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52nd session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme

05-10-2001 Statement

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – Address by the International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, 1- 5 October 2001

Mr Chairman,

On behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross, I would like to thank you for giving me the floor at this 52nd session of UNHCR's Executive Committee. Allow me to comment on some of the issues raised by the High Commissioner in his opening statement.

The protection of people affected by conflict is  a major concern of the ICRC which has been heightened considerably in the past months. Despite the considerable efforts made by humanitarian organizations to prevent displacements, the recent exodus of entire populations has reminded us of the limits of humanitarian action.

As you know, people displaced internally as a result of conflict are at the core of the ICRC's activities. At this very moment, our organization is bringing protection and assistance to over five million displaced people in nearly 50 contexts, such as Angola, the Republic of the Congo, Sri Lanka and Colombia, to name but a few. Furthermore, the difficulties facing local communities that play host to refugees and displaced persons should not be underestimated; this is why the ICRC has always endeavoured to adopt an approach based on observed needs rather than on predefined categories.

The search for lasting solutions is a concern that we share with UNHCR. In the long run, the return of displaced people and refugees to their homes is undoubtedly the best outcome. In this respect, the transition phase in an often very fragile peace process is critical. In such an uncertain environment, the involvement of every entity, authority and humanitarian organization must be defined so as to allow the situation to stabilize and activities and responsibilities to be handed over to other s in an appropriate manner. States in particular are responsible for ensuring that humanitarian organizations and development agencies receive adequate and predictable funding. Humanitarian organizations, for their part, must coordinate their efforts. Not only must those engaged in emergency operations agree among themselves on the best way to respond to needs; they must also strengthen ties with rehabilitation and development agencies. Here I would mention that even in the emergency phase the ICRC strives to make the civilian population as self-reliant as possible.

Our view is that, to be effective, a lasting response to a crisis situation generally requires that the context as a whole be taken into account, and that a global approach be adopted with the aim of preventing the abuses that cause displacement, alleviating the immediate consequences and supporting the process of return, rehabilitation and development. The ICRC has been entrusted by States with the responsibility of protecting and assisting the victims of armed conflict, including displaced persons. We are therefore determined to continue to fulfil our mandate with respect to these people. More specifically, we will meet the immediate requirements of those who have recently been displaced or who are in urgent need of assistance, just as we do for other groups of civilians affected by conflict, including local communities.

Conversely, we feel that other organizations — in particular United Nations agencies, but in some countries National Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies — are better equipped to meet the needs of other categories of vulnerable people, such as the long-term displaced and migrants living around large cities.

Mr Chairman,

In the wide-ranging debate on the coordination of humanitarian activities, it should not be forgotten that cooperation must take place primarily on the ground, that it must be based on s imple arrangements, and that it must take into account the different mandates and expertise of those taking part and assign them complementary roles. A clear division of tasks is in the best interests of the people in need. With this in mind, the ICRC, together with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, has taken an active part in the coordination process initiated by OCHA and the Senior Inter-Agency Network on Internal Displacement, which aims to improve the humanitarian response to internally displaced persons'needs.

Harmonization of efforts is also one of the main concerns at the high-level meetings held each year between UNHCR and the ICRC. Security problems are now high on the agenda of our two organizations, as both were stricken by the murder of several staff members in September 2000 and April 2001. Other common concerns which have given rise to frequent exchanges, within the framework of the Global Consultations on International Protection in particular, include the return of refugees and displaced persons, issues relating to management and finance, and also the problems involved in separating armed elements from refugees.

Finally, the activities of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement on behalf of refugees and internally displaced persons will be on the agenda of the next Council of Delegates of the Movement, to be held in Geneva in November.

Determined efforts to prevent displacement must go on. Strict compliance with international humanitarian law by all parties to a conflict would by itself bring about a significant reduction in population movements. Those involved in humanitarian work are nevertheless well aware that on their own they can have little influence on the deep-seated causes of conflicts. Humanitarian action does not release the international community from its obligation to seek political solutions to the underlying problems.

Mr Chairman,

Today, thousands of people are living in fear of what tomorrow might bring. Entire nations feel threatened in what is most precious to us all: life and dignity.

Together with its partners in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the ICRC stands with those who are grieving the loss of loved ones, with those who are wounded in their body and spirit and with those who can look to the future only with despair. The purpose and essence of international humanitarian law is to minimize the impact of armed conflict on people not taking part in the hostilities, and to protect their lives and dignity.

These principles are fundamental — they are the common heritage of all nations and all civilizations. Today more than ever, they must prevail.

Thank you, Mr Chairman.