Multilateralism plays an important role in alleviating suffering and creating conditions for peace
Interactive Dialogue to commemorate and promote the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace
Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross
Delivered by Laetitia Courtois, Permanent Observer
5 May 2021
Thank you, Mr. President, for inviting the International Committee of the Red Cross to participate in today's event on this International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy.
Today, I will provide examples of effective multilateralism and the important role it plays in alleviating suffering and creating conditions for peace. I will close with a word on the future of consensus-building and multilateralism.
First, let us look at some multilateral diplomacy success stories.
The quintessential example and proof that multilateralism and diplomacy can work is in the universally ratified Geneva Conventions. Adopted in 1949, the Conventions form the core of international humanitarian law. These rules created important multilateral consensus on the limits of violence to reduce human suffering and protect essential infrastructure.
The Geneva Conventions also gave a clear mandate to the ICRC and to the National Societies of the Red Cross and Red Crescent to prevent and alleviate suffering. With the inclusion of this mandate, States recognized the importance of impartial humanitarian action.
Indeed, humanitarian actors are not peace builders: neutral, impartial, independent humanitarian action is distinct from political agendas and must remain so.
Yet, while States and others make peace, humanitarian action can help make peace possible.
Frontline humanitarian action can be a stabilizing factor in fragmented environments and a building block towards stability. Principled humanitarian action serves to protect against development reversals or societal division caused by the effects of armed conflict.
Humanitarian actors can also help facilitate confidence-building measures such as in keeping families connected by addressing the issue of missing persons. We also act as neutral intermediaries to facilitate the release and return of people detained in relation to fighting, as we saw in October 2020 when the ICRC helped facilitate the release of more than 1,000 people detained in relation to the conflict in Yemen. The operation was a result of talks that built upon the Stockholm Agreement of 2018.
Multilateralism works when states pursue a common goal. It happened recently in March 2021 when states adopted by consensus the report of the Open-ended Working Group on ICTs (cyber). States shared the view that there are potentially devastating humanitarian consequences of malicious ICT activities on critical infrastructure supporting essential services to the public. States concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the importance of protecting healthcare infrastructure including medical services and facilities through the implementation of relevant norms.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is another example of multilateralism in action. It is the promise that one day we will be freed of the dark shadow of these indiscriminate and inhumane weapons. Our collective work is far from complete. We must intensify our efforts to promote adherence to the Treaty, ensure that its provisions are faithfully implemented and take the Treaty all the way to its goal: a world without nuclear weapons.
I raise these examples to illustrate that multilateral diplomacy agreements developed by States create norms and develop international humanitarian law to ensure that legal limits are in place. I also raise these examples because in them we see that IHL is integral to multilateralism and that multilateralism is integral to IHL.
Next, I want to say a word on the global challenges we face and the future of consensus-building. Climate change, the pandemic, protracted conflicts, rising inequality are incredibly complex, interconnected and often transnational issues. To address these challenges, States must work together through the international system to preserve hard-won gains and to break through deadlocks. But States cannot do this alone.
The future for consensus-building cannot just be multilateral: it also must be multistakeholder. It must bring together different actors to unlock solutions. One group's response will not be enough on its own. We must involve local institutions and nongovernment actors, the UN, development actors, civil society, the private sector and others.
In this way the international community can address key challenges of today, whether they be flash points arising from protracted or new conflicts, or promoting and ensuring respect for human rights and IHL.
As we've seen in the past, multilateralism can work. And the people caught in armed conflict or suffering from the impacts of COVID, climate change, food insecurity or other challenges – they depend on multilateral, multi-stakeholder diplomacy that works.