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Humanitarian access and Health Care in Danger, ICRC statement to ECOSOC, 2013

23-08-2013 Statement

ICRC deputy director-general Balthasar Staehelin spoke to the UN Economic and Social Council on the topic of humanitarian access and Health Care in Danger on 17 July 2013.

Mr Chairman,
A series of crises in recent years has highlighted the increasing difficulties in accessing vulnerable populations in situations of armed conflict, not just for the International Committee of the Red Cross, but also for other impartial humanitarian organizations. A particular challenge in a number of these situations is the controversy over existence of an armed conflict and the applicability of rules under International Humanitarian Law.
The ICRC for its part, all too frequently, faces restrictions in accessing populations in need which can be geographic in nature or curtail certain types of activities and include administrative obstacles and exposure of ICRC delegates to threats or attacks. The denial of humanitarian access can be catastrophic for the victims of armed conflict and violence, leaving vast numbers of vulnerable people without basic necessities or services, be it food, shelter, health care or protection. While various approaches to overcoming constraints on access exist, the ICRC is committed to its distinct approach of building a constructive dialogue and relationships with all relevant parties in a confidential manner to gain consent as well as to promote trust for, and understanding of its activities.

Mr Chairman,
The Geneva Conventions have been ratified by all states and this indicates a consensus on the necessity of –among other things - respecting access for impartial humanitarian actors during armed conflict as well as an acceptance of a series of obligations that States are expected to implement in good faith.  Furthermore, States, as well as all parties to a conflict have a clear obligation not only to respect, but also to ensure respect for the Geneva Conventions.
We therefore call on States and all relevant parties to a conflict to grant and facilitate access to the ICRC and other impartial humanitarian organizations; delivering assistance without prejudice or distinction, based on the sole objective and ideal of meeting humanitarian needs in these situations. Furthermore we urge that such access not be hindered or constrained, allowing the delivery of assistance and protection in a manner that is neutral, impartial and independent.

Mr Chairman,
New technologies and innovative approaches to facilitate aid delivery mean that humanitarian organizations are increasingly able to plan and engage in humanitarian action without the need for the same levels of access as before. The ICRC welcomes the use of new technologies in the delivery of humanitarian assistance as they can increase efficiency in terms of needs assessment and aid delivery, establish new relationships with beneficiaries and increase accountability. The ICRC however is convinced that there is no substitute for direct humanitarian presence on the ground permitting proximity to the victims as a guarantee of an efficient humanitarian response. In order to ensure a needs-based, comprehensive delivery of assistance and protection nothing can substitute for direct dialogue with warring parties and the direct contact and relations with affected communities and beneficiaries.

Mr Chairman,
With the following point I would also like today to draw attention to a very serious, on-going and often neglected humanitarian concern:  Violence and insecurity against the delivery of impartial health care. In 2011, mandated by the international community though a Resolution at the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the ICRC launched a 4 year initiative entitled “Health Care in Danger” to identify and implement concrete measures for improving security in the provision of, and access to, health care in armed conflicts and other major emergencies.  Our recently published report “Violent incidents affecting health care”, available publicly, shows that most security incidents involve local health-care personnel. The consequences of such incidents are far reaching in terms of impact on the health system of the country involved as a whole. Notably, the specificity and local nature of the problem requires it to be distinguished from the broader debate on humanitarian access.
Allow me to seize this occasion to thanks Member States that have expressed their support on this issue and strive for a better protection of health care providers.

To conclude Mr Chairman; in spite of efforts within the international community to address recent crises and respond to the effects of armed conflict and other situations of violence, we continue to witness acute humanitarian needs in such contexts. It is imperative that every effort is made to facilitate the delivery of timely and impartial humanitarian assistance by organizations such as the ICRC.

Thank you.