties themselves have become fragmented.[1 ]

There are two fundamental consequences to this:

-Humanitarian workers are exposed in an unprecedented way to the risks arising from increasing banditry, which at times specifically targets the property they administer. 

-The intensity of the conflicts may even be heightened by the presence of such property, as it implies a considerable strengthening of the faction that manages to get hold of it. This is because the resources available in such anarchic contexts are scarce unless obtained via humanitarian agencies.

(b) The issue of identity has been another typical feature of many recent conflicts and an additional factor in the growing risks for humanitarian organizations. The aim of the fighting in these cases is to bring about the exclusion of the presumed opponent. The attempt to gain power by one group - whether it be cultural, religious or ethnic - thus depends on marginalizing or even eliminating one or more rival groups. Other people's very right to exist is sometimes denied, and this can lead to forms of genocide.

 Civilians are no longer fundamentally viewed as extraneous to war itself, nor even used as a " base " of logistic and political support, but have become stakes in the conflict or even the very reason for it. Because of their affiliation to one group or another, defined on the basis of religious, cultural or ethnic criteria, they become the target of hostile acts and an integral part of political and military strategies.

 Humanitarian action is then perceived as an obstacle to the ultimate objectives of the parties to the conflict. Anything which runs counter to the strategy of elimination, marginalization or displacement of various groups among the civilian population is seen as a threat to the assertion of one's own right to power, even to one's very existence.

 An extreme consequence of this viewpoint is the gradual erosion of the distinction between combatant and non-combatant, and the identification of humanitarian personnel with the enemy - based on the argument " anyone who helps my enemy is my enemy too " . This tendency already existed in the past, in particular in wars of ideology, but it has grown worse in contemporary conflicts involving issues of identity. As a result, there has been an exponential increase in security risks for both expatriate and local humanitarian personnel, who - by virtue of their presence on the ground, at the very heart of the conflict - also become a troublesome and dangerous witness to brutal methods of exclusion or elimination used by the enemy.

(c) A third aspect contributes indirectly towards increasing security risks for humanitarian organizations: the confusion caused (in the eyes of the various factions and of the victims) by the mixing of humanitarian aims with political and/or military aims during action taken by the international community in armed conflicts. Often decided upon in haste but delayed in their implementation on the ground, these operations with vague labels are characterized by confusion between their political motives, their military strategies and their humanitarian aspects.

(d) Action of this sort by the international community has, moreover, resulted in the presence of a plethora of humanitarian agencies, which are as ephemeral as they are unstructured. Their objectives are often as imprecise as their modi operandi . It has also become more and more difficult for Red Cross and Red Crescent staff to stand out from the diverse elements of these " military-political-humanitarian " operations and to make the factions, the victims and the other players involved understand the true meaning of the neutrality and independence of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

 2. Humanitarian action and principles  

It should be underscored that, although humanitarian action in the midst of armed conflict takes place in a context where interconnected political, economic, social and military factors exercise a mutual influence over each other, its specific nature, aims and characteristics remain unchanged. A loose interpretation of what constitutes such action could cause serious and lasting damage to one of the fundamental guarantees which the international community has undertaken to provide for war victims.

Humanitarian action, as described in the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols o f 1977, is based on the principles of humanity and impartiality which the International Court of Justice has deemed to be essential features of any humanitarian operation.[2 ]

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and a growing number of organizations call for respect for the principles of neutrality and independence as well.

International humanitarian law, as the term implies, is based on the principle of humanity, which confers rights on all those who are concerned by an armed conflict and imposes obligations upon them. These are not only the parties to the conflict and the victims but also third States and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations. In particular, the law emphasizes the victims'right to receive humanitarian assistance. The corresponding duty which falls to the State in the territory of which the conflict is taking place or to the party that controls the territory is either to meet the vital needs of the population or to agree to an impartial humanitarian relief operation being conducted (in particular to provide food, medicines and medical equipment). But humanitarian law stipulates that such action is subject to the consent of the State or parties concerned and does not prescribe coercive measures in the event of refusal, however unwarranted. Humanitarian organizations therefore require the explicit, implicit or at least tacit agreement of the warring factions to avoid encountering security problems very quickly. Having recourse to force against the will of the parties to a conflict - even for valid humanitarian reasons (for instance, to enable assistance to be provided) - would be bound to transform humanitarian action as strictly defined by international humanitarian law into a military operation.

Impartiality as a corollary to the principle of humanity may be defined as the absence of any discrimination based on race, nationality, religion, political opinions or any other similar criterion, with priority given to those in most urgent need. Without impartiality, confidence may be lost and it is then unlikely that cooperation will continue with the parties to the conflict. Consequently, the way in which impartiality is perceived by those parties is almost as important as its actual practice, and any challenge to it by one or another of the parties can imply daily risks. If impartiality is called into question by those involved in an armed conflict - through their failure to respect it, through the way in which they view it or through their rejection of it - humanitarian personnel will be ostracized, together with their activities, and obviously put at risk.

