Seminar on the security of humanitarian personnel in the field for non-governmental organisations (NGOs)

 Summary report  


 Introductory remarks  

Since 1994 the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Graduate Institute of International Studies ( GIIS ) have organized, at the ICRC's initiative, annual seminars for non-governmental organizations with different backgrounds and amount of experience but all either actively involved or interested in humanitarian activities conducted in situations of armed conflict or other situations of violence.

These seminars aim to give information on the role of international humanitarian law and human rights instruments, on the ICRC's work and on other topics of common interest, and thereby facilitate the work of the different organizations once they find themselves in similar theatres of operations.

For 1997 it was decided that the seminar should focus on the Security of Humanitarian Personnel in the Field. Indeed, this issue is currently one of the main challenges facing humanitarian organizations.

The seminar was not meant as a training course, but rather as an opportunity for the ICRC to share its experience in the area and for all the participants to exchange their views on the subject. The problem of security was addressed both from a legal and a practical standpoint, and a panel of experts presented their views during a discussion on the different approaches available.

We have decided to draw up a summary report of the one-day debate. It should be noted that no such reports exist for previous seminars.

The following is a selection of the main presentations made. The decision not to give the names of all those who took part in the debate is deliberate - indeed, it wo uld have been far too lengthy to include all the questions raised. Where a name has been mentioned, this indicates that the speaker provided a piece of information of general interest and is intended to enable the reader to contact the person in question for further details.

Carlo von Flüe




 Friday, 5 December 1997  

08:30 - 09:00


09:00 - 09:15

 Welcome - Opening Statement  

Ms Martine Brunschwig Graf

Minister in charge of Public Education, Canton of Geneva

09:15 - 09:45

 Keynote Address  

Mr. Jean de Courten, Director of Operations - ICRC

09:45 - 10:00

 Coffee Break  

10:00 - 11:30

 Panel of Experts - Legal Perspective  

- Mr. Toni Pfanner, Head of the Legal Division, ICRC

 Protection under International Humanitarian Law  

- Mr. Theodor Meron, Professor of International Law, New York University

 Convention on the Safety of UN and Associated Personnel  


11:30 - 12:15

 ICRC's Concept of Security  

Mr. Philippe Dind, Delegate in charge of Security, ICRC


12:15 - 13:30


13:30 - 15:00

 Training of personnel with Practical Simulation  

M. Philippe Dind, Delegate in charge of Security, ICRC


15:00 - 15:15

 Coffee Break  

15:15 - 17:30

 Panel of Experts: Minimum Security Environment for  

 Humanitarian Action  


 ICRC - Mr. Jean-Daniel Tauxe, Deputy Director of Operations, ICRC

 UNHCR - Mr. Stéphane Jaquemet, Senior Legal Adviser, Division of International Protection, UNHCR

 NGO - Mr. Joel McClellan, Secretary General, Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response


17:30 - 18:00

 Concluding Remarks  

Mr. Jean-Paul Fallet, Head of International Organisations Division, ICRC




 Ms Martine Brunschwig Graf , speaking in her capacity as Minister in charge of Public Education for the Canton of Geneva and President of the Executive Council of the Graduat e Institute for International Studies, welcomed the participants to the meeting and emphasised the Geneva authorities'profound commitment towards humanitarian action and the application of international humanitarian law. She invited the meeting to reflect upon the need to protect the lives of humanitarian personnel and recalled that humanitarian action has more then one hundred years of experience in the field.



 By Mr Jean de Courten  

ICRC Director of Operations

For the past three years, the Graduate Institute of International Studies (GIIS) and ICRC have been organising a yearly seminar for NGOs, intending to provide a platform of discussion for matters of common concerns. In recent years, the number of security incidents involving humanitarian workers has risen to a frightening level. Humanitarian field staff losing their lives in the accomplishment of their duties is not a new phenomenon for any of the humanitarian organisations operating in the field. If working in conflict situation always involves a certain risk, what is new and particularly horrid and alarming about the tragedies of recent years is that humanitarian workers are targeted and killed deliberately.

There are some factors explaining why the security problem has become more acute over the past few years. From my viewpoint, among the factors contributing to the worsening of the situation, I see mainly:

1. The nature of armed conflict has changed. So have the aims of the combatants. Today, most conflicts are internal and the political and military goals motivating them are becoming ever less clearly defined. The proliferation of poorly structured armed groups, often totally ignorant of international rules, does much to aggravate the situation. To make matters still worse, economic interests, as well as criminal gangs engaged in drug and weapons trafficking, are all too often involved.

2. The politicisation of humanitarian action ; Political powers today are often reluctant, or simply unable, to devise political solutions for the conflicts tearing the world apart. Pure humanitarian action is too often used as a cosmetic justification for political inertia and apathy. Humanitarian operations are often launched to quell public opinion, which reacts to images of war presented by the media. Humanitarian action conceals the fact that governments are unwilling to take the risks involved in addressing the root causes of conflict. However, humanitarian action is no substitute for political settlements.  

3. Civilian populations have become the main target of the hostilities. They have increasingly become an integral part of political and military strategies. With all the horror and massive loss of life in the First World War, only ten percent of the victims were civilians. In the intervening period, civilians have come to make up the majority of the victims. As a result, protecting and upholding the rights of the civilian population today represents our main challenge. And precisely because humanitarian workers generally have greater access to the victims of conflict and are thus active among those who themselves are so often the target of military operations, the field staff of huma nitarian organizations are exposed to greater risks than in the past. 

4. A danger in certain parts of the world is that humanitarian action is associated there with the West and is perceived as a vehicle for the spread of Western values. This misconception means that our work in such places is accepted only with great reluctance, when not opposed completely. 

5. When the aim of parties to a conflict is to annihilate an ethnic group or permanently remove it from a given territory, humanitarian workers can be embarrassing witnesses of the acts needed to bring this about. Indeed, humanitarian action as such might be perceived as running counter to the objectives of warring parties.  

6. Organized crime and banditry play an important role in most of today's conflicts. Bandits and many armed groups covet the often considerable and highly visible material deployed by humanitarian organizations. They also know that most of the time these items are not protected in any way and that no action will be taken against them if they steal them. Humanitarian organizations are considered as soft targets.

