Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance
United Nations, General Assembly, 56th session, Plenary, item 20 of the agenda – Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 26 November 2001
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) wishes to thank you for giving it the opportunity to speak on a subject of paramount importance, namely humanitarian coordination. Indeed, the sheer dimensions of the human suffering resulting from the numerous conflicts raging in the world, together with the complexity prevalent in most humanitarian crises, go far beyond the capacity of any single organization. This is among the reasons why the number of humanitarian actors in the field, with different mandates, areas of expertise and varying resources, has registered a considerable increase in recent years. However, in spite of these developments, the ICRC is deeply distressed by the toll paid by civilians in general, and more so the particularly vulnerable among them, such as women and children. It is therefore but natural that coordination has come to form an intrinsic part of the universal humanitarian effort, if indeed such endeavour is to gain in overall effectiveness.
For the ICRC, the whole issue of humanitarian coordination basically involves two sets of challenges. The first concerns coordination among humanitarian actors, which include UN agencies as well as other organizations, and the second relates to cooperation between humanitarian organizations on the one hand and political and military authorities on the other. Both activities aim at rendering humanitarian action more effective.
With regard to humanitarian actors, the ICRC's approach to coordination is based upon regular contact involving dialogue and mutual consultation, both at headquarters and in the field, on thematic issues as well as operational questions. The basic principle underlying the ICRC's part icipation in coordination mechanisms and efforts is to seek the greatest possible complementarity with other actors.
The ICRC views this complementarity as flowing from the respective mandates, expertise and operating methods and procedures of the various organizations involved.
It is in this perspective that the ICRC cooperates with United Nations established coordination mechanisms and structures, such as the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). As a standing invitee of the IASC, it participates in various meetings of this forum and its subsidiary bodies, sharing information and views on a host of thematic and operational issues. With regard to OCHA, the ICRC contributes, amongst others, to the discussions concerning the elaboration of humanitarian action plans in various complex emergencies, and actively participates in the Geneva launch of the consolidated appeals. Similarly, on the question of IDPs, it continues to cooperate with the inter-agency structures put in place under OCHA.
In parallel, the ICRC pursues its coordination efforts with UN agencies and NGOs at the bilateral and multilateral levels. A recent example of the latter would be the guiding principles and working procedures agreed upon early this month in Kosovo between the ICRC, UNICEF, UNHCR and Save the Children, pertaining to the care and protection of unaccompanied or separated children. On the bilateral level, there exists, for example, an on-going dialogue with WFP aimed at ensuring better delivery of food aid in situations of humanitarian crisis. In the same vein, the ICRC also held this year a high-level meeting with UNHCR, focussing this time on the subject of refugees in war zones.
Within the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the meeting of the Council of Delegates, gathered in Geneva on 11-14 November, adopted the overall strategy for the Movement, wher ein the issue of coordination with other humanitarian actors is equally accorded due importance.
As a strictly humanitarian, neutral and independent organization, the ICRC has consistently held the position that political and military actions ought to be kept distinct from humanitarian operations. In its view, the fundamental mission of political and military actors is to reach and secure political settlements of ongoing conflicts. While such settlements are key to ultimately ending suffering engendered by conflicts, it is crucial that, in the meanwhile, humanitarian actors be able to independently assist and protect the victims.
Humanitarian action, by virtue of its very principles and objectives, is and ought necessarily to remain fundamentally different from political and military action. It is neutral with regard to the conflict, undertaken in favour of all those who suffer without any adverse distinction, and non-coercive for based upon the consent of all the parties concerned. Were this perception to be altered by a blurring of the distinction between humanitarian action on the one hand and political initiatives and military operations on the other, the consequence could be greatly impeded access to victims and high security risks for humanitarian workers. As a result, humanitarian organizations would be considerably less capable of alleviating the suffering of men, women and children.
In conclusion Mr Chairman, the ICRC wishes to reaffirm its commitment to fostering the spirit and practice of humanitarian coordination, rendered indispensable by the overwhelming needs of victims. Efforts will also be devoted to working towards a clearly defined framework of interaction between humanitarian and political endeavours, aimed at preserving the essence of humanitarian action. The ICRC is equally determined to fulfil its special role of an independent and neutral intermediary in situations of armed conflict, as enshrined in the Geneva Conventions.
Thank you Mr Chairman.