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57th session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme

04-10-2006 Statement

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, address by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Geneva, 2-6 October 2006

Mr. Chairman,

On behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), I would like to thank you for giving us the floor at the 57th Session of UNHCR's Executive Committee.

The UNHCR and the ICRC have a longstanding tradition of interaction and cooperation which were again reaffirmed during the High Level Meeting between the High Commissioner and ICRC's President in June 2006. Collaboration on activities in favor of refugees was more recently expanded to internally displaced persons (IDPs), in tandem with the increased involvement of UNHCR in situations of internal displacement.

This cooperation respects the humanitarian character of the work of both organizations, as well as the specificity of their respective mandates as the main basis for their activities.

The ICRC fully acknowledges the UNHCR's mandate, expertise and primary role with regard to the protection and assistance of refugees and asylum seekers, including by means of the promotion and development of refugee law. The ICRC remains committed to act in a transparent and complementary way to the UNHCR's capacities and plans, particularly so in our sphere of competence; the reestablishment of family links as well as broader protection issues.

The ICRC has a specific mandate, a long-lasting expertise and a primary neutral and independent role with regard to the protection and assistance of persons affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence.

Internal displacement is frequently the consequence of violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) during armed conflict. When civilian s flee a conflict zone, this often indicates that the warring parties are indifferent to their protection or, worse, are deliberately targeting them.

Every effort must be made to prevent such displacement. Wherever IDPs find themselves, and whatever the reason for their displacement, they remain, in situation of armed conflict and other situations of violence, first and foremost civilians and, as such, are entitled to every protection afforded to that category of individuals under IHL.

Mr Chairman,

In situations of armed conflict and internal violence, the ICRC carries out the general direction and coordination of the international operational activities of the other components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, for meeting the needs of IDPs and other persons affected by the conflict. In such situations, the National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society of the affected country is the primary partner of the ICRC.

In addition, the Geneva Conventions and the Statutes of the Movement entrust specific competencies within the Movement to the ICRC with regard to the restoration of family links, and more broadly on protection issues.

The UNHCR has accepted a lead role within the UN inter-agency humanitarian response system in the fields of protection, emergency shelter, camp coordination and management for IDPs during conflict-generated emergencies. On its side, to preserve its unique character and its capacities to act as a purely independent and neutral intermediary and institution, the ICRC has confirmed that it does not intend to be a cluster member nor take the lead for any cluster. 

However, the ICRC appreciates the importance of good coordination and dialogue, and is committed to field-based and action-oriented cooperation, to ensure that capacities are used as efficiently as possible in the best interest of the pe rsons in need. 

In 2005, the ICRC carried out activities in favour of IDPs in more than 35 contexts worldwide, on many instances with Red Cross and Red Crescent national societies. These activities have sought to find a balance between cases where IDPs are best assisted and protected through targeted actions and those where they are assisted and protected through more general efforts aimed at broader segments of the population.

The ICRC has, on numerous occasions, expressed its concern about the increasing tendency within the humanitarian and donor communities to consider the needs of IDPs and those of the resident population separately. In many contexts it is precisely this population, which generously host large numbers of displaced persons despite the challenging economic situation residents are already facing themselves. Indeed, segmenting the humanitarian response and splitting beneficiaries into categories – such as IDPs – entails the risk that certain groups of affected persons, possibly those in greatest need, may be neglected.

Major considerations underlying ICRC programs are to promote the self-reliance of affected communities, to ensure that existing coping mechanisms used by IDPs are preserved as much as possible in order to avoid increasing the disparities between various segments of the population, or to facilitate return if the circumstances allow.

Mr. Chairman,

Given the size and scope of the issues at hand, no single humanitarian agency can respond alone to the needs for protection and assistance to IDPs. Humanitarian coordination is therefore a tool through which the ICRC systematically pools efforts with other humanitarian organizations.

Coordination must aim to meet all the needs of those affected by conflict by promoting complementary roles among humanitarian organizations, avoiding duplications or gaps.


As already stated in past ExCom meetings, UNHCR and the ICRC have long enjoyed a close relationship based on their common determination to uphold standards of protection and operational principles. The connection between our two institutions is firmly anchored in their historical and legal aspirations to improve the plight of millions of persons who need assistance and protection.

I thank you for your time and attention.