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The ICRC in dialogue with the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council

13-04-2005 Statement

Address by Dr Jakob Kellenberger, President of the ICRC, Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, Brussels, 13 April 2005

I thank Mr Jaap de Hoop Scheffer most sincerely for inviting me to address the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council today. The ICRC greatly values this opportunity.

In May 2003 I had the pleasure to brief your Council on a number of matters, including operational issues in contexts including Iraq, the Balkans and Afghanistan. I also dealt with developments in the field of civil-military relations and issues of particular relevance in the field of international humanitarian law in contemporary armed conflicts.

The ICRC is interested in pursuing and, if possible, deepening the dialogue with your Council. What can it offer to your Council in such a dialogue? The ICRC, with its staff of 13 000, is one of the largest if not the largest humanitarian actor in armed conflicts and other situations of violence, assisting and trying to protect those affected by the violence. It is true that its largest operations are taking place outside the area of engagement of NATO member States and its Partners, Darfur in Western Sudan being by far the Organization's most important operation at present. 

Hardly surprising for you, four other African contexts figure in the top 12: Ethiopia, Liberia, RDC and Somalia. Afghanistan and Iraq, of particular interest to NATO and this Council, are however also among our important operations. The armed conflict in Darfur is sadly typical for most of the contemporary non international armed conflicts: low intensity of fighting, high intensity of suffering for the civilian population as a consequence of the disregard for the most basic rules and principles of international humanitarian law. Yes, we have quite some experience in the challenges t o meet in today's armed conflicts, in particular when access and security are concerned. We are also obliged to give some thorough thinking to the causes and developments of today's armed conflicts and the extent to which global trends might or might not have an influence on the development of local crisis situations.

How to achieve better respect of international humanitarian law, especially in non-international armed conflicts will continue to be a major concern of the ICRC in the years ahead.  
The ICRC, sometimes called " guardian " of international humanitarian law, has special responsibilities with regard to the dissemination, the monitoring, the clarification and the development of this body of law. This responsibility is not limited to a specific geographic area and it no doubt is of interest to this Council. While discussions on the adequacy of some of its rules in contemporary armed conflicts continue, it is the lack of compliance with this law which is by far our biggest concern. International humanitarian law is most challenged in non-international armed conflicts. While States as Parties to the Geneva Conventions bear primary responsibility for respecting and ensuring respect of this law, a stronger commitment to this law by armed non State groups is a key prerequisite for the improvement of the humanitarian situation in many regions. 

It is worth remembering in this context that the results of the study on customary international humanitarian law, presented by the ICRC to States last month, strengthen the normative framework where it is most needed, that is in non-international armed conflicts where treaty law is much less developed than in the case of international armed conflicts. This does however not solve the problem of compliance. How to achieve better respect of intern ational humanitarian law, especially in non-international armed conflicts will continue to be a major concern of the ICRC in the years ahead. 

The ICRC, as you would expect it to do, will also continue its work in the field of arms and international humanitarian law, seizing in particular opportunities to increase adherence to current norms (Protocol on Explosive Remnants of War, extension of the CCW's scope to non-international armed conflicts, Ottawa Convention), to ensure full implementation of existing commitments and to reach new constituencies with international humanitarian law concerns like scientists and industry in the framework of its initiative Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity. These efforts too can save lives and reduce suffering.

NATO and its Partners are active in Afghanistan as is the ICRC. We appreciate the dialogue we have with ISAF and the PRT's operating in the country, be they ISAF or coalition led. Our activities concentrate on regular visits to security detainees in all places of detention (US and Afghan detention), the assistance to victims of the conflict (i.e. mine victims, other wounded) and the promotion of international humanitarian law. We also keep a capacity to react to emergencies and stand ready to play a role of neutral intermediary. 

The transformation of instable into stable situations is no doubt one of the most challenging tasks in many of today's contexts, Afghanistan being one of them.  
We follow with interest the activities of NATO and its Partners, not least the efforts undertaken by the different PRT's to improve the security environment in the different regions. The transformation of instable into stable situations is no doubt one of the most challenging tasks in many of today's contexts, Afghanistan being one of them. All contribut ions to a more secure environment have an important humanitarian dimension by creating the conditions for development and the space in which humanitarian organizations can carry out there activities.

It is, for an outsider, not easy to get a clear picture of the different activities carried out by individual PRT's. In cases where humanitarian activities are part of the civilian component of a PRT there is a risk of confusion between actors pursuing a wider political agenda and independent and neutral humanitarian actors like the ICRC with their strictly humanitarian agenda. Without exaggerating the risk, this blurring of lines can make independent and neutral humanitarian action more risky. If humanitarian activities are carried out by PRT's in areas where there are urgent needs and humanitarian organizations cannot work this can only be welcome. On the other hand, in areas where humanitarian actors can operate the advantages of leaving the job to them seem evident to me.