Neutrality means never taking part in hostilities or engaging in the political, religious or ideological controversies which underlie armed conflicts. It also means refraining from any direct or indirect interference in military operations in progress. But neutrality never implies accepting that the root causes of the conflict should result in policies, such as that of " ethnic cleansing " , which run counter to the basic principles of humanitarian law. Indeed, neutrality is not an end in itself but an essential means of gaining the confidence of all the parties to a conflict, so that unrestricted access to every victim may be obtained. However, as we have seen, neutral humanitarian action is often no longer understood or accepted, particularly in conflicts whose aim is extermination and in which the concept of granting neutral status to the population and to those who come to their aid is rejected.

Finally, the principle of independence is essential to the autonomy which humanitarian organizations must retain if they are to act in accordance with the above-mentioned principles, without being subjected to political or other considerations.

Humanitarian action, particularly in conflict situations, requires observance of all these prin ciples and scrupulous respect for them so as to guarantee a minimum degree of protection for those who help the victims.

It is therefore all the more important to avoid creating confusion by over-generalized use of the term " humanitarian " and to reserve the expression " humanitarian action " for operations that abide strictly by the principles stated above. Thus, a clear distinction should be drawn between humanitarian action, on the one hand, and political or military action with humanitarian objectives, on the other hand. The two types of activity may easily be told apart by their aims, the means and methods used, and their guiding principles. Humanitarian action and its principles must therefore be explained and above all understood and accepted by the beneficiaries and the authorities. Without such understanding and acceptance, even if humanitarian action is implemented with perfect impartiality, neutrality and independence, humanitarian organizations will be confronted with problems of security for their staff and property.

 3. Humanitarian organizations and their ethics  

It is not enough for humanitarian organizations to undertake to uphold the above-mentioned principles, their personnel working in the field must also abide by them. The conduct of aid workers at all times -- and not only while on duty -- also plays a vital part in security.

 (a) The local context  

In no event should the conduct of humanitarian personnel run counter to the principles on which their action is based or to the customs and culture of the beneficiary population.

That is one of the reasons why special attention must be paid to staff recruitment and training. In this respect, it is becoming mor e and more necessary to work with members of the community benefiting by the action, in order to bring about a better understanding of the local conditions in which humanitarian staff conduct their activities and to promote acceptance of aid and its providers. Here, the National Red Cross and Red Crescent have a fundamental role to play.

To this should be added the need for open and constant dialogue between the humanitarian organizations and the people they are surrounded by in the field. When these organizations take the time to explain their mandate and role, but also the limitations of their action, in clear terms to the beneficiaries and other contacts, there is less risk of misunderstanding. It is essential to avoid arousing false hopes among the beneficiaries. Quite the contrary, they must be told exactly what they can expect. Like unduly great expectations, unkept promises can give rise to frustration, tension and even confrontation.

 (b) The media  

Humanitarian operations conducted during conflicts that are subject to wide media coverage call for some additional remarks. The presence of the media in full force, and especially of television crews, certainly contributes appreciably to making the international community aware of the problems that arise for the victims of conflicts. But at the same time it makes it essential for humanitarian workers to be visible, since the financing of their operations depends largely on visibility. This state of affairs can have negative consequences insofar as the media are considered by some players in the conflict as platforms from which they can draw the attention of the international community. At the very worst, a crime against humanitarian workers widely reported on in the media is seen as an opportunity to assert or strengthen a political position. All those concerned must bear these considerations in mind in ord er to keep humanitarian action from being turned without thinking into a media show likely both to further destabilize the situation and to undermine the victims'dignity or even jeopardize the whole humanitarian operation. 

 (c) The proliferation of humanitarian organizations  

The presence of the international media almost inevitably leads to a proliferation of the number of organizations working in the field.

It is particularly in large-scale, very widely publicized assistance operations that a multitude of non-governmental organizations have made their appearance. In Rwanda in 1994, over 150 of them were active at the same time. In addition, certain non-governmental organizations are increasingly being used as " implementing agencies " subcontracted by international humanitarian organizations for the purpose of delivering and distributing assistance. For reasons of publicity, financing, expediency or conviction, certain organizations express a clear desire to take charge of a specific type of victim, geographical area or set of humanitarian problems. Where security is concerned, one of the dangers to which this situation can give rise is that all aid workers may be assimilated to each other, with the result that if a feeling of hostility develops towards a single one of these expatriates, as they are often called, it may extend to all the others.

 (d) The need for humanitarian ethics  

In this type of situation, the following occurs:

-the degree to which the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence are upheld may vary considerably from one organization to another;

-the plethora of humanitarian organizations creates confusion in the minds of the local population, who no longer know where to apply for a specific kind of need (or who try to obtain as much as possible from each);

-the behaviour of humanitarian workers differs radically according to the amount of experience and training they have and according to the recruiting organization's level of professional expertise.

