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Address at the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council

21-03-2001 Statement

Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, Brussels, 21 March 2001. Address by Dr Jakob Kellenberger, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Mr Chairman,


I should like to thank Lord Robertson most sincerely for having invited me to address the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council today – a first for the International Committee of the Red Cross. The ICRC is grateful for this opportunity and is eager to take part in a constructive dialogue with the Council.

While your aim is to foster peace, stability and security in the Euro-Atlantic region, the ICRC's mandate, entrusted to it by the States represented here today, among others, is to protect and assist the victims of armed conflict and internal violence. Our respective goals are therefore compatible and can be complementary. In fact, your success is entirely in our own interest. Due regard for the distinct responsibilities and operating methods of our two organizations is naturally a prerequisite for achieving these goals.

The ICRC, with its staff of almost 12000, conducts its activities worldwide, through over 200 delegations and offices spread across five continents. In 2000, for instance, the ICRC assisted more than five million people displaced as a result of conflict and visited over 200,000 political or security detainees in 68 countries. The ICRC's largest operations are currently being carried out in Africa, the continent which is the theatre of most conflicts today. The organization also carries out major activities in the Euro-Atlantic region, accounting for 23 per cent of its operational budget this year. Most of these activities take place in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Russian Federation. In both cases, protection continues to be a major concern for the ICRC, which is involved in tracing activities for persons still unaccounted for in the Balkans and conducts visits to detention centres in the Russian Federation, in particular in and around Chechnya. While we are considering the possibility of scaling back our assistance activities in Yugoslavia, we are planning to step up our work substantially in the Northern Caucasus, in particular in Chechnya.

You will deal just after with the situation in the FYR of Macedonia. You will no doubt agree: the current situation in the FYR of Macedonia and in Southern Serbia requires first and foremost political responses. As far as the humanitarian consequences of the fighting are concerned, the ICRC is ready to respond and has already been doing so by registering 7000 IDP's together with the Macedonian Red Cross, supporting Tetovo hospital and distributing food parcels to IDP's and most vulnerable families.

I shall confine my comments today to two main topics of dialogue between the ICRC and the Council, a dialogue which I trust will be fruitful: first of all, cooperation between the ICRC and the military, and secondly, various aspects of international humanitarian law.

 Relations between civilian and military players  


The ICRC was originally set up to ease the suffering of military personnel. It is therefore natural for the organization to have contacts with the armed forces, as it does with those of all members of your Council, at both bilateral and multilateral levels. These contacts have enabled the ICRC to sign agreements promoting the instruction of humanitarian law among the armed forces with a number of your governments and with SHAPE. 

In the past few years, NATO and a number of other organizations have developed principles of cooperation between civil ians and the military, mainly during peace-keeping or peace-enforcement operations. Those principles have evolved to keep pace with changing situations. In theatres of operations where humanitarian organizations work alongside political and international military players – a small number compared with all the armed conflicts in which the ICRC is present and active – open and dynamic cooperation is required if humanitarian activities are to be effective. The ICRC can be counted on to foster such cooperation and it moreover recognizes the humanitarian dimension that political and military action can take on. I am referring, in particular, to efforts aimed at improving security, preventing the outbreak of violence and restoring peace.

The military can also play an effective role in facilitating the work of humanitarian organizations, as demonstrated in some instances in the Balkans. However, recognition of the humanitarian dimension of certain military operations should not be considered as an invitation to confuse the respective mandates of political and military players, on the one hand, and humanitarian organizations, on the other. Such confusion can easily lead to misunderstandings in people's minds concerning the role of each player and ultimately cause a rejection of both humanitarian and military action. This is why military units should not simultaneously carry out military operations and humanitarian activities.

What is essential for the ICRC is to be able to reach the victims. In order to ensure full acceptance of its presence by everyone on the ground, the ICRC must engage in dialogue with all the warring parties. During my travels for the ICRC, whether in Afghanistan, Colombia, Uganda, Angola or the Western Sahara, I personally witnessed the importance of such acceptance. It is what enabled the ICRC to remain present and work in Serbia and neighbouring areas with all those involved in the fighting for the entire duration of the conflict i n Kosovo in 1999. The ICRC would never gain acceptance by a party to a conflict or by the population at large if it were seen to be linked to particular political or military interests. The ICRC's independence is essential and suffers no exception.

