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Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance

11-11-2004 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 59th session, Plenary, item 39 of the agenda. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 11 November 2004.

Mr. President,

On behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), allow me to thank you for giving me the floor at this 59th session of the United Nations General Assembly, on the very important subject of the coordination of humanitarian operations in situations of conflict.

Mr. President,

The ICRC would wish to take this opportunity to briefly share, at the outset, its views concerning present-day conflict environments and the approaches it has adopted, with the aim of rendering humanitarian action both more effective and safer.

Today's conflict environment is mainly characterized by the number and complexity of non-international armed conflicts, sometimes with external involvement. In certain parts, there is an increasing polarization, which is the consequence of a climate of global confrontation. Such polarization renders acceptance of independent and neutral humanitarian action extremely difficult because it engenders the conviction that all involved are in fact taking sides. This conviction is further reinforced when humanitarian action is seen as being instrumentalised, through its integration by some state actors as an additional tool in the pursuit of their military strategy and political objectives. As a consequence, there is a risk that humanitarian principles are eroded, that humanitarian action is rejected and that the security of humanitarian personnel is seriously compromised.

The ICRC therefore believes that, in order to fulfil the mandate it has received from States to protect and assist victims of armed conflict, it is vital today t o vigorously defend neutral and independent humanitarian action. Independent in that humanitarian work must be distinct from political decision-making processes and perceived as such. Neutral in that humanitarian action and political-military action be kept clearly separate, particularly through avoiding the blurring of lines produced by the integration of humanitarian responses into an overall military strategy. For these reasons, the ICRC cannot subscribe to approaches that combine political, military and humanitarian tools in the midst of armed conflict or violence. In this regard, the ICRC insists on respect for the identity, mandate and operating principles of each actor. The extent of its coordination on the ground with the other actors will thus depend on the degree to which the perception of ICRC as a neutral and independent organisation can be preserved.

Mr. President,

In our view, the ICRC's choice to retain impartiality, independence and neutrality as key principles of its identity and action forms a good basis for coordination, able as such to rely on a clear repartition of roles and responsibilities among various actors. This is an essential ingredient towards a realistic and meaningful humanitarian coordination which, in the face of the dimensions and complexity of humanitarian needs, is necessary to render humanitarian action more effective. This is the ultimate and unique goal of all coordination efforts. For the ICRC, coordination involves regular dialogue and consultation, to inform about programs and activities, thereby avoiding duplication, to exchange views and experiences, which help contribute to improving responses as well as enhancing security. The ICRC considers such complementarity among humanitarian actors as flowing from their distinct mandates, expertise and operating principles and methods. Within the framework of this approach, the ICRC coordinates wi

th, but is not coordinated by other humanitarian ac tors, or otherwise accountable to them. This is vital for the ICRC in order to preserve its independence and neutrality, which underlies its acceptance by all parties to an armed conflict and thereby enables it to fulfil its specific mandate.

It is in this perspective that the ICRC participates in UN multilateral coordination mechanisms and structures, both at headquarters and in the field, such as the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) of which it is a standing invitee, and the UN Country Teams. Through such regular dialogue and mutual consultation with other humanitarian actors on thematic issues and operational questions, the ICRC contributes to the common goal of a more effective humanitarian action. At the bilateral level, for example, the ICRC/UNHCR high-level meetings have become a regular event. This year's June meeting saw discussion on humanitarian action and security in a changing conflict environment, as well as on cooperation between the two organizations on specific issues such as resettlement of former combatants. Again, in August, two new documents guiding the relationship between the ICRC and WFP entered into force. They will significantly facilitate exchanges of information, knowledge and material resources between the two or


Finally, Mr. President, the ICRC is convinced that it remains of vital importance to engage and maintain a transparent dialogue with all actors, while respecting the operating principles and distinct mandates of each, if humanitarian coordination is to bear its full fruit in favour of those in need.

Thank you, Mr. President.