"The ICRC will strive for full respect for humanitarian law..."
Statement by Mr Jacques Forster, Vice-President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, to the 5th Middle East and North Africa Conference of national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, Marrakech, Morocco, 15-18 May 2006
May I start by expressing the appreciation of the International Committee of the Red Cross for the invitation to be here at this Conference. I would also like to warmly thank the Moroccan Red Crescent for organizing this important forum.
I am grateful for this opportunity to speak to you at a time when the situation in some parts of this region is extremely serious in humanitarian terms and we find ourselves only a few weeks away from the 29th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, which is called upon to take the steps needed to achieve the longstanding objective of universality within the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
There are currently two situations in the Middle East and North Africa which are of particular concern to the ICRC: the occupied and autonomous Palestinian territories and Iraq. Let me start with the Palestinian territories.
I would like to stress the extreme hardship that a majority of Palestinians have had to endure in recent years, hardship that is now increasing. In particular, the deteriorating economic situation of most Palestinians is linked to the severe restrictions on movement within the West Bank and movement to and from Gaza. These restrictions significantly hinder the Palestinian people's ability to live a normal life.
The ICRC has expressed its serious concern both to the Israeli and the Palestinian authorities. If, moreover, the Palestinian Authority becomes unable to provide public services and uphold law and order, in particular following the decision to withhold funds and other aid from the newly elected Palestinian Authority, further hardship for the population and a broader humanitarian em ergency are to be feared amid a worsening security environment.
While the State of Israel has the right to take measures to ensure the security and well-being of its own population, it must be emphasized that it has obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure the well-being of the population in the territories it occupies and to allow the free passage of essential humanitarian aid.
The ICRC is closely following these developments through its various offices on the ground. It will continue to strive for full respect for international humanitarian law, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention. In view of the serious deterioration from a humanitarian viewpoint in the occupied territories, the ICRC is providing support to ensure that emergency medical services continue to function. In addition, it has been active in the field of provision of drinking water and will further increase its efforts in this realm.
However, one should be under no illusion that humanitarian organizations are able to replace the Palestinian Authority in its role as provider of public services.
Of particular concern is the difficult situation of the Palestine Red Crescent Society on account of the Palestinian Authority's lack of funding for salaries and running costs. The Palestine Red Crescent's essential medical services are in danger of being paralysed by this funding crisis. During the visit by our director of operations to Ramallah, and at a recent meeting in the Netherlands, the ICRC undertook to provide additional support for the Red Crescent in this difficult time, and we are actively urging other donors from within the Movement to assist.
As you know, the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the Magen David Adom will be central to the 29th International Conference to be held in June this year. This will be a historic opportunity to bring about recognition of both these National Societies as compon ents of our Movement, including their admission to the Federation.
It is important that the operational agreement reached in November 2005 between the Magen David Adom and Palestine Red Crescent be put into effect. The ICRC is working hard to support and lobby for implementation of this agreement.
I can also inform you that – pursuant to earlier commitments – the ICRC is establishing a medical emergency and diagnostic centre in the occupied Golan Heights. I want you to know that we are doing our utmost to contribute to a successful 29th International Conference. I take this opportunity to ask you to do the same.
Let me now move on to the terrible humanitarian situation in Iraq and the Movement's response to it.
I would first like to stress the tremendously important work that the Iraqi Red Crescent Society is carrying out in extremely difficult circumstances. The National Societies of the Middle East and North Africa, and in particular Societies from countries neighbouring Iraq, are providing important humanitarian support to the Iraqi people through the Iraqi Red Crescent. The ICRC, the Iraqi Red Crescent and the Federation are organizing a first meeting with PNS supporting the Iraqi Red Crescent to see how the Movement's work in that country can be improved.
The ICRC remains present in Iraq, striving to protect and assist the victims of that conflict. It is doing this hand in hand with the Iraqi Red Crescent Society through its aid for internally displaced people and those directly affected by fighting. The ICRC also provides hospitals with emergency support and materials. It continues to visit detainees held by the US and the UK and by the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq, and has recently started a family-visit programme for persons being held in a remote US detention camp in southern Iraq.
More must be done, however. Working together, we must increase and c ombine our efforts to come to the aid of the people of Iraq in this hour of need.
I would like to add that the ICRC is also actively involved in many other countries in the region regarding a wide range of issues of humanitarian concern. One example is our efforts to shed light on the fate of persons missing as a result of the Western Sahara conflict. We seek to provide answers to the many families still anxiously awaiting news. Tracing missing persons is a very complex and delicate task of the utmost humanitarian importance.
National Societies in the Middle East and North Africa are playing an increasingly significant international role in the Movement. They have made major contributions to humanitarian operations in Sudan, in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world. This is a very welcome development. I truly hope it will continue, and that closer cooperation within the Movement will also develop as we all work together to ensure better implementation of the Seville Agreement through the supplementary measures adopted in Seoul last November.
I am very much aware that on the domestic front as well, National Societies in the Middle East and North Africa have had to face grave new challenges such as the recent bomb attacks in Egypt and the complex problems linked to migration in North Africa. I would like to remind you of the ICRC's willingness to support you as you tackle these new challenges. My ICRC colleagues and I look forward to hearing how your Societies have been addressing these issues and to learning from your experience.
Allow me to end with one simple but important message. We want to strengthen our cooperation with you in order to fulfil more effectively and more efficiently our common mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering, to protect life and health, and to ensure respect for the human being in all circumstances.
I wish y ou success in your deliberations over the next few days and trust that you will work constructively and openly on the basis of our common mission.