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Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe: Ninth Meeting of the Ministerial Council

04-12-2001 Statement

Written contribution by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Bucarest, 3-4 December 2001

 The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dr Jakob Kellenberger, addressed the Permanent Council of the OSCE in Vienna on 25 October 2001. He surveyed current field operations and thematic issues, pointing in most cases to interaction with the OSCE. He concluded that the co-operation between the OSCE and the ICRC is a source of satisfaction, and that channels of communication work well enough to resolve the problems and difficulties that may arise. He added that there must be no useless duplication or sterile competition, but a mutual strengthening of both organizations in their core activities in an authentic spirit of complementarity.  


 In the debate that followed, representatives of the OSCE participating States, the Chairman of the Permanent Council and the Secretary General all expressed appreciation and support for the ICRC and for its staff. The ICRC would like to express its thanks again here for this debate in the Permanent Council. At the same time, the debate having taken place very recently, the ICRC deems it convenient to circulate anew the statement by its President as an attachment to this document. The foolowing written contribution to the Ministerial Council will thus be limited to some elements related to the developments of the last weeks and relevant to the OSCE.  


 Red Cross and Red Crescent policy and operational objectives with regard to today's main challenges  


a) the Council of Delegates of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement held its biennial session in Geneva 11-14 November 2001; here are excerpts of its statement concerning the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks (Resolution 13):

The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 delivered a blow to the most fundamental values of human societies, particularly those at the heart of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement condemns such acts, which negate the most elementary principles of humanity, in the strongest possible terms.

The attacks have thrown thousands of families of different nationalities into a state of grief and mourning, and since then the population of Afghanistan has been plunged into the misery of another war. They have also forced us to sharpen our awareness of the threats that surround us, particularly those associated with weapons of mass destruction. Amidst this climate of crisis, the Movement also notes with concern an increase of intolerance, and an upsurge in the number of xenophobic and racist acts.

These challenges underscore the validity and appropriateness of the principles of humanity, non-discrimination, tolerance, solidarity, neutrality and independence, which have inspired the work of our International Movement for more than a century. Accordingly, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, enriched by the diversity of cultures of the National Societies that comprise it, is determined to intensify its action to reject exclusion in all its forms, and to promote a culture of tolerance, justice and peace across all civilizations.

On behalf of all victims, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement [... ] appeals urgently to governments and leaders of international political organizations to do their utmost to ensure that the 1949 Geneva Conventions are fully respected within the context of all these conflicts, and that humanitarian organizations are guaranteed access to the victims.

b) This complemented another Resolution of the same Council of Delegates, on strengthening humanitarian values, which also had a more general scope (Resolution 12, excerpts):

 requests all [Red Cross and Red Crescent ] National Societies to commit themselves to advocate actively to protect the basic rights of groups and individuals at risk in their countries and, where necessary, to work with partners, including government agencies, to create conditions of safety for persons endangered by violence or discrimination;

c) the Council of Delegates also addressed the question of refugees and displaced persons, on which it reaffirmed the Red Cross and Red Crescent global approach and response to their needs by " appropriately addressing all stages of displacement, from prevention to return - and also the needs of the resident population in order to ensure respect for the Principle of Impartiality at all times " . The   ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies will jointly initiate a process of consultation with the UNHCR with a view to clarifying the terms upon which the components of the Movement engage in co-operation with the UNHCR, and thus too improving co-ordination and strengthening the working relationship with the UNHCR .  

d) The ICRC recently clarified it s position on, and contribution to, the prevention of armed conflict . The ICRC role can be described as follows (excerpts; guidelines and an article will be published in the December 2001 issue of the International Review of the Red Cross):

In regard to the prevention of armed conflicts , the ICRC feels that its main role is to urge States to adopt the necessary measures and, when appropriate, to supply them with information and analyses to help them assume their responsibilities in a more pertinent way. Owing to the constraints imposed by the principle of neutrality, the ICRC cannot play a role in political negotiations aimed at forestalling an imminent armed conflict, but it can on occasion make a significant contribution through preventive humanitarian diplomacy , its good offices and creative use of its role as a neutral intermediary. This is in the spirit of Resolution X of the 20th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (Vienna, 1965), which encouraged the ICRC to " undertake, in constant liaison with the United Nations and within the framework of its humanitarian mission, every effort likely to contribute to the prevention or settlement of possible armed conflicts, and to be associated, in agreement with the States concerned, with any appropriate measures to this end " . The ICRC will not, however, take any initiative that could cause a party to a conflict to restrict access to the victims of that conflict, or that might endanger its delegates or employees.

