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10th session of the Islamic Summit Conference: ICRC's intervention

17-10-2003 Statement

Speech at the Summit in Putrajaya by Jakob Kellenberger, ICRC's president. It focuses on the scope of operations led in OIC countries and on the importance of international humanitarian law.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me first thank the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the hosting government of Malaysia for inviting the ICRC to attend the OIC 10'" Summit Meeting here in Kuala Lumpur. It is an honour for me to address this Assembly, the first occasion in the many years that our two organizations have maintained relations. It gives me great satisfaction to look back at the way the OIC and the ICRC relate with one another, participating in each organization's conferences and exchanging on matters of common interest and concern. I take this opportunity to reiterate the importance of maintaining such a dialogue and cooperation, especially in difficult times.
The ICRC and the OIC have been maintaining relations for many years now and in 1994 have signed a Cooperation Agreement to formalize this relation and to foster consultation, exchange of information and better reciprocal knowledge. This cooperation follows a logical path the two organizations are drawn to by common interests and concerns. Many of the OIC resolutions reflect those shared concerns. Take the protection of civilian populations, the missing, the use of certain arms to name but three areas of concern in which the ICRC deploys its activities. It is always a subject of satisfaction to the ICRC to see resolutions on such important matters adopted by an organization such as the OIC.
The ICRC acts according to a mandate mainly conferred to it by Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the two Additional Protocols of 1977. 1 am pleased to note the fact that all member states of the OIC are party to these Conventions and many of them to the two Additional Protocols of 1977. Based on this mandate, entrusted to it by States, the ICRC works on behalf of victims of ar med conflicts and internal violence throughout the world. With its staff of almost 10,000, it conducts its activities through over 200 delegations and offices spread across five continents. It deploys activities of assistance: distribution of food or non-food items, rehabilitation of water, habitat, electricity, medical or surgery interventions, and of protection: visits to civilian internees, prisoners of war, reestablishment of family links, and tracing. The dissemination and monitoring of International Humanitarian law is also part of its core tasks.
These activities are carried out in favour of all victims in any part of the world, regardless of politics, religion or any other considerations. Indeed, the ICRC is guided in its action by the seven Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement: humanity, neutrality, impartiality, independence, universality, voluntary service and unity.
Half of ICRC activities are actually carried out in OIC member states. Its three major operations are conducted in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and the Occupied and the Autonomous Palestinian Territories. I draw your attention to the special report compiled for this Summit, which gives an overview of the ICRC's activities in OC member states in 2003. It shows, region by region, the activities of assistance and protection carried out in different countries. I hope you will find it useful to better understand the ICRC and how it helps in your countries. I am also pleased to invite you, if you have not already seen it, to visit the ICRC exhibition where you can find the information about our activities
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me dwell a little upon a subject of great importance to the ICRC and the OIC, which over the years has adopted many resolutions recalling it: the importance of International Humanitarian Law and the need to ensure its respect. As you know, IHL consists of a set of rules, to be foun d in treaties and custom, the purpose of which is to limit the effects of war on people and objects. As the guardian of IHL, the ICRC works relentlessly to develop it whenever necessary, to make it accepted and known, and to ensure that parties to conflicts respect it. I wish to underline that, under the very first article of the Geneva Conventions and Protocol I, States Parties undertook to " respect and ensure respect " for their provisions in all circumstances.
If correctly and fully applied, international law in general and IHL in particular remain strong tools the international community has at its disposal to maintain international order and stability and to ensure the safety and dignity of all persons. However, the International legal system has come under close scrutiny especially for the last two years. One dimension thereof has been the debate about the relevance of IHL and suggestions in some academic and governmental circles that its provisions no longer live up to the reality of today's conflict trends, notably the fight against terrorism. The ICRC, based on its experience and analysis, is convinced that, on whole, the existing law does adequately respond to the needs of modem day conflicts since its provisions establish a delicate balance between security imperatives and human dignity. If the fight against terrorism takes the form of an armed conflict, it is regulated by international humanitarian law: both in terms of conduct of hostilities and in terms of protection to be afforded to captured persons.
Hence, from an operational point of view, it is important to state unambiguously that IHL is very much alive and continues to represent the indispensable basis which supports all ICRC activities. Were it not for the provisions contained in IHL and for the determination to see them upheld in the most remote corners of the globe, the situation for many men, women and children would doubtless be far worse than it already is.
As you know, the 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent will take place at the beginning of December this year on the theme of " Protecting Human Dignity " . For States and the other participants, this Conference will in particular offer a good opportunity to reaffirm the relevance of IHL while identifying its current challenges. I would here like to reiterate our invitation for you to participate in the preparations and the Conference itself.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The ICRC cannot work without your support - moral, legal, political and material. I thank you for the support you have extended so far and you will extend to the ICRC in the future.
Thank you for your attention.