Strengthening the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations, 2016

09 December 2016

Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the UN, including special economic assistance, agenda item 69 (a), United Nations General Assembly, 71st session. Statement by the ICRC.

This year has been a big year in UN policy making. Agenda 2030 came into force. The New York Declaration on Migrants and Refugees and the New Urban Agenda were all agreed by States.

Each of these involves important humanitarian commitments. The ICRC welcomes them and is ready to advise on humanitarian aspects of the Compacts on Migrants and Refugees which States will start developing in 2017.

The World Humanitarian Summit brought focus to several important areas of humanitarian policy like protracted conflict, IDPs, localization, the relief-development nexus, cash transfers, education and the inclusion of disabled people.

This year is also the 25th anniversary of GA Resolution 46/182.

Our remarks concentrate on respect for IHL, the link between Agenda 2030 and humanitarian action, on the significance of GA 46/182 today and on two particular groups of vulnerable people – IDPs and the Missing.

Generating respect for IHL

The need to generate greater respect for international humanitarian law (IHL) has rightly been an important priority in UN policy during 2016. Countless attacks on healthcare facilities and health workers led to UN Security Council Resolution 2286 which included a strong reaffirmation of the importance and relevance of the laws protecting healthcare delivery in armed conflict.

More widely, IHL violations by State and non-State armed groups have continued across many armed conflicts. Humanitarian access has remained deeply problematic in several contexts.

States’ efforts to respect IHL and ensure respect for IHL need to be significantly improved.

Agenda 2030

The agreement on Agenda 2030 is a major achievement by States. But Agenda 2030 must not obscure the distinct role of humanitarian action.

It is not the main purpose of humanitarian action to meet the SDGs, and the ICRC does not pursue a particular ideology of political, economic and social progress. Our action focuses on need alone.

However, principled humanitarian action may make a special contribution to meeting basic human needs identified in the SDGs, especially for people “left behind” in armed conflicts. Many basic human needs prioritized in the SDGs – like safety, nutrition, health, water, education, livelihoods and legal protection – are also prioritised in IHL and humanitarian action.

In protracted conflicts, humanitarian action can hold development infrastructure and services at a basic level and even function as a safety net. Smart collaboration between humanitarian actors, public authorities, development institutions and businesses can enable some continuity of SDGs during and after armed conflict. But humanitarian action is not development or peace-building which tend to have political goals.

GA 46/182

Resolution 46/182 remains important today. It recognizes State sovereignty and prioritizes the role and responsibility of States in the coordination, implementation and facilitation of neutral and impartial humanitarian action. It also recognizes the importance of respecting IHL and the vital additional role of principled humanitarian organizations in strengthening humanitarian response.

Our operational experience is clear: this combination of a responsible and actively engaged State allowing and facilitating principled humanitarian action works best to protect and assist the victims of armed conflict. When States embrace their humanitarian responsibilities, the ICRC is better able to reach people and support or provide the services they need. An effective government is often the difference between humanitarian success and humanitarian failure.

IDPs and the Missing

Finally, our operations suggest that two groups of people deserve significant attention in global humanitarian policy today: urban IDPs and Missing people and their families.

Urban IDPs form a growing category of people whose conditions require a more coordinated response. The majority of the world’s IDPs now live in urban areas, usually alongside the urban poor. IDPs and their host communities share many similar needs. States should focus more effort on integrating urban IDPs and their host communities into improved basic services and livelihood opportunities. We welcome the commitment of the World Bank and UNDP to partner with governments, municipal authorities and humanitarian organisations to support State capacity to meet the needs of IDPs.

Missing people and their families also require better coordination of humanitarian services. Here, the ICRC is facing increasing needs as missing migrants are added to people missing in armed conflicts. The emotional pain and socio-economic impact felt by their families is deep and lasting. People need a concerted effort by States to enable and link up the search for missing people. The ICRC stands ready to support these greater efforts.

Next year

2017 will be taken up with the important work of rolling out new global policies agreed this year, and developing the Compacts on Migrants and Refugees.

The humanitarian role and responsibilities of States must remain central and in line with their obligations under international and domestic law.

The need to clarify the relationship between humanitarian action and Agenda 2030 will be key.

The needs of people, like IDPs and the Missing, must be at the heart of new humanitarian policies.

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