 International humanitarian law  

Switzerland, the depositary of the Geneva Conventions, has placed humanitarian law on the agenda of the Partnership for Peace more than once. I am referring, in particular, to a seminar organized jointly by Switzerland and the United Kingdom in London last December. The ICRC welcomes such initiatives.

In turn, I should like to raise the following issues relating to international humanitarian law:

  • First of all, there is the problem of small arms and light weapons. In 1999, the ICRC published a study entitled " Arms availability and the situation of civilians in armed conflicts " , which drew attention to the consequences in humanitarian terms of the uncontrolled proliferation of weapons. Ever since, we have been urging States involved in weapons and munitions transfers to take into account the likelihood of respect for humanitarian law by the users. Let me stress that this appeal is in line with Article 1 common to the four Geneva Conventions, which requires States to " ensure respect for " humanitarian law, and should be of major concern to States that are upgrading their arsenals and whose discarded weapons are likely to be resold.

  • I should also like to point out that the Review Conference of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which is to be held at the end of the year, will provide a unique opportunity to take stock of the current situation and to reflect together on measures tha t could be adopted to increase restrictions on the use of weapons. The ICRC has submitted two proposals to the States involved in preparations for the Review Conference. The first is to extend the scope of application of the 1980 Convention, and possibly its Protocols, to non-international armed conflicts, which are the rule rather than the exception today. The second proposal, relating to " explosive remnants of war " , aims to reduce the problems caused by anti-vehicle mines, cluster bombs and other unexploded devices, especially after the cessation of hostilities. This proposal sets out the following three basic principles:

  • the users of such munitions should clear or assist in the clearance of unexploded devices at the end of active hostilities;

  • the users of such munitions should exchange technical information with the organizations involved in clearance activities so as to facilitate their work;

  • the users of munitions that could remain active after their deployment should provide the information necessary to alert the civilian population to the dangers of these devices.

These principles would be at the heart of a new protocol.

The ICRC has already discussed its proposals with a number of States, several of which have responded positively. I hope that in the coming months, further discussions will make it possible to draw up clearer and more precise aims for the Review Conference. Moreover, I believe that it is important for these issues to be actively addressed within the framework of your Council, all the more so as the security of your troops which may be engaged in peace-keeping or peace-making operations is at stake.

The controversy to which the use of munitions containing depleted uranium has given rise in the past few months provides us with a special opportunity to stress the provisions contained in Article 36 of Protocol I additional to the Geneva Conventions, an instrument which is binding on 157 States to date. Article 36 stipulates that in the study, development or acquisition of new weapons, means or methods of warfare, States are under an obligation to determine whether its use would be contrary to international law. This obligation, beyond helping to resolve such controversies, aims to protect potential victims, both civilian and military, from the effects of certain weapons. Few States have so far adopted mechanisms for the examination of the legality of new weapons. This represents a serious shortcoming as regards the effective implementation of an important obligation under humanitarian law, especially in view of the rapid development of weapons technology today. I should therefore like to see greater consideration given to this legal obligation, especially considering that certain States which are not party to Protocol I have adopted mechanisms for the examination of the legality of weapons.

These are the issues that I wanted to bring up with you today. I am convinced of the usefulness of a dialogue between the ICRC and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. Our respective goals are compatible and can be complementary. I believe that an ongoing and constructive dialogue at every level of our organizations is important. I am pleased to note the excellent cooperation that has already taken place between the ICRC, SFOR and KFOR on the ground, whether at the operational level, in the numerous activities undertaken to teach knowledge of humanitarian law or during various exchanges of information on the humanitarian situation. However, I am aware that more can be done, especially in the field of humanitarian law, and in order to promote a better understanding by the members of the Council of the contribution which a neutral and ind ependent organization like the ICRC can make in situations of crisis and acute tension. The ICRC is interested in pursuing and consolidating the dialogue, not only on the ground, but also at NATO headquarters and in your respective capitals.

In conclusion, I should like to express the hope that our talks here today will lead to practical action. Neither the aims of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council nor those of the ICRC are easy to accomplish. It is therefore in our mutual interest to cooperate in the most effective manner possible, with due respect for our distinct mandates and methods of action, and for international law.

Thank you. I should now be happy to respond to any questions and listen to any comments you may have.

Ref. LG 2001-013-ENG