The ICRC is aware of the fact that integrated operations, including military and various civilian components, are part of today's environment, not only in Afghanistan, also in parts of Western Africa. If the ICRC remains strongly attached to independent and neutral humanitarian action, it is not for dogmatic reasons or for fear of competition. We only believe - and have serious reasons to believe so - that credible (meaning independence of decision making and action) independence and neutrality (meaning not taking sides between parties to an armed conflict) offers the best chances to get access to people in need of protection and assistance worldwide and in the long run. 

We are aware of the fact that it is a real challenge to prove the value added of this approach. Even if we have probably a unique access to people affected by armed conflict worldwide, independence and neutrality have not protected us from attacks bo th in Iraq and Afghanistan and, as a consequence of these attacks, our access has been limited. We had to reduce our activities but we have not left Afghanistan nor Iraq. ICRC's operations in Darfur, where the Organization has eight sub delegations and offices in the three provinces, illustrate the way we are working and the merits of independent and neutral humanitarian action. 

We had to reduce our activities but we have not left Afghanistan nor Iraq. ICRC's operations in Darfur (...) illustrate the way we are working and the merits of independent and neutral humanitarian action.  
If the Organization, as the only humanitarian actor, has access to practically all areas of Darfur  and the most urgent humanitarian needs are in rural areas  this has much to do with its continuous dialogue with all parties to the conflict who recognize the organization's independence and neutrality. We are not only committed to independent and neutral humanitarian action, we are also committed to coordination and dialogue with other actors.

In the Balkans, the ICRC has a good relationship with NATO forces. In Kosovo, a few points remain to be discussed between our organisations. The protection of minority communities is still a concern for the ICRC. The lack of security for residents or returnees belonging to a minority community has been raised several times with KFOR, but remains today a real humanitarian issue.

Of the different issues that could be discussed in relation to the Balkans, the problem of missing persons is undoubtedly the main one. Considering KFOR's involvement in the exhumation process in support of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the ICRC expects multinational brigades to look for relevant information for ICRC tracing work that could be in their possession . A closer cooperation between KFOR and the ICRC would be appreciated as exhumation process can not only help a tribunal in its work, but could be of great support to the relatives of missing persons.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the handover from the Stabilisation Force SFOR to the European Force (EUFOR) has been an important event. There too, the relationship between our organisations is good. As NATO's role includes pursuing persons indicted for war crimes a close dialogue on the issue of detention is important.

Two years ago, I also addressed the situation in Iraq. Visiting detainees and restoring family links are currently the main activities for ICRC in Iraq where the security situation remains difficult and where the ICRC has lost one more staff member in January. NATO assists Iraq by training its personnel and supporting the development of the country's security institution. The ICRC is contributing to this training at the NATO School in Oberammergau.

I would now like to concentrate on some of the practical issues underpinning the existing relationship between the International Committee of the Red Cross and NATO and its PfP Partners. The ICRC and SHAPE signed in 1997 a Memorandum of Understanding focussing predominantly on ICRC support to certain NATO training events. In a meeting I had with the NATO SACEUR, General Jones, in spring 2004 we decided to update the Memorandum of Understanding in order to reflect NATO's transformation as well as to improve ICRC support to individual and collective training for NATO and Partnership nation senior officers.

The ICRC is participating in a variety of different training courses for selected NATO, Partner, and, more recently, Iraqi officers at the NATO School. It is also providing role-playing support at the annual NATO Response Force exercises as well as participating at ISAF and other predeployment training for Afghanistan. A n important programme of dialogue with senior NATO commanders such as the Commander Joint Forces Headquarters at Brunssum and the Commanders of the NATO Rapid Deployable Corps has also recently been commenced. We are presently discussing with General Jones'staff the possibility of a senior level conference between NATO's Allied Command Operations and the ICRC's Directorate of Operations.

As " guardian " of International Humanitarian Law the ICRC is working within NATO exercises and seminars to enhance the understanding and application of this law. The ICRC welcomes initiatives such as the NATO Standardisation Agreement ( " STANAG " ) 2449 of 2003 on the training of the Law of Armed Conflict, an excellent initiative which deserves support in its implementation. The ICRC would be interested in engaging on a substantive dialogue on this issue.

ICRC expertise on international humanitarian law is not limited to support for training. The ICRC is leading a number of initiatives on the relevance and development of International Humanitarian Law and is grateful to Switzerland, the depositary of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, for its activities on those issues in the framework of the Partnership for Peace. I can only encourage you to do more, as I am sure this would be in NATO and Partners missions'interests.

In summary, the ICRC, willing and able to make useful contributions, remains interested in deepening and further structuring its dialogue with NATO and its Partners in a number of important areas, included on any context where the ICRC is working and you are involved or considering an involvement.