The end of active hostilities never means full restoration of peace. Many enormous challenges remain. The capacity of the ICRC to prevent the outbreak of armed conflict is limited, although it can make an active contribution to creating a climate of respect for the individual by means of its educational work and its efforts to promote human dignity. On the other hand it can play an important part in preventing conflicts from flaring up anew , for by helping to strengthen conditions conducive to reconciliation and social reconstruction it helps to consolidate peace. Along the same lines, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement as a whole, thanks to the complementary nature of its components'mandates and expertise, can carry out vital work which will extend into the long term.

 Afghanistan: Highlights of ICRC action and planing  


Dozens of international ICRC delegates have arrived in Afghanistan (at present 37 are in the country and 22 are in the surrounding countries) during the past two weeks. Their objective is to support the work carried out by its Afghan staff members who, during the months of international withdrawal, ensured much needed medical and relief assistance which reached the needy in the cities and maintained necessary contact with the local authorities.

The ICRC offices in Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad, Faizabad, Gulbahar and Kabul are again fully operational. An office has just been opened in Taloqan to ensure most efficient assistance in the area which includes Kunduz. In Kandahar the situation continues to be uncertain. As a result of the ongoing battles and the increasing tension, only irregular contacts with the ICRC staff inside the city can be maintained by ICRC delegates based in Quetta.

While the situation is calm within the main cities and towns where the ICRC can carry out its humanitarian activities under good conditions, a matter of great concern is the fate of persons that may have stayed in particular isolated areas such as Ghor and Dar-i-Suf. The security situation on most of the main access r oads throughout the country is still very volatile, which requires in-depth assessments prior to any movements of ICRC teams.

In terms of assistance, the ICRC's immediate priorities are to ensure that health facilities (mainly hospitals) throughout the country and the six orthopaedic centres have the capacity to cope with the needs of the population. Other priorities are:

  • To support the rehabilitation of water supply systems within the towns that may have been damaged during the recent military operations.

  • To distribute food and shelter material within the towns to particularly vulnerable groups of persons such as handicapped, widows, persons hospitalized and especially vulnerable groups of persons displaced within the cities. 

In terms of protection, the ICRC's immediate focus is to access the detention places where members of the Taliban forces are held captive by the United Front, in order to ensure humane treatment during their detention and to provide them with the possibility to re-establish contact with members of their families through Red Cross messages. Teams of the ICRC and the Afghan Red Crescent Society have also been working non-stop to collect mortal remains while taking all precautions to make possible later identification.

Through its different logistic set-ups in Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, the ICRC is able to deliver the necessary assistance to the various parts of Afghanistan. Negotiations with Uzbekistan are continuing in order to be able to use Termez as an entry point for supplies.

The ICRC is maintaining an   open and constant dialogue with all the parties to the conflict at all levels. It is reminding them of their obligations under In ternational Humanitarian Law, emphasizing their responsibilities with regard to captured combatants. Respect for the rule law is essential to protect against arbitrary and chaos. International humanitarian rules and principles are specifically designed to apply in situations of armed conflict. In these difficult times of violence, fear, anger and insecurity, it is the duty of the ICRC to recall that those rules and principles must be observed by all those involved in conflicts, as a minimal human requirement, and cannot be derogated from under any circumstances. It is the duty of all States under the Geneva Conventions not only to respect them but to ensure that they are respected in all circumstances.

Universally accepted principles of International Humanitarian Law require that civilians must be respected and cannot be made the object of attacks. Indiscriminate attacks or attacks against civilians, such as bomb attacks or acts intended to spread terror among the civilian population are absolutely and unconditionally prohibited. Protection must be given to all persons out of combat, whoever they can be and whatever they could have done before having laid down their arms or being wounded or being captured. It is prohibited to order that there shall be no survivors nor to conduct the hostilities on this basis. The prohibition of torture is unconditional. Fundamental judicial guarantees must be granted to all persons subjected to trial, whoever or wherever they are.