Archived page: may contain outdated information!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

Co-operation between the OSCE and the ICRC

25-10-2001 Statement

Permanent Council of the OSCE, Vienna, 25 October 2001. Statement by Dr Jakob Kellenberger, President of the ICRC



 1. Introduction  

I thank the Romanian Chairmanship for having been invited to speak before your Council. This has become a tradition, it is also a pleasure. Why? It seems to me that you, in the OSCE, take the concept of interacting institutions really seriously and are convinced of the mutually reinforcing nature of interaction between Organisations and Institutions. What better expression of this conviction than your first annual Report on Interaction between Organisations and Institutions in the OSCE area.

The ICRC wit h its world-wide staff of 12'000, is, as you well know, an impartial, neutral and independent organisation whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence and to provide them with assistance. 23% of ICRC planned operational expenditure for this year (budget extensions so far included) relate to member countries of the OSCE. Two of them -the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Russian Federation- are among the ICRC's ten major operations in terms of engaged human resources and planned expenditure. The programmes of the ICRC in these two countries remind you also of the fact that the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons as consequence of conflicts fall within the mandate of the ICRC. Simplified: They are to the ICRC what refugees are to the UNHCR. Currently the ICRC is assisting more than five Million IDP's world-wide.

go to top of page


 2. Field Operations  



 Afghanistan and Region  


In relation to Afghanistan a distinction has to be made between ICRC's activities inside Afghanistan and around Afghanistan. Inside Afghanistan the ICRC still has a network of eight offices and six prosthetic/orthotic centres with altogether some 1'000 local staff. Following the departure of all non-Afghan staff of international humanitarian organisations working in Afghanistan, the delivery of much-needed assistance, especially food to cover urgent needs has become increasingly difficult. ICRC national staff did carry out distribution of food in Kabul this week to around 50'000 people. Efficient food assistance, this cannot be underlined enough, requests organisational measures which ensure the impartial distribution to those most in need. All 16 hospitals and 14 first-aid posts supported by the ICRC across Afghanistan are still running. The physical rehabilitation programmes for amputees and disabled people are going on in the four centres in Taliban-controlled areas and at two centres in Northern Alliance Territory.

 Around Afghanistan the ICRC has established new supply routes (in particular through Iran) in addition to the one established through Peshawar and Dushanbe/Khorog and opened additional warehouses. The pre-positioned stocks outside Afghanistan will enable the ICRC to assist more than half a million civilians inside Afghanistan as soon as the security situations permit.

It is very important for the victims that the States neighbouring Afghanistan facilitate the establishment of humanitarian infrastructure on their territory and permit the entry, stockp iling and the flow of all goods necessary to the survival of the Afghan population into Afghanistan. This would be in concordance with the spirit of article23 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which provides for the free passage of all consignments of medical and hospital stores, essential foodstuffs, clothing and other items for the civilian population of a Party in conflict.

The fact that the situation of the Afghan population has taken a marked turn for the worse since 7 October should not make us forget the dramatic humanitarian situation in Afghanistan before the attacks in the United States on 11 September condemned by the ICRC on the very day as a negation of the most basic principles of humanity.



 Russian Federation, Northern Caucasus in particular  


In Moscow and in the Northern Caucasus , co-operation with the OSCE has involved providing continuing briefings on issues related to the mandate of the ICRC and to matters of concern related to the missions of the Chairman in Office and his Representatives. The ICRC has also pursued its co-operation with the OSCE Assistance Group following its redeployment in the area on 15 June of this year. Likewise, the ICRC co-ordinates its activities with the United Nations and non-governmental organizations active in the area. For the ICRC, co-ordination of operations and information-sharing on humanitarian needs and responses do not amount to adhering to political positions taken by any of these organizations nor to their interpretations of the situations in question. It should be remembered that when its activities are concerned, protection activities in particular, the ICRC shares its observations exclusively with the directly concerned civilian and military authorities.

The ICRC's activities in the Northern Caucasus are focussed on the protection of persons detained in relation to the hostilities in Chechnya, and the ICRC regularly visits detainees with the full co-operation of the relevant authorities of the Russian Federation. A very substantial part of ICRC's efforts is also devoted to assisting the affected civilian population in Chechnya and those internally displaced in neighbouring Ingushetia, Daghestan and administative regions of Southern Russia.   The ICRC hopes that the situation will permit a shift of the bulk of its assistance and rehabilitation activities into Chechnya proper. 

The co-operation with the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces of the Russian Federation for the training of these forces in the Laws of Armed Conflict is working well. 



