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Ministerial meeting of States Parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol

13-12-2001 Statement

Geneva, 12 and 13 December 2001 -.Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross

Mr Chairman,


It is an honour and a pleasure for me to address this first Ministerial Meeting of States Parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, held to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relative to the Status of Refugees.


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) wishes to join previous speakers in reaffirming its support for the 1951 Refugee Convention, which is the foundation of the international regime for the protection of refugees, and also to commend the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees for its relentless efforts during more than 50 years to protect refugees and to find sustainable solutions for their plight.


The ICRC has much in common with UNHCR. It too has a protection mandate – relating to the victims of armed conflict – and it too is responsible for upholding and promoting a body of rules intended to protect such persons – international humanitarian law.


With regard to international protection, it should be pointed out that UNHCR and the ICRC are the only international organizations to combine the responsibility to afford protection with the responsibility to provide humanitarian assistance. The nature of current crises is increasingly requiring our two organizations to work together in the same operational contexts. In these contexts, UNHCR and the ICRC face similar challenges: gaining access to populations in need, ensuring the security of humanitarian staff, dealing with the relationship between humanitarian action on the one hand and political and military action on the other, and endeavouring to secure reliable funding, to mention but a few.


Coordination between our two organizations has strengthened over the years, both through informal contacts and through more structured discussions, such as high-level annual meetings. Improving coordination and avoiding the duplication of effort are essential in order to optimize the humanitarian response and to manage more effectively the resources which donor governments make available to us.


Turning now to the law, I would like to highlight the common origins and complementary nature of refugee law and international humanitarian law. Both are based on the principle of the dignity of the individual. And both seek to provide protection at times of particular vulnerability: refugee law when people have been forced to flee their country for fear of persecution, and international humanitarian law during times of armed conflict. It is therefore not surprising that the principle of non-refoulement – the cornerstone of refugee law – also finds expression in international humanitarian law, which, moreover, contains a number of other provisions dealing specifically with refugees.


Another point should be emphasized: international humanitarian law seeks to prevent displacement, and indeed expressly prohibits the forced displacement of civilian populations. Gross violations of humanitarian law – for example attacks on civilians or indiscriminate attacks, or the destruction of civilian property or objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as crops, livestock, or water-supply systems – are often at the root of displacement. Respect for these fundamental rules is therefore essential to ensure that people are not forced to flee their homes and become refugees or internally displaced persons.


In view of these shared objectives, the ICRC has taken an active part in the process of Global Consultations on International Protection, initiated by UNHCR to consolidate the international refugee protection regime.


The issue of internally displaced persons has also been a recurring theme in discussions between the two organizations. The ICRC would like to reiterate   that it considers itself to be the organization responsible for addressing the urgent needs of internally displaced persons by virtue of its mandate to protect and assist the civilian population affected by armed conflict. At present the ICRC, which is working in more than 100 countries, is running programmes in over 40 contexts to assist upwards of 5 million people, the vast majority of them in Africa.


The Council of Delegates of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which was held in Geneva just a month ago, focused on the Movement's response to the needs of refugees and internally displaced persons. Indeed, the High Commissioner for Refugees gave an address during the opening ceremony. At this meeting the components of the Movement – the ICRC, the International Federation and an impressive network of 178 recognized National Societies – vigorously r eaffirmed their commitment to responding, in accordance with their complementary mandates, to the needs of populations which have been forcibly displaced. One of the specific issues addressed was the question of how to improve coordination and strengthen the working relationship between UNHCR and the various components of the Movement.


Mr Chairman,


To conclude, the ICRC would like to wish UNHCR every success in its future activities and to express the hope that the international community will continue to uphold and defend refugee law, which today is more relevant than ever before. The ICRC looks forward to continuing the constructive relationship it enjoys with UNHCR for many years to come.