The security of any humanitarian worker partly depends on his or her ethical and professional standards. In a context of proliferating organizations, it is therefore essential to develop and apply basic principles of behaviour and a strict system of ethics. The adoption of a Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Disaster Relief will help to promote such a system, but the question remains of how far it is desirable and possible to go in establishing criteria guaranteeing the quality of humanitarian action and, above all, in applying them in practice.

Moreover, the existence of humanitarian competition makes it all the more difficult to abide by a set of ethical standards. The more humanitarian agencies there are, the more the media concentrate on certain specific situations, the harder it becomes to obtain funding and the stiffer competition becomes.

Competition can even, when carried to an extreme, have disastrous effects on the activities of humanitarian organizations. In Liberia, for example, it turned the theatre of operations into a real humanitarian market-place, where in the end the organizations present in the field, far from protecting the interests of the victim s, involuntarily served the purposes of the war: the relief supplies they brought in became an object of desire for the parties and indeed the object of the fighting. It is thus extremely difficult to reconcile the constraints of competition among humanitarian organizations with the requirements of impartial and neutral action.

At the very core of all humanitarian principles, it is therefore essential to have a system of humanitarian ethics built around a fundamental criterion, that of " the interests of the victim " -- the interests of all victims, including those of armed conflicts yet to come. Any humanitarian operation diverted from its true purpose can have adverse effects on other parts of the same territory, just as it can have harmful long-term repercussions. Indeed, no humanitarian agency acts by itself in a kind of vacuum on behalf of its beneficiaries, but on the contrary, each one constitutes part of a network of interrelationships which takes shape in a given context and in which the activities and behaviour of each have an effect on all the others.

Part of the answer certainly lies in respect for the mandates conferred on certain organizations by the international community. Understanding of these specific mandates by the parties to the conflict represents a fundamental guarantee of respect for the physical integrity of humanitarian personnel. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly difficult for humanitarian organizations to respond to the needs of the victims without running the risk that their role will be misunderstood by the belligerents. The action of these agencies must therefore be predictable and the mandates they pursue must reflect continuity and coherence, in particular when conferred on them by the international community. 

 4. Humanitarian action and peace-keeping operations  

To com plete the picture, mention should also be made of situations in which humanitarian activities and a peace-keeping operation authorized by the UN are deployed at the same time -- irrespective of whether that operation is conducted by UN forces or by those of a regional organization.

Although peace-keeping operations are in principle conducted with the consent of all the parties concerned, they nevertheless have diverse mandates and are set up by a body which has an essentially political function, namely, the UN Security Council. One cannot therefore expect such operations to be perceived as neutral within the meaning ascribed to the term under international humanitarian law. What is more, the fact that they often comprise tasks relating more to humanitarian assistance than to peace-keeping tends to create a great deal of confusion and thereby to jeopardize the security of humanitarian organizations. Indeed, this confusion alters the perception which the parties to a conflict have of the neutrality, independence and impartiality of humanitarian action, whereas it is essential to the acceptability of humanitarian workers, and hence to their security, that the parties be firmly convinced of the adherence of humanitarian organizations to these principles.

When the structured authorities are crumbling or have collapsed, it may be necessary to intervene so as to restore security conditions enabling assistance and protection operations to take place. However, such operations are inevitably military in nature and it is therefore important to draw a clear distinction (one that is both real and viewed as such by the belligerents) between the forces that conduct them and the humanitarian organizations that come to the aid of the population. Since this distinction is difficult to maintain and to get people to understand, every effort must first be made, unless the other options have been exhausted, to avoid getting into confused and dangerous situations of this type.

 5. The physical protection of humanitarian workers  

When banditry and other forms of criminal violence target relief supplies and humanitarian personnel, aid agencies may have to resort, in order to perform their work, to exceptional security measures. These may include the use of passive means of protection such as bullet-proof vests, armoured vehicles, or sandbags to protect buildings.

It is nevertheless essential for these agencies always to operate strictly within the confines of humanitarian action and therefore to conciliate these material security measures with the principles which guide that action. Without prejudging the solutions adopted by other organizations, whose means and aims may differ from its own, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement considers that the best protection against violence consists in abiding faithfully by the principles of humanitarian action, in particular those of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. It is thus basically opposed to the use of armed escorts for the protection of the convoys of its diverse components engaged in an international operation, since the association of weapons of any kind with their personnel represents a major risk of confusion and could permanently damage the image - so essential to its survival - of a Movement which wants to remain unfailingly faithful to the principles mentioned above. These principles are an essential guarantee for the ICRC and the other components of the Movement that their action, based on the confidence and consent of the parties concerned, will be efficient and lasting. It is only within this strict framework that they can consider the question of the physical security of its personnel.[3 ]

However, in situations where the collapse of State structures gives rise to rampant banditry which threaten s the delivery of relief, the consent of the parties and passive means of protection are no longer enough to ensure the security of humanitarian convoys. In these highly regrettable situations, limited recourse to armed escorts cannot be entirely ruled out, in the interests of the victims. Here, it is important to distinguish between armed protection for convoys that have been authorized by the parties concerned, on the one hand, and the imposition of humanitarian convoys by force, on the other. Indeed, not only may humanitarian workers be at risk, the population which is to benefit from their aid may in the long term be endangered by massive violations of international humanitarian law and the criminal acts perpetrated by groups of bandits against relief convoys. A tragic situation of this kind can have a highly destabilizing effect on the country as a whole. If it is not quickly resolved, the peace and security of the entire region may be jeopardized. In such cases, it is up to the Security Council, by virtue of the responsibilities devolving on it under the Charter of the United Nations, to take whatever steps it deems appropriate with a view to removing the threat to international peace. [4 ] These measures must create a situation allowing the emergency humanitarian action to be carried out again in conformity with its principles.