7. Since the end of the Cold War, a growing number of entities , often having different mandates and goals, are active in the same theatre of operation as humanitarian organizations. This has tended to make the management of security risks more difficult. Moreover, it must be said that, in some cases, the presence of agencies calling themselves humanitarian or of others with limited objectives and not fully prepared to work in a conflict zone further aggravate insecurity.

8. Competition among humanitarian actors . In recent years, thi s has had very serious effects, particularly when combined with intensive media coverage. It has placed humanitarian workers in great danger. While they loudly claim to be impartial and independent, they are perceived as less and less so by those they seek to help. War victims themselves somehow gain the impression that those organizations are far more concerned about their own interests than about the needs of those they supposedly came to assist. 

All these realities have compelled humanitarian organizations, including the ICRC, to review their security procedures in the field. For my organization, this means constant effort and continual reassessment of its policies in this domain.

Confronted with these new challenges, humanitarian action needs to adapt. I am convinced that the issues involved -- and I assure you I have not mentioned them all -- have to be addressed. We need to work together. In view of our experience, it seems to us important to take the following steps.

1. to work more  through local contacts and local networks . The ICRC has always endeavoured to do precisely that. Lately, it has stepped up its efforts to enhance the acceptance of its work by those who count most: the people we seek to assist, the warring parties and the local authorities.

2. to strengthen our ability to understand today's new conflicts by analysing political, social and economic aspects, so as to better adapt our operations. This greater understanding must be accompanied by more rigorous assessment of the needs from a humanitarian point of view as well as systematic evaluation of the programme.

3. to improve co-operation among humanitarian organisations : a ste p in that direction has been taken by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response , which have drawn up a Code of conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs involved in disaster relief  . Despite the fact that no mechanism has so far been devised to monitor implementation of the Code and serve as a forum for joint decision-making, the promotion of this Code should continue. 

Greater co-operation among humanitarian organizations will reduce the effects of competition, which can tempt people to disregard security risks. The world's governments, which took part in the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 1995, welcomed this effort and asked for it to be promoted. Some donors have already integrated into their funding guidelines the principle that NGOs should abide by the Code of Conduct. 

4. to develop a more coherent approach towards the various authorities we have to deal with in the field. Humanitarian organizations are finding it more and more difficult to gain access to the victims. Humanitarian action is often hindered by the authorities in place, and by no means the most senior authorities. The temptation is great for representatives of the different organizations to offer all kinds of bargains in order to obtain working facilities. Differences in ethics and the failure to respect certain principles can be dangerous for the safety of humanitarian personnel. A common approach by humanitarian organizations is therefore needed.

5. a more balanced relationship between humanitarian agencies and the media . In terms of security management, the media can be decisive, in either a positive or negative sense. Speaking out publicly may seriously aggravate security risks for staff in the field. Media coverage has added an important new dimension to our environment that humanitarian organizations have no choice but to take into account. While we all concur that a degree of publicity is necessary for any organization, what we are too often seeing in the field today is an exaggerated attempt to be in the picture at any cost, regardless of the risks involved.

6. to do more to assess the effects of public information . The growing influence of the media has made public advocacy common practice , with the purpose of preventing war victims from being exposed to the worst effects and ensuring that they are effectively protected. In any case, it should be emphasized that faithful implementation of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977, as well as of the various human rights instruments will increase respect for humanitarian action and thereby diminish the risks for humanitarian personnel as well. On the other hand, we should never forget that ill-considered public information may not only jeopardize our access to the people we are trying to help, it could also make the belligerents actively hostile towards us.

The ICRC has taken specific measures to ensure the safety of its staff in the field. Allow me to give you a few examples.

1. Following any serious security incidents, the ICRC now automatically approaches the gov ernment or the de facto authorities and demands that the affair be carefully investigated so that those responsible can be identified and brought to justice, thus making it possible for humanitarian operations to continue. Combatants should be made accountable for their acts of aggression against humanitarian personnel, and the international community should strongly support the view that such acts cannot go unpunished. 

2. In situations where the ICRC becomes the target of deliberate attack, we will decide, in view of the existing risks, whether our operations should be pursued or stopped , or visits to particularly risky areas temporarily suspended.

3. In places where it becomes necessary to protect ourselves, delegations may hire armed guards for the delegation premises and staff residences. It must be clearly understood that while we accept the hiring of armed guards to protect our premises against criminal acts, we certainly do not intend to use them as protection for humanitarian activities in the field or to have military personnel or armed escorts for our protection in conflict areas. We remain convinced that humanitarian work must be clearly dissociated from any military operations aimed at ensuring security and restoring law and order in regions plagued by violence.

Basic conditions must be laid down for any humanitarian activity to ensure that every one understands and respects that special kind of work.

A fundamental example is consent from the warring parties for every operation involving humanitarian assistance or protection. Such action should never be imposed by force; rather, it must be transparent in its ob jectives and impartial in its implementation. Discussion and persuasion should be used to negotiate access for humanitarian action, in full accordance with the basic principles for that action. Obviously, if you can have your work accepted, you will face less risk.

In every situation, clarity regarding the allocation of tasks between the various organizations remains one of the best guarantees for effective security. The role of each should be absolutely clear, and we strongly feel that the following points should be respected.

Firstly, political entities should focus on finding political settlements to conflict. Humanitarian action should not be used as a means of diverting attention towards the symptoms and away from the disease itself.

Secondly, donor governments should not hamper the independence of the humanitarian organizations they finance. To put it more simply, humanitarian action must not become an instrument of foreign policy. Politicization of humanitarian action strengthens the perception of certain warring parties that humanitarian work is used not only as a vehicle to propagate the values of the donor countries, but also as a form of political interference. This negative image definitely represents a security threat for humanitarian personnel in the field.

Thirdly, any international military presence, such as a peacekeeping force, should have a clear and appropriate mandate. In any case, it should not simply become a supplier of humanitarian assistance. That can easily lead to confusion and a distorted perception of humanitarian work.

And finally, the undeniable impact of economic factors on the situation, including the self-interested actions of private economic entities, should be better understood by humanitarian organizations

Although I am convinced that the the views I have expressed are already familiar to you, I hope that they will nonetheless help in today's discussion.

