Speech by ICRC president at Brussels Conference on Afghanistan

Speech by Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, at the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan, 5 October 2016.

Dear colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

When you fly over Afghanistan, it is impossible not to marvel at the snow-covered Hindu Kush, the beauty of the country as it unfolds beneath you.

Yet the moment you get off the plane, be it in Kabul, Kandahar or Mazar-i-Sharif, you become acquainted with another side of the reality: insecurity, suffering, generations of people who have never known peace.

The figures have been quoted extensively. Progress has happened in many areas as mentioned, but: deaths, injuries, mutilations, attacks on health-care facilities, and overall humanitarian needs are all on the rise, and they have been for years.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is the largest international humanitarian organization working in Afghanistan. Present in the country for 30 years, accepted and respected by all parties of the conflict, we bring neutral, independent and impartial aid to people in need, regardless of what side of the conflict they may be on – and we cooperate closely with our colleagues from the Afghan Red Crescent Society.

With over 2,000 staff working in 14 offices in all provinces, and an annual budget close to 100 million US dollars, we work in what is not a forgotten conflict, but an ignored conflict. It's not a low-intensity conflict, but one defined by its extreme volatility and uncertainty, with dramatic humanitarian consequences for the people in Afghanistan.

I commend the efforts of those working towards a broad-based peace process and a lasting solution to the conflict, although they have not yet led to a better humanitarian situation for too many.

For the time being the reality, despite all progress, is one of a fragile and war-torn society, affected by decreased donor funding, the departure of international NGOs, rampant insecurity and incessant attacks on civilians resulting in a precarious humanitarian situation. The unacceptable has become the status quo, as opportunities are too scarce and hopes too elusive.

The intractable situation of life in Afghanistan, fuelled by violence, potentially in any place, at any time, has resulted in many Afghan people fleeing. More than 1 million people are displaced internally, and the figures continue to grow every week. I saw it myself, when I was in Afghanistan earlier this year: many people have been displaced for years, decades or even generations.

They are trapped in the uncertainty of forced displacement, forever weighing the risks of staying against the risks of leaving.

Some have made their way to foreign countries. They seek safety and opportunities in Iran and Pakistan, but also in some European countries.

To those countries and to the European Union, I want to say clearly: if you wish to contribute to a better management of population movements, stick to the options that humanitarian law and refugee law offer, contribute to stabilizing lives and livelihoods of people and help expand opportunities for them in Afghanistan, starting with those displaced in the country – do not play Russian roulette with their futures.

I commend the ambition of this conference and its hosts, to garner support for development in Afghanistan. Development is direly needed and the ICRC is committed to contributing to this goal, through humanitarian operations that help people long-term by improving basic services. Our physical rehabilitation programme, which last year alone helped over 130,000 people with services ranging from prostheses and physiotherapy to vocational training, education and economic programmes, is a good example.

What we do works.

We know that because we have been present in Afghanistan for almost three decades, and we see the difference it makes in the lives of people.

We know that our neutral, independent, impartial approach works because it allows us to deliver aid and support people in all the regions of the country, regardless of front lines and politics.

We know that progress can be made through working with all weapon bearers to make international humanitarian law better known, understood and respected.

We also know that the current situation in Afghanistan is untenable for too many. While political solutions remain challenging, we will continue to do everything we can to reduce the humanitarian suffering of the Afghan people, and I hope I can count on your support for our work.

Thank you.