Archived page: may contain outdated information!
  • Send page
  • Print page

Update on the Wolfsberg Humanitarian Forum


Between 8 and 10 June 1997, the ICRC hosted a Humanitarian Forum attended by around 20 of the most important donor countries, the European Commission and the World Bank, as well as the main United Nations humanitarian organizations, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and several NGOs. The Forum was intended as a follow-up to a similar meeting convened in December 1995 by Ms Emma Bonino, Member of the European Commission.

 Objectives of the Forum  

The aim of the meeting was to hold informal discussions about the difficulties humanitarian organizations face in carrying out their activities:

- firstly, the problem of access to victims, violations of international humanitarian law, the politicization of humanitarian action, deliberate attacks on the staff of humanitarian organizations working in the field, etc.;

- secondly, the relationship between environmental degradation and the outbreak of armed conflicts.

As discussions were very frank and open it was possible to identify numerous points of convergence. At the final press conference they were summarized as follows by the President of the ICRC:

 Closer dialogue between humanitarian and political players  

There is a need not only for humanitarian organizations to close ranks but also for greater dialogue between humanitarian and political players so that, at their respective levels of responsibility, both can respond more effectively to humanitarian tragedies.

 The limits of humanitarian action  

Numerous participants emphasized the limits of humanitarian action. For example, it would be illusory to think that humanitarian action is an adequate response to deliberate genocide. In that kind of situation the international community needs to use other means, which are no longer humanitarian in nature - including the use of force.

 International humanitarian law remains the point of reference  

Participants confirmed that international humanitarian law remains the point of reference in the protection of victims of armed conflicts. Problem areas are the mechanisms for implementing international humanitarian law and the challenge of finding effective means to ensure that it is respected. Participants repeatedly stated that the impunity of war criminals was intolerable. In this respect, the concept of an international war-crimes tribunal continues to gain ground. It was pointed out that, in the meantime, States already had the power to prosecute individuals for war crimes at the national level.

 Analysis of recent difficulties  

Some current examples of failure or severe difficulties experienced in humanitarian action were analyzed. On several occasions, participants expressed their sense of powerlessness in particular situations. Specifically, they called on the new government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to do everything possible to allow humanitarian organizations immediate access to Rwandan refugees remaining in the country.

 The next Forum  

In light of the fact that Forum participants, including several m inisters and high-ranking representatives of United Nations humanitarian agencies, expressed a strong interest in this type of meeting, the President of the ICRC suggested that another, similar event should be organized next year.