I am confident that today will be a constructive day for all of us. We need to learn from each other's experiences. Participation by each and every one of us will make it easier to find ways to guarantee a more secure environment for humanitarian endeavour.

 Prof. Meron thanked Mr de Courten for painting a realistic if somewhat sombre picture of the situation and for indicating the need for humanitarian organisations to adopt a common set of ethics.




 Mr Toni Pfanner  

 Prof. Theodor Meron  

 Mr Toni Pfanner, Head of the Legal Division of the ICRC stressed that humanitarian workers are considered as non-combatants and civilians under the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their two Additional Protocols of 1977. However, the provisions of the Conventions governing the use of the Red Cross/Red Crescent emblem apply not only to the ICRC, to the National Societies of the Red Cross and Red Crescent and their International Federation, but also to medical personnel belonging to the armed forces, thereby causing a certain a mount of confusion in people's minds.

Although misuse of the emblem is punishable under the Geneva Conventions, attacks as such on those using the emblem are not. Additional Protocol I, art. 71, provides for the protection of humanitarian personnel taking part in relief operations, subject to the approval of States in whose territory the conflict occurs. Once approval has been granted, the States are responsible for the security of humanitarian workers, who in turn are obliged to respect the security measures decided by the States; otherwise their mission could be terminated.

In general, humanitarian workers acting in respect of the principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, specifically mentioned in the Geneva Conventions of 1949, namely humanity, non-discrimination and impartiality, are also protected.

One recent development in the protection of humanitarian workers as provided by States was the review of Protocol II of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which, in Article 8, obliged State Parties to inform humanitarian personnel of areas affected by landmines.

Proposals have also been made to enhance the security of humanitarian personnel in a specific Draft Resolution submitted by Spain and introduced by Luxembourg at the 52nd session of the United Nations General Assembly. In addition, the Swiss Government, depository of the Geneva Conventions, will hold the " First periodical meeting on International Humanitarian Law " , which will discuss problems of application of international humanitarian law, in Geneva on 19-23 January 1998, focusing in part on the theme of «  Respect for and protection of the personnel of humanitarian organisations ».

The definition of a humanitarian organisation and its role in provid ing relief and/or engagement in protection and monitoring activities – which are not covered by the current system of international humanitarian law -, was a matter for considerable debate. Another point for discussion was the actual scope of protection afforded by the Geneva Conventions, which did not apply specifically to non-medical personnel.

Effective, preventive measures have to be taken by States to limit any risk to the security of humanitarian workers and to prosecute those responsible for breaches of international law. Although the system of protective powers mentioned in the Geneva Conventions provides for the proper implementation of the law, it has achieved only partial success in reality.

Dissemination, and the role of the media are other key factors affecting the security of humanitarian personnel. The situation is further complicated by the multiplication of protective emblems, which are subject to varying religious perceptions and used by humanitarian organisations with different operational criteria. It is therefore of paramount importance for all humanitarian organisations to co-operate with each other to ensure maximum security for their staff.

 Professor Theodor Meron made the following remarks :

When the attacks against humanitarian personnel, including detention, involve governmental action, such personnel is, of course, covered by the applicable human rights protection. The situation is more complicated, however, when the attacks are staged by non-governmental political actors, and worse still by criminal groups. An additional protection would, of course, be generated by the applicable instruments of humanitarian law.

The ICRC has presented a thoughtful paper to the forthcoming conference of the "First periodical meeting on International Humanitarian Law" (January 1998). The current UN General Assembly, acting on a proposal presented by Luxembourg on behalf of the European Union, adopted a resolution on the security of humanitarian personnel. It called on governments and parties in zones of conflict to guarantee safe access of humanitarian personnel, so as to allow them efficiently to perform their tasks of assisting the civilian population; it demanded that they ensure the protection of humanitarian personnel, urged that threats and acts of violence be investigated and punished, and requested the Secretary-General to present a report to the General Assembly at its next session. In a preambular paragraph, the General Assembly mentioned the role that the future International Criminal Court (ICC) will have in bringing to justice those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law. However, as you all know, the earlier International Law Commission (ILC) proposal to include among the crimes in the jurisdiction of the ICC violations of the UN Convention of 9 December 1994 on the Safety of UN and Associate Personnel (hereafter UN Safety Convention) is no longer envisaged for the ICC Statute.

Of course, resolutions demanding the safety of UN and UNHCR personnel in Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda, among others, have been adopted in the past by the Security Council without significant results. But such resolutions may yet in the long run contribute to the broader ratification of humanitarian instruments, including the additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions, and to the UN Safety Convention, the adoption of more effective national preventive and penal measures, and more broadly, to sensitise public opinion and governments and generate an environment more conducive to the humanitarian action.

They might also lead to the drafting of additional texts such as declarations or other legal instruments, and perhaps to the strengthening, as regards humanitarian NGO's, of the UN Safety Convention of 1994. It is this Convention that will be the focus of my remarks today.

I would like to start from an explanation of the objects of the Convention, then turn, first, to the material scope of applicability and, second, to the personal scope of applicability. I shall also refer to the criminal measures provided by the convention and particularly universality of jurisdiction and to the obligation of the UN peacekeeping forces to comply with international humanitarian law.

1. Objects of the UN Safety Convention  

Although international humanitarian law provides a sophisticated set of measures concerning protection of combatants in armed conflicts, especially armed conflicts of an international character, no treaties have been adopted concerning the protection from attack of forces performing non-combat, peace-keeping type of missions and the punishment of those carrying such attacks out. Moreover, although acts such as killing of UN peacekeepers would normally be criminalized already by the national laws of the states concerned, the enforcement readiness and capability of those states frequently does not allow for effective investigation and prosecution. Hence the need for universality of jurisdiction which would allow prosecutions by third states.

2. The UN Safety Convention applies to UN operations for maintaining and restoring international peace and security. This would encompass, of course, peace-keeping and peace-enforcement operations authorised by the United Nations Security Council, typically under Chapter VII. To the extent that the General Assembly has authorised such operations in accordance to the Charter, they too would be covered by the Convention. The Convention would apply also outside the parameters of peace-keeping and peace-enforcement, provided that either the SC or the General Assembly declared, for the purposes of the Convention, that there exists an exceptional risk to the safety of the personnel participating in a UN operation. An example would be humanitarian relief to a starving population or election-monitoring activities involving enhanced risk for the safety of the participating personnel.

