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Comprehensive review of the whole question of peace-keeping operations in all its aspects

20-10-1999 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 54th session, Fourth Committee, item 90 of the agenda Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 20 October 1999

Mr. Chairman,

On 12 August 1999 - the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions - a Solemn Appeal was made by fourteen prominent world figures, including the United Nations Secretary-General, to all peoples, nations and governments to respect humanitarian principles in situations of armed conflict. The Secretary-General chose this symbolic date to promulgate his Bulletin on " Observance by United Nations Forces of International Humanitarian Law " . The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) welcomes the promulgation by the Secretary-General of these regulations, the drafting of which the ICRC had contributed to. It remains, moreover, available to contribute to any future re-examination or revision of this document.

Mr. Chairman,

The world is once again witnessing an increase in volume of the UN's peace-keeping activities, which continue to diversify. This is testimony to the unique role of the Organization both in conflict settlement and post-conflict peace-building.

UN peace-keepers, as members of their respective States'armed forces, are already bound by the international humanitarian treaties their home countries have ratified. The conduct of UN contingents, acting in the name of the international community, therefore ought to be exemplary. In practice, however, they display varying degrees of familiarity with humanitarian law. The substantial merit of the Bulletin, which summarizes some of the core rules of humanitarian law, is that it explicitly extends their application to United Nations personnel.

However, one should recall that the Bulletin applies only to UN forces conducting operat ions under the command and control of the United Nations. It does not apply to operations authorized by the Security Council which are placed under the command of a State or regional organization. In such cases the States, or the groups of States concerned, must comply with the customary and treaty-based rules by which they are bound. Disciplinary and penal measures against their personnel who violate humanitarian law therefore remain their responsibility.

One can only endorse the recommendations made by the Secretary-General, in his recent report to the Security Council on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, which reaffirm the importance of respecting humanitarian law and human rights law in all peace-keeping operations, and call for  the concerned units to receive adequate training in this area.

In this regard, the ICRC currently takes part in numerous training courses for peace-keeping forces, both in their home countries and where they have been deployed. In addition, it is preparing a training module specifically designed for peace-keeping operations, and wishes to step up its cooperation with both the States supplying contingents and the UN itself. The ICRC is therefore convinced that the Bulletin is a useful tool for making humanitarian law better known and for improving compliance with its rules.

Mr. Chairman,

The ICRC would like to seize this opportunity to salute the Secretary-General's request, made in October 1998, that the minimum age for personnel assigned to peace-keeping forces be established at 21 years, and under no circumstances younger than 18.

Mr. Chairman,

The ICRC is pleased to note that, in recent developments, the humanitarian consequences of armed conflict are being taken into consideration when the Security Council decides to intervene under Chapter VII of the Charter. It would like to underscor e, however, the risks inherent to coordinating humanitarian action from within a structure originally intended for the pursuit of political and military objectives. Since confusion over different roles can only be detrimental to the success of military and humanitarian endeavours alike, it is crucial that all actors involved in a given situation act in keeping with their proper mandates and capabilities. To this end, it is essential that all bodies involved in responding to a crisis consult one another from the outset.

In this respect the Special Committee on Peace-keeping Operations, in its report to the General Assembly, stresses the importance of the distinction between peace-keeping operations and humanitarian action: The former are part of a political process aimed at resolving conflict or facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance, whereas the basic purpose of humanitarian action is to protect human life and dignity.

There have been a number of recent situations where humanitarian action has been constrained, for example, due to reasons of security. In such cases, the deployment of military contingents to carry out humanitarian operations has proved beneficial - in the short term. Such action, however, should only be employed as a last resort. Humanitarian organizations must be able to continue carrying out their activities in accordance with the principles of humanity and impartiality; they must be able to preserve the non-political character of their work in order to maintain this distinction - to do so requires independence in the making of decisions and in the taking of any action required.

Allow me to conclude by emphasizing, Mr. Chairman, that while the ICRC reaffirms the importance it attaches to the drawing of a clear distinction between the respective mandates of military and humanitarian entities, the Institution wishes to continue the dialogue it has established with States and with the United Nati ons, in a spirit of complementarity.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Ref. LG 1999-194-ENG