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Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross to the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme

26-09-2002 Statement

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – 25th meeting of the Standing Committee

Mr Chairman,

On behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross, I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to share some thoughts on the issue of humanitarian coordination and cooperation between UNHCR and the ICRC.

Faced with the rapid changes in the nature of conflicts, the increased complexity of humanitarian crises, and the arrival on the scene of an exponential number of new players with different mandates, areas of expertise and financial means, coordination has become an indispensable part of humanitarian endeavour. Moreover, resources are limited and accountability has to be adequately incorporated in humanitarian action.

Through its participation in various coordination mechanisms, the ICRC is trying to achieve the greatest possible complementarity , which will ultimately benefit those whom we seek to serve.

It is with this aim in view – to render humanitarian action more effective –  that the ICRC is active in UN-led coordination bodies such as the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC). As a standing invitee of the IASC, the ICRC takes an active part in the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP), both at headquarters level and in the field. In particular, its delegations contribute to the process of drawing up Common Humanitarian Action Plans (CHAP). Similarly, the ICRC works closely with the Senior Inter-Agency IDP Network and the recently established UN Unit on Internal Displacement.

Mr Chairman,

The concern to increase effectiveness through complementarity is also at the basis of our  cooperation with UNHCR, which remains our closest partner in the UN system. UNHCR and the ICRC have long enjoyed a close relationship based on determination to uphold standards of protection and operational principles, and the connection between the two institutions is firmly anchored in their historical and legal aspirations.

But apart from their historical and legal links, UNHCR and the ICRC, often working in close cooperation with National Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies, are first and foremost operational entities striving to provide practical assistance and protection for countless people in and around conflict zones. As a result, they face similar dilemmas – not the least being the safety of their staff – and have to find the best ways of dealing with common concerns.

As the High Commissioner for Refugees pertinently stated in his foreword to the September 2001 issue of the International Review of the Red Cross , " this new environment imposes upon ICRC and UNHCR a profound obligation to maximize the impact of our limited resources through cooperation and complementary action. Our two organizations are constantly rising to this challenge in the field, effecting a division of labour based at times upon the clear distinctions in our international mandates or, where our responsibilities are concurrent, upon our respective organizational capacities and comparative advantages " .

This demand for effectiveness and accountability means not only daily operational contacts but also opportunities for thorough discussion of humanitarian challenges. In this regard, the high-level annual meeting between our two organizations has proved to be a most useful framework for the sharing of views on ethical and operational topics. The active participation of ICRC legal experts in UNHCR's Global Consultations on International Protection is another example of co operation and complementarity.

While all these developments will no doubt help to clarify the division of labour, it must be recognized that there will be always grey areas at field level and that our partnership could be strengthened in regard to matters such as security, the exchange of information and staff training.

Mr Chairman,

At its best, humanitarian coordination offers a series of benefits such as cost-effectiveness and easier access to relevant information for planning and implementation of humanitarian operations. However, the costs associated with those benefits should not be overlooked. Just like UNHCR and other organizations, the ICRC spends much time, energy and money on coordination both at headquarters and in the field. Both the ICRC and UNHCR believe that effective coordination requires sound understanding not only of one's own organization but also of other humanitarian agencies and the cultural environments in which we operate. In other words, as well as striking a balance between short-term and long-term objectives, good humanitarian management involves ensuring that training requirements are met. Today the ICRC's training costs account for 5.1% of the salary budget. We would not be able to allocate this amount to training if the donors were not convinced that commitment to quality has a price which is worth paying.

Enhanced coordination could also help governments to decide on how best to allocate limited financial resources. In fact the donor countries quite rightly expect humanitarian organizations to coordinate their activities as efficiently as possible in order to avoid both costly duplication of effort and situations in which people in need are left without protection or assistance. Indeed, governments can contribute to successful coordination by taking into account, in their messages to humanitarian organizations, the respective mandates and expertise of those organizations and their ability to fulfil their mandates in a given context.

More broadly, the welcome attention given by States to effective coordination should not divert them from their responsibility to prevent and resolve conflicts. Governments have a duty not only to respect but also to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. In this regard, UNHCR and the ICRC have cautioned that ongoing efforts to combat terrorism must not undermine existing international law and the protection it affords to vulnerable individuals.

In conclusion, coordination has come to be an intrinsic part of the accountability of humanitarian and political actors towards those whose lives are affected by armed conflict. Indeed, the broad debate on humanitarian coordination should not obscure the fact that the primary aim of coordination efforts is to meet the needs of the affected populations, considered not as objects or passive recipients of aid but as responsible human individuals. This is a challenge for us all – humanitarian organizations and donors – in our endeavour to increase effectiveness and achieve sound cooperation, and ICRC is committed to meeting that challenge.

Thank you.