Let me now turn to an important exclusion of applicability. The Convention does not apply to enforcement action under Chapter VII in which any of the UN personnel are engaged as combatants against organised armed forces and to which the law of international armed conflicts applies. An important yardstick for whether the law of international armed conflicts is applicable is provided by common Article 2 to the Geneva Conventions. Of course, not all enforcement action results in involvement in combat operations.

The drafters of the Convention desired such a separation between the regime of the Geneva Conventions and that of the UN Safety Convention in order to maintain equal treatment of the parties. It would obviously be unfair, and discourage the application of the Convention, where UN forces are engaged as combatants and the law of international armed conflicts is applicable if the side fighting against the United Nations would have the acts of its soldiers criminalized. In other words, only one legal regime would normally be applicable, either the law of international armed conflicts, or the UN Safety Convention, but not both.

But this separation of regimes is less than absolute. In Somalia, for example, or in former Yugoslavia, the UN Safety Conventio n would be applicable because the UN forces although acting under Chapter VII have not been acting as combatants.

Action by the UN forces in self-defence which does not lead to sustained fighting would also not exclude the UN Safety Convention's applicability. In case of enforcement action under Chapter VII, where the UN forces respond to attacks only in the exercise of self-defence, the UN Safety Convention would be applicable even if the fighting has reached the threshold of applicability of common Article 2 of the Geneva Conventions. This overlap is permitted so that UN peace-keepers would not lose the protection of the UN Safety Convention simply because they responded in self-defence which involved fighting.

What is important is to realise that even if a single UN unit is engaged as a combatant, the protection of the UN Safety Convention is terminated not only for that unit, but for all the other UN and associated personnel, including NGOs under contract to the United Nations. It is possible, however, that in such a situation the UN and associated personnel would come under the protection of instruments of international humanitarian law, and especially the Geneva Conventions.

3. Personal Scope of Applicability  

The UN Safety Convention applies formally to two categories of personnel; in fact, the categories covered are broader than two. The first consists of UN personnel. Such personnel typically encompasses UN peace-keepers, i.e., military, police or civilian components of a UN operation, for example UNPROFOR and UNAMIR. In addition, however, other officials and experts on mission of the UN, or its specialised ag encies or IAEA, who are present in an official capacity in an area where a UN operation is being conducted are included. Although these persons may have not been sent in connection with a peace-keeping operation, they could be vulnerable to attack as UN experts or officials in a zone of operations.

The second category consists of " Associated Personnel. " These include persons assigned to an operation by governments or intergovernmental organisations with the agreement of a competent organ of the UN, as for example, NATO forces assisting UNPROFOR, or the Multinational Force assisting UNMIH. Here you have forces frequently not subject to UN command whose job would be to assist UN forces. Associated Personnel also includes persons engaged by the Secretary-General or by a specialised agency, such as contractors.

Finally, and most important for our discussion today, included in Associated Personnel are NGOs involved in or connected with a peace-keeping operation. There is a condition, however. They are covered by the UN Safety Convention only if they are deployed in pursuance of an agreement with the Secretary-General or a specialised agency. Such a contractual link implies some UN control, which, for some NGOs may pose difficulties. The majority of the drafting states unfortunately were not willing to extend coverage to other NGO's in the field. They argued that the Convention was designed for peacekeepers only and that the concept of universality of jurisdiction which the Convention promotes involves state sovereignty thus calling for a restrictive approach.

I would like to say a few words about ICRC's position on the UN Safety Convention. The ICRC made it clear that it did not wish to be protected by this treaty. To be so covered, would imply a close connection with a UN operation, which would go against the policy of the ICRC of being seen as distinct and separate and thus not jeopardising its possibility to act as a neut ral humanitarian intermediary between the parties. Of course, to a certain extent, the ICRC personnel already enjoy protection under the Geneva Conventions, additional protocols, the emblem, and the Statutes of the Red Cross, which are relevant also outside situations of armed conflicts. It is nevertheless clear from past experience that the present legal protection, whether under the Convention, or instruments of international humanitarian law has been far from comprehensive and effective.

4. Universality of Jurisdiction  

The UN Safety Convention contains a fairly broad definition of crimes covered by the Convention. Crime addressed include intentional commission of murder, kidnapping or other attack against covered personnel, as well as violent attacks on premise, accommodations and means of transportation, threats to commit such acts, attempts, and participation. States are committed to criminalize such acts under their national laws. A state party must take measures to establish its jurisdiction over the crimes when the crime is committed in its territory, ships or aircraft, when the offender is a national, or when the crime is committed against a national of the state. Most important, a state must establish its jurisdiction when the alleged offender is present in its territory if it does not extradite him to another state party having jurisdiction.

 A brief discussion followed the above presentations.  

One participant inquired into the definition of the word «  impartial  » as referred to in the various international Conventions, and asked if such a definition were understood and respected by Governments.

 Mr Pfanner (ICRC) replied that the n ormal requirement of « impartiality  » referred to the needs of those receiving assistance and the principle of non-discrimination. He added that it was not enough to act impartially but that one must also be perceived as doing so by others. Referring to the impartiality of the media, he drew the meeting's attention to a specific Code of Conduct developed by the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in the framework of Former-Yugoslavia to avoid enhancement of violence and violations of the law, false accusations or unjustified generalisations by the press.

A participant highlighted the difficult and apparently contradictory dilemma that NGOs were faced with. He stated that humanitarian organisations wishing to aspire to protection under the Geneva Conventions had to be perceived as practising neutrality, impartiality and independence, but that those wishing to be protected by the Convention on the Safety of UN and Associated Personnel had to be contracted to the United Nations and must therefore abandon their independence and neutrality.

Another participant inquired into the appropriate legal framework which could be used to negotiate humanitarian space, access and the protection of staff and property in the field. He explained that since the Geneva Conventions of 1949 enabled States to limit humanitarian space for security reasons, he preferred the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief, which implied that civilians in war-affected areas had a right to assistance, even if it left certain questions unanswered with regard to interpretation of the term « independence. »

 Mr Pfanner (ICRC) replied that the Code of Conduct did not apply to all situation s. He stated that it did not have the force of a legal treaty and could therefore be contested by certain parties. On the other hand, international humanitarian law was applicable in conflict situations only. The advantage of referring to the Geneva Conventions was that they endeavoured to make States more responsible. However, the situation that arose during internal armed conflicts meant that offers of services had to be negotiated on a step by step basis with parties who were not necessarily States.