As already pointed out, it is preferable to avoid such extreme situations, since military operations and humanitarian activities are carried out in accordance with quite different, when not incompatible, principles. Physical protection is but an exceptional measure intended to offset a breakdown in the respect owed to humanitarian workers. In principle, that respect is enough if the parties to the conflict demonstrate a clear political determination to ensure compliance with the relevant norms of international law.

 II. Legal protection of humanitarian personnel  

 1. Overview  

The protection of the personnel of humanitarian organizations is a matter which falls within the scope of both international and national law. In international law, this protection takes several forms: there are the norms contained in various treaties, the resolutions and texts adopted within the UN and other forums, and a number of other measures intended for the same purpose. In this report, we shall try to present the most important legal provisions and other measures.[5 ] It should be noted in this connection that in 1985 the United Nations Commission on Human Rights set up an open-ended working group to prepare a draft " Declaration on the right and responsibility of individuals, groups and organs of society to promote and protect universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms " . According to this instrument, which has not yet been adopted, each State must, inter alia, take all the necessary steps to ensure that all the competent authorities protect every person, both individually and in association with others, against any violence, threat, retaliation, de facto or de jure discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action within the context of the legitimate exercise of the right to promote and protect human rights. It should nevertheless be borne in mind that the inalienable human rights remain applicable in all circumstances.

 2. The protection of humanitarian personnel under international humanitarian law     

The fundamental principle of international huma nitarian law according to which a distinction must always be made between combatants and non-combatants is the cornerstone of the protection afforded to the personnel of humanitarian organizations. Persons who are not, or are no longer participating actively in the hostilities, enjoy general protection from the effects of military operations. Accordingly, civilians must be respected and protected in all circumstances. They must always be treated humanely, and any assault against their lives, their health and their physical or mental integrity is prohibited. They must in no case be made the object of attacks and must never be subjected to torture or biological experiments.

This general immunity, which is also enjoyed by the personnel of humanitarian organizations, is strengthened by specific rules of international humanitarian law, some relating to the protection conferred by the red cross/red crescent emblem, and others concerning the protection of staff taking part in relief operations.

 2.1 The 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols of 1977  

 (a)     Protection provided by the red cross/red crescent emblem  

The fundamental aim already of the historic original Geneva Convention, of 1864, was to ensure acceptance of the neutral status of the sick and wounded and of military medical personnel, who needed to enjoy special protection if they were to be able to carry out their mission.

The 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols of 1977 reaffirmed and considerably developed this immunity by extending it to medical personnel and units as well as military and civilian medical transports. The protection pr ovided by these instruments is represented visually by the red cross/red crescent emblem, which strengthens its legal basis. To take account of developments in armed conflicts, Additional Protocol I also gave States the option of identifying medical units and transports by distinctive signals, such as light signals, radio signals or electronic means of identification.

In order to limit as far as possible misuses of the red cross/red crescent emblem, which are likely to impair its protective effect in the event of armed conflict, its use is subject to some very strict regulations. Thus, the emblem can be displayed only with the permission of the relevant authorities and under their control. It is essential for States to enact national legislation on the use and protection of the red cross/red crescent emblem, providing, in particular, for an effective monitoring system and punishment for grave misuse of it.

The main users of the emblem are medical and religious personnel, the medical services of the armed forces and civilian medical units and transports, such as hospitals and ambulances. Under the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, National Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies and other relief societies duly recognized and authorized by their government may provide the medical services of the armed forces with personnel and equipment, which will then be subject to military laws and regulations. Ambulances and first-aid posts may display the emblem in peacetime, under certain conditions (Articles 26, 27 and 38 to 44 of the First Geneva Convention, Articles 41 to 45 of the Second Geneva Convention, Articles 18 to 22 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Articles 8, 9 and 18 of Additional Protocol I and Article 12 of Additional Protocol II).

In addition, the components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement have a special tie to the emblem. The National Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies may use it at any time to indicate the affiliation of their personnel, installations and equipment. They may also use it for protective purposes when serving as auxiliaries to armed forces medical services or when working under the auspices of the ICRC. As regards the ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, they may display the emblem at any time and for all their activities.

