• Send page
  • Print page

Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, questions relating to refugees, returnees and displaced persons and humanitarian questions

12-11-1999 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 54th session, Third Committee, item 111 of the agenda – Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 12 November 1999

Mr. Chairman,

Displacement of populations and the suffering of the millions affected are largely resulting from two interrelated factors: the prevalence of armed conflicts in many regions of the world and massive violations of international law. And this, even though the international community has developed normative and institutional tools to prevent and respond to both armed conflicts and exoduses.

In the wake of the Second World War, the community of States succeeded, in the course of a few years, in adopting highly innovative instruments aimed at securing peace and respect for human dignity. Aside from the Charter of the United Nations, these include in particular the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, and the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Each of these complementary instruments are relevant and a source of inspiration for subsequent initiatives.

The primary objective of humanitarian law is to protect all victims of armed conflict. It equally constitutes an essential tool for minimizing the occurrence of displacement. It provides extensive protection for those who are uprooted in a situation of armed conflict, be it within their own country or across its borders.

First, the rules governing the conduct of hostilities prohibit attacks against civilians and the destruction of objects indispensable to their survival, such as crops, livestock, or drinking-water installations. Second, humanitarian law provides that the parties to a conflict treat civilians under their control in a humane manner. These rules seek to guarantee sec urity and the means for subsistence, both of which are essential to allow persons to remain in their homes. They are also guarantees for those who have already been displaced.

Besides this general protection, humanitarian law expressly prohibits displacement for reasons related to the conflict, unless the security of the civilians involved or imperative military reasons so demand. It also contains provisions which address some of the specific problems that may be faced by refugees.

Mr. Chairman,

Humanitarian law is all too often violated. The numerous cases in which civilian population is deliberately targeted, provoking massive displacement as a result - not to mention the increase in violence committed against humanitarian organizations, which threatens their ability to reach victims - bear witness to this phenomenon. In this regard, the ICRC expresses its satisfaction at the recent initiative taken by the Security Council to better protect civilians affected by armed conflict and the subsequent report by the Secretary-General.

Aware of the particular vulnerability of displaced persons, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) seeks to protect and assist them wherever possible. In accordance with its mandate to promote the implementation of international humanitarian law, the ICRC reminds parties to a conflict of their duty to respect and protect all civilians.

The ICRC, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and their International Federation have demonstrated their strong concern for the victims of displacement, and their determination to act on their behalf, during the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

The Conference, which took place just a few days ago in Geneva, adopted a Plan of Action which, inter alia, requests that all parties to an armed conflict avoid all measures which cou ld provoke population displacement and ensure that displaced persons be respected and protected. It further requests that the civilian character of refugee and internally displaced persons camps be maintained, and that the displaced be allowed to return voluntarily, in peaceful conditions, and in safety to their homes, or to voluntarily resettle elsewhere.

Having in mind the responsibility of States and the primary mandate of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Plan of Action also calls on each component of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, according to their respective mandates, to extend a greater support to States in fulfilling their obligations to protect and assist refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons, and to promote solidarity and understanding between these groups and their host communities.

Mr. Chairman,

I could not conclude without emphasizing the good working relations between the ICRC and the Office of the UNHCR. Daily dialogue between our staff concerning matters of common concern, together with in-depth discussions on specific themes have, over the years, helped build a sense of mutual respect and confidence. This facilitates the identification of areas where the impact of our activities can be optimized through complementary or joint action.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

Réf. LG 1999-190-ENG