 Prof. Meron reminded the meeting that most conflicts nowadays were not covered by Common Article 2 or even Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. He added that gaps existed in humanitarian legislation and that it was not sufficient to cite the provisions of the UN Safety Convention to fill them.

 Mr von Flüe (ICRC) stated that the Code of Conduct provided a framework of reference for humanitarian organisations only. It did not bind States or warring parties.

 Mr Pfanner (ICRC) , referring to the question of State approval of humanitarian activities and the setback caused by the Kouchner initiative, indicated that great caution had to be espoused when trying to develop any legal instrument designed to facilitate access to victims. He added that it was difficult to provide a clear definition of humanitarian organisations that would not be misleading or restrictive.

A participant asked whether it were possible to use the right to humanitarian assistance as a firm basis for development of the law. He suggested that the Geneva Conventions should be extended to cover other emergency situations such as natural or accidental disasters, refugees and displaced persons, internal disturbances and disorders. He inquired if it would be possible for States to agree upon an extension of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 to provide protection for non-medical personnel, and expressed concern at the legal void that existed in countries where State structures had collapsed. Referring to the question of protection of NGOs under the Convention on the Security of UN and Associated Personnel, he suggested that a link with the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs, as opposed to the Security Council, could be more acceptable to NGOs.

A participant said that the Convention on the Security of UN and Associated Personnel was not the only instrument which protected NGOs. Regional agreements already existed to protect human rights and humanitarian workers, in addition to agreements related to the privileges and immunity of UN personnel which were applicable to NGO representatives working as international experts or those involved in the dissemination of international humanitarian law. Domestic legislation incorporating ratified international treaty law was another means of protecting humanitarian workers on the ground. To conclude, he asked if the ICRC used the teaching of international humanitarian law to top-ranking officials from Ministries of Defence and the Interior as a further protective measure.

 Prof. Meron agreed with the comments of the above speaker but stated that domestic law often remained inactive on the ground. He added that organisations belonging to the UN family were in a more privileged situation than many NGOs as far as protection was concerned. The problem with bilateral instruments was that they were not covered by the concept of universal jurisdiction.

 Mr Pfanner , replying to the question raised, repeated that great care had to be taken when attempting to develop treaty law, but added that he believed that it would be possible to persuade States to extend pr otection to non-medical personnel in a gradual manner. Legal voids with regard to humanitarian operations would, however, continue to exist and legalistic attempts to deal with situations in which State authority had collapsed would remain extremely difficult.



 By Mr Philippe Dind  

 Mr Philippe Dind, Delegate in charge of security (ICRC) , outlined the general security situation with regard to war, crime and banditry, and explained the seven pillars of the ICRC security concept, namely acceptance, identification, information, rules, personality, telecommunications and protective measures.

He indicated that it was essential for the ICRC to be accepted by all parties to a conflict if it were to perform its mandate and fulfil its role as neutral and impartial intermediary in time of war. The ICRC requested its staff to acquaint themselves with the local environment in order to make the right operational decisions and facilitate negotiation with authorities. Identification of the ICRC was related to its visible Emblem and the policy of notification. ICRC staff were strongly encouraged to exchange security information with other humanitarian organisations, subject to the condition of confidentiality.

Although the ICRC reserved the right to keep certain information confidential or to protect its sources, it never chose to withhold essential security information from humanitarian actors in the field. Its behavioural rules were developed and written by delegations on the ground, in addition to a short set of general guidelines provided by ICRC headquarters.

The ICRC placed strong emphasis on personal discipline and personal responsibility in applying those rules. The ICRC selection process was designed to choose humanitarian workers who would be able to react as appropriately as possible in the field. To that effect, simulation exercises were organised. Each ICRC staff member was required to take an individual interest in security and safety, and to show solidarity towards fellow expatriates, especially with regard to coping with stress.

The ICRC considered that telecommunications were an integral part of its security concept, enabling an exchange of information in all conditions. The final pillar of its security concept was protective measures , which could be active and involved the use of guards, or which could be passive and consisted of perimeter protection devices such as thick walls, shelters and safe areas in houses to protect ICRC staff from the indiscriminate use of weaponry.

The ICRC as well as the other components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement do not normally work with armed escorts but resort to using armed guards at fixed locations in criminal circumstances, according to the degree of threat.

The ICRC security concept is one of many different approaches to security. As a guide to other organisations, the ICRC outlined three basic security concepts in its document entitled « Safety of Humanitarian Workers in Conflict Situations  »i.e. visibility and predictability, the deterrent show of force, and attempts to pass unnoticed.

A participant asked if the ICRC entered into special security agreements with national authorities and inquired into whether a special agreement existed between the ICRC and the Russian Federation.

 Mr von Flüe (ICRC) replied that the ICRC had headquarters agreements with the Governments of most countries where it was active, including Switzerland.

 Mr Dind (ICRC) stated that the aim of such agreements was to officialize the presence of the ICRC. Although all agreements followed the same model, they had to be negotiated with Governments. No specific security agreement exists between the ICRC and the Russian Federation.

A participant asked how the ICRC reviewed and wrote effective guidelines for behaviour in the field.

 Mr Dind (ICRC) replied that the ICRC trained its Heads of Delegations to write such guidelines. The ICRC had also developed a check-list of security issues to be taken into account by senior officials. ICRC Headquarters receives a copy of all new security rules issued by the delegations and reserved the right to modify them or request further information as to their justification.

A participant asked how the ICRC managed to operate without armed guards in difficult situations such as in Northern Kenya or Somalia.

 Mr Dind (ICRC) , said that the ICRC had no choice but to exceptionnally use armed escorts in certain areas of Somalia because of the threat to security. The ICRC also used certain armed g uards around the compound in Northern Kenya for deterrent purposes only.

Another participant inquired as to how humanitarian organisations could combine the need for acceptance with the need for information and protective measures, which often served as a screen between them and the local population.