A reminder should be given here concerning the special role which the ICRC is called upon to play in armed conflicts. The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols expressly confer certain rights on the ICRC, such as that of acting as a substitute for Protecting Powers and that of access to prisoners of war and persons protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention (Articles 123 of the Third and 143 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions). In addition, the Geneva Conventions give it the right to offer its services to the parties to the conflict. Generally speaking, the ICRC acts as the promoter and guardian of international humanitarian law, and in this capacity it works to ensure respect for this law, as well as its promotion, dissemination and development. In armed conflicts or other situations requiring the intervention of a specifically neutral and independent institution, the ICRC assumes the overall guidance of international Red Cross and Red Crescent operations.

Lastly, another category of personnel is entitled to be respected and protected under international humanitarian law: civil defence staff, who have their own sign, a blue triangle against an orange background.

 (b) The protection of humanitarian personnel taking part in relief operations  

Article 23 of the Fourth Geneva Convention provides that States shall allow the free passage of consignments essential for the civilian population, even under blockade c onditions. Moreover, the Occupying Power has the duty to provide essential supplies for the population of the occupied territories and, if these territories are inadequately supplied, shall agree to the relief schemes of third parties and shall facilitate them by every means at its disposal (Articles 55 and 59 of the Fourth Geneva Convention).

Under the Additional Protocols of 1977, the civilian population is entitled to assistance if its essential supplies are inadequate. In such cases, relief operations that are humanitarian and impartial in character and are conducted without any adverse distinction may be undertaken (Articles 69 ff . of Additional Protocol I and 18 of Additional Protocol II). Offers of assistance fulfilling these conditions shall not be regarded either as interference in the armed conflict or as hostile acts.

With regard to relief personnel, Additional Protocol I specifies that they shall be respected and protected. The party receiving the relief supplies shall, to the fullest extent practicable, facilitate the assistance operations. Only in case of imperative military necessity may the activities of relief personnel be limited or their movements temporarily restricted. However, under no circumstances may such personnel exceed the terms of their mission (Article 71 of Additional Protocol I).

Last but not least, Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions allows an impartial humanitarian body, such as the ICRC, to offer its services to the parties to the conflict.

Generally speaking, the relief operations provided for under international humanitarian law cannot be carried out unless the security of the humanitarian personnel involved is guaranteed. Their safety is therefore directly linked to respect for the law. It should also be noted that relief personnel unaffiliated with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement are in princ iple not entitled to use the red cross/red crescent emblem as a protective device. The problem of the identification of the plethora of non-governmental organizations present in conflict situations and of the norms to be adopted in this respect thus remains unresolved.

 2.2 Measures of protection against mines  

At the time of its adoption, the United Nations Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects, of 10 October 1980, to which three Protocols were annexed, prohibited or restricted the use of the following weapons: non-detectable fragments (Protocol I); mines, booby-traps and other devices (Protocol II); and incendiary weapons (Protocol III).

When it was reviewed in 1996, Protocol II underwent some important changes, in particular the fact that it will henceforth also apply to non-international armed conflicts. Article 8 originally provided for the protection of UN missions from the effects of mines and booby-traps. This article was appreciably strengthened, for the revised version of the Protocol now requires States and other parties to an armed conflict to take the necessary measures to ensure protection for:

-peace-keeping forces and missions;

-humanitarian and fact-finding missions of the UN system;

-missions of the ICRC;

-missions of National Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies or of their International Federation;

-missions of other impartial humanitarian organizations.

Each party to a conflict is thus obliged, in every area under its control, to provide protection against the effects of mines, booby-traps and other devices to all these " protected persons " .

On 22 September 1997 the revised Protocol II had been ratified by 10 States, half as many as are required for it to enter into force.

 3. Other legal measures of protection  

 3.1 Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel  

This Convention was drawn up very hastily in response to the considerable losses of UN personnel suffered as the result of a spectacular increase in the number and scale of peace-keeping and peace-enforcement operations in the early 1990s. It was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1994 and will enter into force when 22 States become party to it. On 30 September 1997, 14 States had ratified the Convention.

This instrument primarily protects personnel engaged directly by the UN and its specialized agencies, but it also protects " associated personnel " assigned to a particular operation by a government or an intergovernmental or non-governmental organization under an agreement with the Secretary-General or with a specialized agency to carry out activities in two situations -- where the operation is for the purpose of maintaining or restoring international peace and security, or where the Security Council or the General Assembly has declared that there exists an exceptional risk to the safety of the personnel participating in the operation (Article 1).

The Convention provides that UN and associated personnel, their equipment and premises shall not be made the object of attack or of any action that prevents them from discharging their mandate. States must take all appropriate measures to ensure the safety of the personnel in question (Article 7).

The Convention nevertheless does not apply " to a United Nations operation auth orized by the Security Council as an enforcement action under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations in which any of the personnel are engaged as combatants against organized armed forces and to which the law of armed   conflicts applies "   (Article 2, para. 2). In hybrid operations involving many categories of personnel, a number of these categories would be deprived of the special protection afforded by the Convention if any one of the participants in the operation could be regarded as a combatant. It should be noted, however, that in such a case the persons in question would be protected under international humanitarian law.

