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Human rights, mass exoduses and displaced persons

06-04-1998 Statement

54th Annual Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Agenda item 9 - 6 April 1998. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for giving the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) the floor.

We would like to start by expressing the ICRC's gratitude for the work that has been accomplished by Mr. Francis Deng, Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons. Since the inception of his mandate, the Representative has brought the phenomenon of internal displacement to the forefront of international attention.

Through his work, Mr. Deng has provided increased insight into the various problems encountered by the internally displaced, and formulated valuable recommendations on ways and means to address these problems. In this regard, the Representative has rightly underlined the primary responsibility of national authorities to meet the protection and assistance needs of their population, while at the same time conveyed the readiness of the international community to provide support for such efforts.

It is well known that the great majority of internal displacement occurs in the context of violence, be it internal disturbances or outright armed conflict. In such situations, the ICRC has been given a mandate to protect and assist all victims. The observance of humanitarian law, as well as human rights law, would considerably reduce the occurrence of forced displacement. As the promoter and guardian of international humanitarian law, the ICRC therefore puts great emphasis on reminding the parties of their obligations under this law. It is worth recalling that in situations of internal armed conflict, common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, reflecting international customary law, is applicable, and that 142 States are presently parties to Additional Protocol II of 1977.

Recent conflicts have been characterized by an increasing targeting of civilians, either as a strategy of warfare or even as the very objective of the parties involved. Consequently, the internally displaced now often constitute a considerable part of the affected population. While a comprehensive approach is necessary to effectively address the needs of the victims, in accordance with the principles of neutrality and impartiality, there is at the same time a need to be sensitive to specific needs among vulnerable groups. In this regard, the very fact of being displaced often entails a loss of sources of livelihood and exposes the affected persons to further violence. It should also be noted that women and children, which have long been recognized as being particularly vulnerable, may constitute up to 80 % of the internally displaced.

The complexity and magnitude of internal displacement requires a concerted effort by the international community. In this respect, it is important that the many actors engaged in humanitarian work coordinate their activities, taking into account both the needs for complementarity and respect for the mandate and specific role of each organization.

Mr. Chairman,

The ICRC has for several years followed with particular interest, and indeed actively supported, one particular aspect of the work of the Representative, namely his analysis of relevant international law, and his efforts to clarify that law into a concise and practical format. The ICRC is pleased to have been associated with the preparation of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement which the Representative is presenting to this session of the Commission on Human Rights.

The Guiding Principles contain standards relevant to all stages of displac ement, including, most importantly, protection from being arbitrarily displaced. It should be noted that while the Guiding Principles are not in themselves legally binding, they reflect to a large extent already existing international law, notably international humanitarian law. While not altering nor replacing this law, the Guiding Principles nevertheless provide useful guidance on how the law is to be interpreted in the context of internal displacement.

In the opinion of the ICRC, the document constitutes a useful tool to promote knowledge about relevant standards, and to sensitize all actors involved to the specific problems that may arise. The Guiding Principles should thus prove valuable for all those confronted with problems of internal displacement. For its part, the ICRC will seek to follow up the work of the Representative by promoting awareness of the Guiding Principles, including among its delegations in the field and at headquarters.

Thank you Mr. Chairman

 Ref. LG 1998-026-ENG