 Mr Dind (ICRC) replied that protective measures such as the use of guards for deterrent purposes involved weeks or months of careful preparation and selection so that the humanitarian activities of the ICRC could remain unimpeded.

A participant asked if the ICRC relied upon Governments for the protection of its personnel in difficult circumstances.

 Mr Dind (ICRC) replied that the general rule in such situations was to contact as a priority registered private security firms, as opposed to the police or the military.



 By Mr Philippe Dind  

 Mr Dind, Delegate in charge of security (ICRC), explained that safety and security training of humanitarian personnel began by a clear definition of responsibilities. He emphasised that responsibilities were shared by all ICRC staff members in the field even if the final decisions were made by the Heads of Delegations.

The ICRC tra ined two types of personnel: generalists and specialists. Training courses were adapted accordingly. Courses that were currently available or under development included simulation activities for the integration of future expatriates; a special course for expatriates who had completed one year's service; and courses for field managers, the personnel of National Societies, local personnel, administrators, constructors, heads of vehicle fleets, etc.

The meeting was provided with two specific examples of course structure:

- The level one training course for expatriates involved acquaintance with the ICRC security concept, a component on personal behaviour in the field, instruction on how to dialogue with fighters, and information on radio use, 4 x 4 driving, first aid, personal stress management, and practical simulation.

- The course for ICRC administrators defined their administrative responsibilities, showed them how to protect the premises of their delegation from crime, and instructed them on how to train local employees in areas such as fire safety, evacuation procedures and the protection of buildings against the effects of weapons in a war situation

A 15-minute internal ICRC video entitled « Mobile One Two One Calling  » (revised version), was shown as an illustration of briefing procedures for new ICRC delegates participating in the integration course. A second video, made by French Television, was screened in order to illustrate the ICRC's simulation exercise, which was organised a s part of the level one training course. In it participants were invited to live as part of a simulated ICRC delegation and plan for a field mission involving advance reading on specific information concerning ethnic groups, victims and prisoners in a fake conflict, and the names of the Authorities with whom they would have to negotiate. When their mission began they were provided with a car and a map and screened for their ability to respect proper operational procedures and security arrangements. The simulation exercise involved the negotiation of clearance from the Commander before entering a conflictual area, survey of a field hospital, going through an army check-point where they are. Participants were asked to take care of a wounded soldier before dealing with a bandit checkpoint. The aim of the exercise was to enable delegates to react to a real-life situation and to discover if they were suited to humanitarian action or not.

One participant asked if the ICRC had a simulation activity dealing with hostage taking.

 Mr Dind (ICRC) said that the ICRC had no specific simulation activity for kidnapping but stated that dealing with uncontrolled elements was discussed during the ICRC training course. He drew the meeting's attention to a forthcoming ICRC booklet on safety in the field written by Lieutenant Colonel David Lloyd Roberts and entitled « Staying Alive.  »

Another participant asked if the ICRC provided participants with a certificate upon completion of the training course.

 Mr Dind (ICRC) replied that the ICRC did not issue any certificates.

Another participant inquired into the selection process and asked the ICRC trained for risk assessment.

 Mr Dind (ICRC) replied that the normal selection process involved the examination of application forms and additional documents requested by the ICRC, together with individual discussions and in-situational assessment. Risk assessment was discussed in the ICRC integration and management courses, but training in that area was mainly achieved through experience.

A participant asked how the ICRC reacted towards aggressors with whom they could not communicate.

 Mr Dind (ICRC) said that the ICRC worked with interpreters in countries where English or French were not understood.

Another participant inquired into the ICRC's attitude towards discipline in the field.

 Mr Dind (ICRC) said that all human beings respected security guidelines in dangerous situations, but tended to become careless as time went on. As a result the ICRC engaged in an external review of security arrangements at regular intervals. If a delegate were found to disrespect safety and security rules, he or she was discharged from service.

A participant indicated that the natural environment for ICRC operations was one of insecurity. He asked what suggestions could be made for other humanitarian NGOs who did not automatically select staff on the basis of their ability to react to such situations.

 Mr Dind (ICRC) said that certain National Societies of the Red Cross or the Red Crescent had already started to train experienced staff in security matters. With that in mind, he drew the meeting's attention to a checkpoint simulation exercise that he had designed.

A participant asked if the ICRC made specific provisions in its training programme to deal with ban ditry and criminality in post-war situations.

 Mr Dind (ICRC) said that post-war situations could be even more dangerous than fully fledged conflict situations but added that the respect of security guidelines remained the same.

Another participant expressed concern at the large number of NGOs which were ill prepared to work in dangerous situations. He asked if the ICRC were prepared to share its expertise with them.

 Mr Dind (ICRC) replied that one of the aims of the seminar was to share the information which the ICRC already possessed on security and safety arrangements for humanitarian personnel. He added that ICRC delegates also shared security information in the field on an informal basis. In addition, the book " Staying Alive " will be available for NGOs, as well as the training video " Mobile One Two One Calling " (provided it is used with an experienced course instructor)




 Mr Joel McClellan ( SCHR)

 Mr Stéphane Jaquemet (UNHCR)

 Mr Jean-Daniel Tauxe (ICRC)

 Mr McClellan, Secretary General of the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR), stated that although security against criminality was an important issue for any society, the deliberate targeting of humanitarian workers gave rise for serious concern. In matters of security, he preferred prevention rather than mitigation.

He felt that appropriate staff training was crucial and emphasised the importance of adequate security-related material, in addition to a sufficient understanding of the context in which humanitarian operations were to be carried out. Security issues needed to be placed on the agenda of all meetings of humanitarian organisations before incidents arose. Those working in the field needed to be sharply aware of the profile of their organisation abroad and realise that security was closely related to staff conduct. It was essential to recruit suitable international and local staff, despite the difficulty that it represented for NGOs whose flexible structures tended to expand and contract according to needs in the field. The security of relief workers was also closely linked to that of the local population. Humanitarian organisations were requested to show respect for local needs, customs and institutions.