Certain essential provisions of the Convention -- including those delimiting its material field of application -- must be interpreted in the light of the facts and of the practice followed by the UN and its Member States, since the wording of the text is not entirely clear.

The protection of UN and associated personnel is currently being discussed in connection with the preparation of a convention on the establishment of a permanent international criminal court. The International Law Commission has proposed in its draft to include attacks against UN personnel among the crimes subject to the jurisdiction of the court, and this proposal was taken up by several States during the deliberations of the Preparatory Committee set up to draft the convention.

Finally, in view of the independence that the ICRC must retain vis-à-vis other agencies, its delegates working under the protection of the red cross/red crescent emblem are in principle not covered by the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel. They benefit instead from the special protection conferred by the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols (see above).

 3.2 United Nations resolutions  

Access to the victims of armed conflicts by humanitarian organizations and the safety of humanitarian workers have been the subject of many UN resolutions or declarations. In some cases, the texts even go beyond the protection of humanitarian organizations, for example when the Security Council demands respect for peace-keeping forces delivering relief to the civilian population.

In this report, we shall confine ourselves to mentioning some of the most pertinent of these documents.

 (a) General Assembly  

In connection with several recent armed conflicts, the General Assembly has expressed anxiety concerning the safety of UN personnel and the staff of various humanitarian organizations. In resolution 47/160 on the situation in Somalia, for example, the Assembly " calls upon all parties, movements and factions in Somalia to respect fully the security and safety of personnel of the United Nations and its specialized agencies and of non-governmental organizations, and to guarantee their complete freedom of movement throughout Somalia " .   The Assembly has expressed itself in similar terms with regard to other conflicts, such as those in Afghanistan (A/RES 51/195) and in Liberia (A/RES 51/30B).

 (b) Security Council  

Like the General Assembly, the Security Council has adopted a number of resolutions dealing with the safety of UN personnel and the staff of various humanitarian organizations. Basing itself on Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Council has on several occasions demanded that the necessary conditions be created for the unimpeded distribution of humanitarian supplies, urged the parties to cooperate with humanitarian organizations in allowing relief to be delivered in complete security and demanded that the parties to the conflict take the necessary steps to guarantee the safety of the personnel responsible for delivering humanitarian aid (e.g., Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda and Somalia).

While these resolutions focus primarily on UN personnel, they generally also include references to other categories, for instance, to the staff of non-governmental organizations delivering humanitarian aid. It should be noted that the Security Council, concerned with the safety of UN personnel and the staff of humanitarian organizations, has sometimes authorized forces participating in UN military operations or certain Member States " to use all necessary means to establish as soon as possible a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations " (RES 794/1992 concerning Somalia).

 3.3 International Conference for the Protection of War Victims  

During this Conference, held in Geneva from 30 August to 1 September 1993 at the invitation of the Swiss Government, the participants adopted by consensus a declaration denouncing violations of international humanitarian law. This text also referred to the security of humanitarian personnel:

 We demand that measures be taken at the national, regional and international levels to allow assistance and relief personnel to carry out in all safety their mandate in favour of the victims of an armed conflict (Part I, para. 7).

 We urge all States to make every effort to:  

* [...] facilitate speedy and effective relief operations by granting to those humanitarian organizations access to the affected areas, and take the appropriate measures to enhance the respect for their safety, security and integrity, in conformity with applicable rules of international humanitarian law .

* Increase respect for the emblems of the red cross and red crescent as well as for the other emblems provided for by international humanitarian law and protecting medical personnel, objects, installations and means of transport, religious personnel and places of worship, and relief personnel, goods and convoys, as defined in international humanitarian law (Part II, paras. 8 and 9)

 3.4 Privileges and immunities of international organizations  

Under international law, certain organizations enjoy privileges and immunities that are necessary to enable them to exercise their activities in complete independence. For the UN and its specialized agencies, these prerogatives are recognized in the Charter and in various international instruments, particularly the 1947 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the Specialized Agencies. In addition, certain organizations have concluded headquarters agreements with States, determining their legal status in the country concerned and granting privileges and immunities to their representatives.

This question needs to be mentioned here, as there can be no doubt that the legal status of a humanitarian organization in a given country and the immunities granted to it are helpful in guarding against interference which may jeopardize its action as a whole.

For example, there are the many headquarters agreements that the ICRC has concluded on the basis of its international status arising from the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols. This international recognition generally enables it to enjoy a status similar to that of an intergovernmental organization. The ICRC as such and also its delegates thus benefit by immunities enabling it to carry out its humanitarian mandate fully and in some cases providing it with facilities for evacuation in times of crisis. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has also concluded a number of headquarters agreements.

 4. Evaluation of legal protection  

It appears that the personnel of humanitarian organizations are protected in an unequal manner and that the rules intended to guarantee their security are very widely scattered, thus leading to some confusion about the exact scope of such protection. To sum up briefly:

Personnel of the UN and its specialized agencies will be protected in certain situations by the Convention on the Security of United Nations and Associated Personnel, once this instrument enters into force. The Convention will also protect the staff of non-governmental organizations associated with UN operations under a special agreement. The provisions of this instrument are very elaborate, but the Convention has not yet entered into force.