 Nagorny Karabakh Conflict  


The concertation with the OSCE Minsk Group in relation to initiatives dealing with humanitarian issues relevant to the ICRC has been positive. I think in particular of the liberation and repatriation of prisoners of war. In the event of a peaceful settlement of the conflict, it will be essential to include the full scope of humanitarian issues in the peace agreement. These include demining, the safe and voluntary return of displaced persons and refugee s, and the particularly delicate issue of missing persons. I am sure the ICRC can count on the full support of the OSCE in this respect. 





The renewed outbreak of fighting in the Kodori Valley and the regain in tension in the UN security zone underline the importance of the issue of the security of humanitarian and other personnel. The recent tragic incident in which nine members of the UN observer team were killed reminds us of the dangers that still exist. Security is no doubt an area where co-operation can and should be strengthened. 



 Federal Republic of Yugoslavia  


In Kosovo, the ICRC benefits from the work of the OSCE in several ways and co-operates with your organization to meet the needs of specific groups. The OSCE departments in Kosovo produce reports of great value to the ICRC in its work on minorities and detention activities (e.g. on the issue of judicial guarantees for persons detained). Our two organizations work together closely towards the determination of the fate of persons missing in relation to the events in Kosovo, the OSCE being a regular and active member of the inter-agency Working Group for the Missing chaired by the ICRC. This close co-operation is also reflecte d in the training of the Kosovo Police Services in human rights matters and policing in situations of internal disturbances, with a pilot course on the agenda for November 2001.

Finally, the contacts between the two organizations are also close at the field level, the dialogue on minorities issues being particularly noteworthy in this regard.



 Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia  


Both the ICRC and the OSCE have maintained a presence in the FYROM for much of the last decade. The ICRC is a regular participant in the productive weekly information-sharing meetings that are hosted by the OSCE. On the whole, relations between our two organizations in FYROM are excellent.

Here too, complementarity is the key word. No duplications, no gaps either. In this sense you will certainly also uphold the view that there be no OSCE activities which could undermine or overlap with those that the ICRC is currently undertaking in line with its protection mandate. I refer to the field of detention and to the prevention and clarification of cases of disappearances and missing persons.

go to top of page


 3. Thematic Issues  



 Civil-military co-operation  


On the whole, the co-operation experience of the ICRC with the military has been positive. Two comments however in this respect, no doubt quite familiar to your ears:

The distinction between military and humanitarian objectives and actions should not be blurred by such co-operation. Humanitarian action cannot, by itself, prevent nor resolve conflicts: this responsibility falls clearly on the shoulders of political actors. Humanitarian action can therefore in no circumstances be advanced as a substitute for political inaction, nor can it be subordinated to political prerogatives, strategies or objectives.



 Small Arms and explosive remnants of war  


The ICRC warmly welcomes the adoption in November 2000 of the OSCE Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons . The comprehensive set of actions envisaged in this document, when implemented, will contribute to reducing the immense human costs of the easy availability of small arms and light weapons. It will be important to make sure that the measures are implemented both on regional and national levels.

Over the past two years the ICRC has sought to document and raise awareness of the global humanitarian problem caused by explosive remnants of war . Examples of the problem abound. Two from the OSCE area: According to Polish government 88 million pieces of unexploded ordnance were cleared between 1945 and 1981, while some 13'000 people were killed or injured from such ordnance. In the year following the conflict in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia cluster bomb submunitions and other unexploded munitions were responsible for 64% of the nearly 500 casualties from explosive ordnance in Kosovo, as compared to 36% from anti-personnel mines. Most conflicts in recent decades have also left large quantities of explosive debris. With the rapid spread of systems which deliver huge volumes of ordnance over long distances this problem is likely to become worse in the years ahead unless urgent action is taken.

The ICRC has urged States Parties to the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons to establish, at their December Review Conference, a mandate for a group of governmental experts to begin negotiations on a new protocol on explosive remnants of war, to be completed within a short time frame. Such a protocol should address a variety of issues including the responsibility for clearance of unexploded munitions as well as the provision of technical information to facilitate clearance and to warn civilian populations of the dangers. The ICRC hopes that all OSCE States Parties will support this initiative. 



 The missing  


The right of families to know the fate of their loved ones with whom they have lost contact due to an armed conflict or internal disturbances is a fundamental aspect of IHL and Human Rights law and an issue of major concern for the ICRC, not least in the Balkans.

Issues related to people unaccounted for remain a reality for countless families in all situations of armed conflict and internal violence and continue to do so long afterwards. This is a tragedy for families and often becomes a handicap during the peace process and transition period. The OSCE, with its important role in the field of conflict prevention, must be particularly sensitive to this issue.

The ICRC attempts to prevent disappearances, to re-establish interrupted family links, and to clarify the fate of those whose families are without news. In most contexts a lack of political will on the part of the authorities or parties concerned makes it difficult or almost impossible for the ICRC to effectively undertake this last task which has been conferred upon it. 