Until recently, humanitarian agencies had felt that they were sufficiently protected by international humanitarian law, which was more or less honoured by all parties to the conflict. Some NGOs believed that their presence provided protection for local populations. However, in view of the increasingly perilous circumstances in which relief workers operated, donor governments were requested to accept a degree of responsibility for the security of humanitarian workers at disaster sites, and IGOs were called upon to extend the security protection provided to the UN to include NGOs. Despite such calls, humanitarian workers felt that the s ituation had reached a crisis point due to the anarchic nature of recent armed conflicts. In the face of such tensions universality, impartiality and independence seemed to be the keys to NGO security. Due to the political vacuum that existed in many emergency situations, confusion had arisen between political objectives and humanitarian work. The role of international military operations and their relationship to the humanitarian community had created similar confusion. The reaction of certain humanitarian organisations, when faced with massive human rights violations, had also contributed to the politicisation of humanitarian action.

Although there were no easy answers to the above-mentioned questions it was crucial for humanitarian agencies to co-ordinate and co-operate on security issues in the field. It was not easy for security officials from more structured organisations to work together with NGOs; yet the frequent exchange of information was essential.

One particular problem area, particularly with regard to the evacuation of staff, was the distinction made between NGOs who acted as implementing partners of an IGO and those who did not. Another difficulty arose from differences in the treatment of international and local staff. However, good security was an interactive process with the specific environment in which humanitarian personnel operated

 Mr Jaquemet, Senior Legal Officer of the Division of International Protection (UNHCR), speaking in a personal capacity, highlighted the ambiguous situation in which humanitarian organisations operated. On the one hand they needed violations of the law to justify their presence, but on the other they called for restraints on those violations in order to carry out their activities. Operating within the logic of international humanitarian law, humanitarian agencies were forced to work within a very narrow legal corridor loc ated between permission and limitation. In situations short of armed conflict, minimum humanitarian standards such as those contained in the Turku/Abo Declaration of December 1990 needed to be respected.

However, the presence of humanitarian agencies became highly questionable when parties to a conflict or civil disturbances disregarded the core principles of international humanitarian law or humanitarian standards. Humanitarian agencies were urged to assess whether their presence was justified in objective terms. Competition for funding and the popularity achieved in the media and amongst donor governments when assisting victims in unsafe environments meant that security considerations were ignored or relegated to minor importance. Another point for consideration was that local staff was discriminated as far as their security was concerned. Humanitarian agencies found it increasingly difficult to convince experienced international staff to accept work in insecure countries because the posts offered were non-family duty stations. Many humanitarian workers were subject to a strong sense of guilt, which could lead to increased stress and insufficient respect for security arrangements.

 Mr Jean-Daniel Tauxe, Deputy Director of Operations (ICRC) , reminded the meeting that security risks in situations of violent conflict would persist for a considerable time to come. Deficiencies in that area could be partially explained by a lack of preparedness among humanitarian workers or by the consequences of impoverishment among local populations and fighters. Another exacerbating factor was the perception of humanitarian workers and the increasing politicisation of their work.

The ICRC felt that greater consultation between humanitarian agencies was absolutely essential, particularly in view of the confusion created by an increase in the number of humanitarian actors working in the fie ld. The Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Non-Governmental Organisations in Disaster Relief was to be seen as an attempt to implement certain basic ethical principles when providing humanitarian assistance.

Although the ICRC was prepared to use armed guards to protect premises, it was extremely reluctant to use armed escorts in the field. It was fully aware that not all NGOs shared that position but did not wish to be perceived as taking sides. In order to enhance co-ordination with NGOs, the ICRC proposed that a co-ordination mechanism be set up on an ad-hoc basis or at headquarters level. Since humanitarian agencies had different agendas but shared many common ideals it was felt that a mechanism of informal consultation in the field might be more appropriate.

A participant highlighted the danger of engaging in elaborate security arrangements to counter the deliberate targeting of humanitarian workers without sufficient statistical proof at hand.

 Mr Tauxe (ICRC) specified that ICRC staff had been targeted for financial and political gain. He added that humanitarian workers who had witnessed certain events could also be targeted for military reasons .

 Mr McClellan (SCHR) agreed that adequate documentary evidence was required to confirm the trend towards the targeting of humanitarian personnel, but stated that it was a well known fact that humanitarian workers in Burundi and Rwanda had removed identification flags because they felt that they were in danger.

Another participant stated that neutrality and impartiality did not necessarily guarantee protection. In certain cultures a policy of alignment had greater success since neutrality and impartiality were viewed with de ep suspicion or simply did not exist. She asked the ICRC to specify the partners with whom it was prepared to share information and inquired whether a balance could be struck between transparency and confidentiality. Referring to the status of NGOs, she indicated that many of them were funded by governments and were therefore not as non-governmental as one might believe.

 Mr Tauxe (ICRC) stated that the ICRC was also funded mainly by governments. He conceded that neutrality and impartiality could be interpreted negatively in ethnic conflicts but felt that any form of alignment should include both sides to a conflict. Although confidentiality was extremely important to organisations such as the ICRC, it was still possible to be transparent and to respect confidentiality at the same time.

 Mr Jaquemet (UNHCR) indicated that the UNHCR was also funded by governments, but recognised that it was more difficult for NGOs with a national base to convince parties that they were not a voice of their governments. He said that the UNHCR was prepared to share information with humanitarian actors. Concerning governments, it could be more delicate as they were often parties to the conflict.

 Mr McClellan (SCHR) expressed concern at any attempts by governments to determine when and how NGOs should work simply because they provided funding. He said that most NGOs managed to fulfil their missions independently despite obvious tensions that occurred. Referring to the question of impartiality, he stated that it was difficult for some NGOs to be neutral by virtue of their commitment to assist victims. He added that some security officials from more hierarchical organisations were concerned by the leakage of security information by NGOs but pointed out that some NGOs felt that they could no t do otherwise because of the closeness of their relations with the local population.

 Mr Captier (Action against Hunger) informed the meeting that a project had been initiated by an ad-hoc group of NGOs to record incidents involving relief workers and to redistribute that information in less confidential form to partners belonging to the network. Although information sharing existed on an informal level in the field, it was important to set up a high-level network of information exchange between various humanitarian organisations.

 Mr Jaquemet (UNHCR) said that it was crucial for humanitarian actors to control their expansion.

 Mr Tauxe (ICRC) said that the ICRC was prepared to share information to improve the security conditions of genuine humanitarian workers in the field. However, it was not prepared to share information that could be used for military purposes. Humanitarian workers were urged to respect basic ethical principles on the ground and to avoid any misuse of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Emblem.