The protection conferred by the red cross/red crescent emblem (and by the distinctive sign pertaining to civil defence) is also very detailed. However, since the regulations on the use of the emblem are quite strict, requiring State authorization and control, their field of application remains limited: although the components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement use the emblem, most humanitarian organizations are not in principle entitled to equivalent protection.

Personnel participating in relief operations of a humanitarian and impartial character are protected by international humanitarian law. This protection is very broad and should therefore cover the security needs of many humanitarian organizations, particularly non-governmental ones. However, there is no protective identifying sign, like the red cross/red crescent emblem, for personnel entitled to such protection.

Finally, there is the very general protection afforded to the civilian population, which also covers the personnel of humanitarian organizations. This form of protection, though real, is not well defined.

Three remarks should be added to this brief summary, as follows:

An assessment of the existing law depends on the definition of humanitarian personnel. Thus, the legal protection of staff involved in relief operations is provided for specifically, while people who are not engaged in relief activities per se are protected only as civilians, or in certain cases by the Convention on the Security of United Nations and Associated Personnel.

There are also some differences concerning the field of application of the rules: whereas international humanitarian law applies only in armed conflicts, this limitation does not affect the Convention on the Security of United Nations and Associated Personnel. Indeed, humanitarian personnel are also exposed to security risks in situations not covered by humanitarian law, such as internal disturbances. There can be no doubt, however, that armed conflicts present the greatest dangers to humanitarian staff, and this report t herefore concentrates on the protection of such staff in these situations, without minimizing security risks occurring in other circumstances.

To conclude, in this area of law as in others, a distinction must be made between the legal rules as such and their application. Whereas the existing rules provide a certain degree of legal protection for humanitarian organizations, all the attacks against humanitarian personnel mentioned at the beginning of this report undeniably constitute grave violations of international humanitarian law.

A special effort must therefore continue to be made with a view to improving and detailing the implementation of international humanitarian law, in particular as regards the repression of crimes against humanitarian personnel.

 III. Proposals for improved protection of personnel of humanitarian organizations  

How could greater protection be given to the personnel of humanitarian organizations? As noted in the first part of this report, several reasons can be found for the prevailing deterioration of security conditions, but how would it be possible to take up in practice the enormous challenges arising from conflicts connected with the disintegration of States [6 ] and those based upon the affirmation of group identity -- bearing in mind that in the first case the law is generally no longer recognized or even a known reference and that in the second there is a deliberate will to go against the law ?

There are of course no easy ways of meeting these challenges. But even if comprehensive solutions cannot be found, an attempt can at least be made to examine some practical measures conducive to improving the general environment in which humanitarian action is conducted. These measures should be taken by the various players involved -- obviously by the Stat es and other parties to an armed conflict, but also by the humanitarian organizations themselves. Only if this twofold condition is fulfilled can there be any hope of strengthening the protection afforded to humanitarian personnel.

Moreover, although it is only right to concentrate on everyone's behaviour during hostilities, it is also important to consider possible preventive measures that may be taken well before an armed conflict breaks out.

 1. Preventive measures in peacetime  

Improved implementation of humanitarian law begins with some very practical measures, which largely exceed the issue of the protection of humanitarian personnel. Although these measures have already been discussed in many other contexts, it may be useful to draw attention to the following ones:

-the ratification of or adherence to the instruments of international humanitarian law, particularly the 1977 Additional Protocols, the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and the 1994 Convention on the Security of United Nations and Associated Personnel;

-the dissemination of international humanitarian law, especially among military and security forces but also among the civilian population, with special stress on respect for and protection of humanitarian action and humanitarian personnel, and on the protective nature of the red cross/red crescent emblems;

-the adoption of national measures for the implementation of international humanitarian law, particularly those intended to protect the use of the red cross/red crescent emblem - and thus put an end to the dangerous misuse of the emblem - and to punish perpetrators of attacks against humanitarian personnel.

 2. Ethics and operational principles of humanitarian action  

With the growing number of organizations present in conflict situations, the need to raise the professional standards of humanitarian action is making itself increasingly felt. In addition to the principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality, a real system of humanitarian ethics needs to be developed and applied. Adoption of ethical norms such as those set forth in the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Disaster Relief, will no doubt help to attain this goal.

The security of humanitarian personnel will also be enhanced if they themselves respect the principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality in their day-to-day behaviour. Aid workers should also take care not to run against the culture and customs of the people living in the countries and regions where they are carrying out their activities. Humanitarian organizations must pay particular attention to these factors in the recruitment and training of their staff. Better knowledge and understanding of the working environment and a greater listening capacity are indispensable for the smooth running of an operation.

Moreover, it is important for humanitarian organizations to establish a dialogue with the authorities and the beneficiaries of their activities with a view to gaining their confidence. They must explain the nature of these activities so as to avoid creating misunderstandings or raising false hopes. Understanding and acceptance of their work will be further enhanced if the population is directly involved and if local structures, such as the National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society, are strengthened.