In the face of these challenges and in parallel to its concrete work in the field, the ICRC is undertaking a major study on all possible methods that could be employed to more effectively know the fate of persons unaccounted for and to more appropriately respond to the needs of families that have lost contact with their loved ones. This process will involve all the actors concerned. It will mobilize governmental and non-governmental experts. I am confident that ICRC will be able to count on the excellent co-operation with the OSCE in this respect. It would be unfortunate if the lack of a common approach would lead to duplication of work between different humanitarian and other actors.



 Women in armed conflicts  


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) launched on 17 October 2001 Women Facing War , its study on the impact of armed conflict on women. The study aims to heighten awareness of the plight of women in conflict situations and of the protection to which they are entitled. Women Facing War identifies the needs of women in wartime, analyses the relevant provisions of international humanitarian law, human rights and refugee law, and outlines the ICRC's work for and with women affected by armed conflict. Above all, the main findings of the study form a solid basis for operational activities of the ICRC with the aim to improve protection and assistance of women affected by war.

Women experience war in a multitude of ways. While in some cases they may be combatants, they are usually civilians. The focus of the study is on issues such as personal safety, sexual violence, displacement, access to health care, food and shelter, the detention of women, and less talked-of matters such as the problem of missing relatives and how it affects the survivors - often women. Another aspect which is highlighted is the way armed conflict forces women into unfamiliar roles and demands stronger coping skills. The review of law undertaken in the study reveals that the rules provided by international law for the protection of women are quite complete. The challenge, here like elsewhere, lies in ensuring respect and implementation of this law.

go to top of page


 4. Implementation and Interpretation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL)  

In Europe, the priority areas in the field of implementation of IHL are the punishment of war crimes and other violations of IHL at the national level; the ratification and effective implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; strengthening co-operation and exchange of information between European IHL committees and the protection of cultural property from the effects of armed conflict. Recent activities of the ICRC in these areas include: reviewing and providing comments on national laws for the punishment of war crimes; producing practical advice for States on protection of cultural property, following an experts'meeting organised by the Advisory Service of the ICRC in Geneva in October 2000; hosting a meeting of European IHL committees in Budapest in February 2001; and assisting States to conduct studies to determine the changes or modifications in national law and procedures which will be required to enable effective co-operation with the International Criminal Court. 

The ICRC Advisory Service has legal advisers based in the ICRC's Regional Delegations in Budapest and Moscow to assist States in the region. The ICRC remains interested in an OSCE seminar on the national implementation of IHL to be organised in 2002.

The ICRC study on customary rules of International Humanitarian Law is nearing completion. It will be published in 2002. This will bring to an end four years of intensive research and will result in two publications one summarising contemporary rules of customary law and the other containing the State practice on which these rules are based. The study will be useful in many respects. A very important one: Rules of customary international law apply in all States. As a result, the rules that have been identified as customary international law can be invoked against every State. This will be particularly useful where States have not ratified the Additional Protocols or in cases of non-international armed conflict where few treaty rules exist.

go to top of page


 5. Conclusions   

It is a source of satisfaction to review the co-operation between the OSCE and the ICRC. The exchange of information is working in the different contexts, we are associating each other to working groups chaired by one of us, we co-operate in specific projects. You show an authentic interest in the activities carried out by our institution and you are generous enough to regularly offer us the OSCE platform in order to promote issues close to our heart. I think, looking back at the time since I am in office, of the Human Dimension Seminar devoted to children in armed conflict in May 2000, of the Human Dimension Meeting on Migrat ion and Internal Displacement in September 2000, the possibility to take stock of the issue of implementation of IHL in the yearly meetings on the implementation of the human dimensions and other opportunities. Our habits of co-operation are solid enough and our channels of communication are working well enough that we can resolve problems and difficulties which may arise in certain contexts. Useless duplication and sterile competition is not our business, we want to strengthen each other in our core activities in an authentic spirit of complementarity. It goes without saying this basic attitude is also very important for the relationship between the humanitarian organisations.

Among the main challenges the ICRC is facing world-wide are:

  • access to the victims and management of security

  • to remain and to be perceived as independent, impartial and neutral actor

  • the efficient co-ordination and co-operation with other actors while maintaining a clear independent identity

  • the clear positioning of the ICRC in relation to an increasing number of actors and the activities in the fields of prevention - humanitarian urgency - rehabilitation - development

  • mobilise States and organisations to ensure implementation and respect for IHL. The importance of this point can hardly be overestimated. Rules are not lacking, lacking is often the political will to implement them. It is, to recall just one example, often violations of IHL which are at the root of the displacement of civilians.

If some of these challenges can be met more easily in the OSCE area than in other parts of the world it has quite something to do with the existence of the OSCE and its activities. We also feel in the ICRC that the OSCE is an important partner on the challenging path from a culture of impunit y to a culture of accountability.