A participant stated that more journalists were killed on active duty than humanitarian workers and pointed out the initial aim of the information initiative launched by Action against Hunger was to establish whether humanitarian workers were being targeted.

 Mr Tauxe (ICRC) disagreed with the above claim but concurred with the need to exchange information.

 Mr von Flüe (ICRC) pointed out that the presence of journalists could contribute to an increased security risk.

Another participant expressed concern at the use of rape as a political weapon and indicated that many NGOs were involved in second-track diplomacy in order to deal with conflict resolution.

 Mr Dind (ICRC) said that the number of rapes in the field had increased, but that not all of those were linked to political motivation. The question of rape was discussed within the ICRC. Regarding the decision to evacuate female humanitarian workers from certain areas, the ICRC had noted that many women delegates felt that no distinction should be made on grounds of sex.

 Mr Jaquemet (UNHCR), referring to the issue of conflict resolution, said that prevention and early warning activities required great expertise and were extremely difficult to carry out due to the principle of State sovereignty.

 Prof. Meron pointed out that many States considered any form of universal jurisdiction as an encroachment on their sovereignty.

 Mr McClellan (SCHR) said that it was very difficult to combine human rights work with mediation work. He stated that it was also difficult to mix human rights and relief activities.

 Mr Tauxe (ICRC) indicated that it was dangerous for humanitarian organisations to become involved in conflict resolution and to do more than provide humanitarian assistance. Although the ICRC sometimes acted as a neutral intermediary in bringing armed groups together it did not take part in the negotiations between those groups.

 Prof. Meron said that it was useful for human rights and humanitarian organisations to remain separate for practical reasons.

 Mr von Flüe (ICRC) reminded the meeting that Médecins sans Frontières had published a report on a conference held in Amsterdam in February 1996 concerned with " the Cooperation between Humanitarian Organisations and Human Rights Organisations " , which tried to devise ways for humanitarian relief and human rights organisations to best work together.

A participant suggested that humanitarian organisations should examine the essence of humanitarian action, which was very limited in scope.

Another one felt that minimum standards of good security practice could be achieved between humanitarian organisations. He stated that there had been general consensus on the problems created by increased competition between agencies, and on the need to share security information in the field. The meeting had also recognised that the humanitarian community contained a number of black sheep who did not respect basic rules, and it had discussed the relationship between operational agencies and those specialising in advocacy.

 Mr Jaquemet (UNHCR) said that UNHCR saw itself as both a human rights and a humanitarian agency, providing protection for refugees and advocating their claims to human rights. He also insisted on the fact that human rights organisations are not limited to those denouncing and going public but also include those more discreet, involved in capacity building and in creating a culture of accountability.

 Mr McClellan (SCHR) said that humanitarian organisations had to come to terms with the fact that their presence did not necessarily enhance the security of those they sought to assist.

A participant said that human rights organisations did not merely monitor or denounce violations of human rights. They also engaged in technical co-operation. As a result he felt that it would be useful to share information with human rights groups.

 Mr Tauxe (ICRC) stated that the ICRC acknowledged the valuable work carried out by human rights groups and benefited from their reports. However, public denunciations needed to be co-ordinated in order to limit the risk for humanitarian workers on the ground.

A participant referring to the situation in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, paid tribute to the local staff of humanitarian organisations who carried out dangerous work, mentioning by the way the problems created by the allegiance of local staff to one of the parties to the conflict, and inquired into how the ICRC dealt with such situations.

 Mr Tauxe (ICRC) said that allegiance was an extremely delicate issue, especially in the case of volunteers. However, it was the duty of the ICRC to do its best to protect the local staff as well as expatriates. The problem in the Great Lakes was that security violations by certain NGOs had put the lives of the local population in danger.

Another participant said that it was perfectly legitimate for local staff to have political views.

 Mr Ritchie (Fédération des Institutions Internationales) drew the meeting's attention to a study that was currently being conducted by the Union of International Associations , Brussels, on the protection of NGOs in hazardous and perilous situations. Results would be made available in 1998. He also indicated that Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, was conducting a Humanitarianism and War Project, designed to analyse the challen ges of co-ordination, security and professionalism. Finally, he inquired into the possibility of sharing information on the insuring of humanitarian personnel against risks.

 Mr Dind (ICRC) said that the ICRC had limited personal insurance cover with certain Swiss companies. Additional war cover had been negotiated with an insurance syndicate outside Switzerland.

 Mr Tauxe (ICRC) added that the ICRC encountered difficulties in insuring goods and premises because of the increased tendency to have looting and theft.



 By Mr Jean-Paul Fallet  

 Mr JP Fallet, Head of International Organisations Division of the ICRC, drew some conclusions of the seminar which had focused on field-related issues and had revealed that there was a common platform for dialogue in seven key areas: acceptance and acceptability, proximity, co-operation, responsibility, training, security rules and personality.

The meeting had discussed the means of forging acceptability by means of a common code of conduct. The need to draw the line between intelligence gathering and information sharing had also been expressed. Independence of action had been emphasised, along with the delicate balance that needed to be struck between persuasion and negotiation, discrete representation and denunciation. The concept of humanitarian space had been evoked, in addition to the need for clarification of the roles of political organisations and humanitarian agencies. One of the pillars of humanitarian action was to involve victims as partners, not as beneficiaries of assistance. Co-operation in the field and at headquarters level had been seen as vital . The meeting had recognised that a security risk arose from increased competition among humanitarian agencies and had acknowledged the need for solidarity based on ethical principles. Regarding the issue of potential targeting of humanitarian workers, it felt that existing international Conventions needed further improvement to extend protection to humanitarian actors and that a valid mechanism for the implementation of such protection should be set up. Security training was essential for humanitarian workers, who required standards of good practice which were adapted to the field and subject to regular review. It was crucial for humanitarian workers to adopt a humble but deeply committed attitude towards victims and to respect other cultures.

In conclusion, participants of the seminar were requested to keep the dialogue between humanitarian actors fresh and alive. To that effect, the meeting was reminded of a number of significant international events which would take place in 1998 and which would deal with issues of common interest.

 Ref. LG 1997-143-ENG