It is also essential to give priority to activities designed to restore the population's self-sufficiency. Large-scale relief operations should be undertaken only as a last resort, since they can have negative effects which should not be overlooked.

With regard to the use of armed escorts, humanitarian organizations must assess with great care the impact of resorting to such a means, as it could expose them to serious problems in the short, medium and long terms. Nevertheless, the use of armed guards for protecting offices and residences against common criminals cannot be entirely ruled out.

 3. Consultation between humanitarian organizations and coordination of their activities  

At a time when the number of humanitarian organizations is constantly on the rise, it is especially desirable for them to develop a dialogue at the operational level, enabling them to exchange information on security matters.

Moreover, there can be no doubt that respect for each other's mandates, a spirit of complementarity and effective coordination of their activities will not only help to ensure that their resources are used to the best advantage, but will also have the effect of enhancing the safety of their personnel.

 4. Specific measures to ensure the safety of humanitarian organizations personnel  

The parties to an armed conflict must take all appropriate measures to ensure the safety of the personnel of humanitarian organizations. They must take steps to protect them from all attacks and also to protect their official premises, private residences and means of transport.

States must do everything in their power to grant and guarantee to humanitarian organizations and to their personnel the immunities they req uire to carry out their tasks in complete independence, most particularly those relating to their safety.

 5  . Criminal investigations and prosecution  

Following attacks and other violations of the integrity of the personnel of humanitarian organizations, as in the case of all serious violations of international humanitarian law, it is vitally important for the belligerents to initiate a thorough investigation without delay and to take the necessary steps to seek out the culprits. Any such investigation must be conducted independently and impartially and its results must in principle be made public.

It is also essential for those responsible to be brought to justice as quickly as possible, or to be extradited to a State wishing to prosecute them, particularly if they have committed serious violations of the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols. The obligation to repress grave breaches will continue to exist even after the establishment of a permanent international criminal court, an event which is awaited with eager anticipation and which should supplement and encourage efforts to be made at the national level. Everything must be done to put an end to the present regime of impunity.

In particular, it is essential that States cooperate with one another, exchange information and provide one another with the widest possible mutual aid in legal matters. Recourse should also be had to commissions of enquiry such as the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission.

 6. Responsibilities of the international community  

All the States party to the Geneva Conventions, even if they are not involved in an armed conflict, have undertaken to ensure respect for these instruments (Article 1 common to the four Geneva Conventions). In the event of serious violations of the Conventions, they have agreed to act with a view to putting an end to them, jointly or individually, in cooperation with the UN and in conformity with its Charter (Article 89 of Additional Protocol I). There can be no doubt that attacks against the personnel of humanitarian organizations constitute serious violations of humanitarian law.

It should therefore be emphasized how important it is for States, especially within the framework of the UN, to assume fully their political role with regard to armed conflicts. They must avoid limiting their response to support for humanitarian action when what is required to put an end to mass violations of international humanitarian law, such as the large-scale massacre of civilians, is political or even military action. Adopting a humanitarian approach cannot be used as an excuse for failure to take effective action. Indeed, intervention by States should be such as to restore the security conditions necessary to enable humanitarian organizations to accomplish their tasks in accordance with their mandates.

Moreover, it is important for States to denounce attacks against the staff of humanitarian organizations with the utmost firmness and to consider taking appropriate measures to obtain respect for humanitarian personnel on the part of the protagonists in the conflict.

One of the causes contributing to the current destabilization of the humanitarian environment is clearly the growing risk of confusion between military and/or political measures and humanitarian action. It is therefore crucial for States involved in peace-keeping or peace-making operations to pay special attention to this problem and to do their utmost to respect the distinction between the respective roles of p olitical and humanitarian players.


1.   For a discussion of these issues, see the document entitled " Armed conflicts linked to the disintegration of State structures " .

2.   International Court of Justice, Reports of judgments, advisory opinions and orders: Case concerning military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua , 27 June 1986, p. 125, para. 243.

3. This position was clearly reaffirmed in Resolution 4 adopted by the 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (Geneva, December 1995), whereby the Conference, " recalling that, according to the Statutes of the Movement, each component of the Movement should respect at all times the Fundamental Principles enshrined in these Statutes [... ] , and that States should at all times respect the Movement's adherence to the Fundamental Principles " , called upon States, in operative paragraph G (2)(c) " to take note that the security of the operations and personnel of the ICRC, the National Societies and the international Federation is based on their adherence to the Fundamental Principles and that they do not use armed protection unless confronted with exceptional circumstances and not without the approval of the authority in control of the territory concerned " .

4. On this point, see the document entitled " Armed conflicts linked to the disintegration of State structures " , on this public server, under " new conflicts " .

5. This report does not deal with protectors of human rights, who constitute a separate category of personnel.

6. See the document entitled " Armed conflicts linked to the disintegration of State structures " .

 Ref. LG 1997-147-ENG