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Strengthening coordination of UN humanitarian and disaster relief assistance: ICRC statement to the United Nations, 2010

15-12-2010 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 65th session, Plenary, Item 69 of the agenda, statement by the ICRC, New York, 15 December 2010.

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


Mr Chairman, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The International Committee of the Red Cross is pleased to address the present assembly on the subject of humanitarian coordination.

In 2010, without forgetting other humanitarian crises, the scale of the tragic disasters in Haiti and Pakistan and the enormous difficulties encountered to provide timely, quality assistance and protection once again reminded the international community and humanitarian actors of the challenges of humanitarian response and the constant need to improve humanitarian coordination. These improvements are owed to those affected by humanitarian crisis.

The ICRC has adopted a pragmatic approach towards coordination and engages with mechanisms that recognise that coordination is not an end in itself, but is rather a means to provide better and timely humanitarian services. Humanitarian coordination should take place first and foremost in the field; it should be reality-based and action-oriented. In other words, the ICRC remains committed to coordination based on each organisation’s existing skills, available capabilities in the context concerned, access and funding, rather than on future probable ones.

Within the scope of the fundamental principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, in particular humanity, neutrality, independence, and impartiality, the ICRC has supported the existing coordination mechanisms and coordinated its operations with the various humanitarian actors, in particular with its natural partners, the National Red Cross and Red Crescent societies,  in the countries where it works. The ICRC will, however, refrain from any coordination that would hamper ICRC's capacity to be a credible neutral and independent organisation that carries out strictly humanitarian activities. In situations of armed conflict, ICRC capacity to access the people in need as well as the security of its staff depend on the various parties to the conflict accepting the ICRC's action. Therefore, in light of these principles, the ICRC has to consider carefully the risks when deciding how to coordinate its activities outside the Movement with organisations intending to integrate humanitarian operations with political and military objectives. Humanitarian action and political-military action should be kept separate as the blurring of these lines puts the security of humanitarian personnel and the capacity to access people in need at risk

Mr President,

The ICRC recognises the role and responsibilities taken by host states to provide protection and assistance to their own populations when affected by man-made or natural disasters. The ICRC tailors its response to humanitarian needs by taking into account the capacities of the authorities in control of the territory where it wants to operate and avoiding the substitution or duplication of their work. In a transparent and, when necessary, also in a confidential manner, all necessary information is shared with the relevant actors, allowing them to have a clear understanding of ICRC’s findings and operations. However, because of its mandate and consequently its activities in situations of armed conflict and other situations of violence, the ICRC needs the states and non-states actors to respect its neutrality, independence, and impartiality to enable access to all persons affected by these situations.  
Contemporary humanitarian action has to integrate local responsibilities and capacities in a more decisive manner. Current humanitarian crises challenge the adequacy of humanitarian response based on the sole intervention of international organisations. Coordination efforts should ensure that the humanitarian response is founded on existing national capacities of private and public nature. The ICRC has learned that an effective humanitarian response depends on creating genuine partnerships between national and international efforts.

For the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement such partnerships are key to the effectiveness of its overall response. In emergencies, the National Societies remain the ICRC’s primary partners in operation. The ICRC, in conjunction with the International Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, builds upon the capacities of the National Societies ensuring, as needed, financial support and/or transfer of expertise as well as technologies to enable the National Societies to respond to emergencies whether alone or in partnership with the ICRC. For these partnerships to be successful, they must be based on equality and mutual respect. Finally, ICRC's partnership within the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is only made possible if the National Societies respect and are allowed to respect the fundamental principles of the Movement, in particular the principle of independence, neutrality, and impartiality.  

Mr Chairman, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Because of the complexity of humanitarian action, the ICRC remains committed to coordinate its activities with all the humanitarian actors in the United Nations coordination mechanism with the aim to provide the best possible protection and assistance to people, and to make sure that the humanitarian response supports autonomous resilience and recovery capacities of the people affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence. Indeed, the limit of this commitment is the ICRC's capacity to access people in need and ensure security to its staff. This commitment will be possible only with the support of States to the mandate and working modalities of the ICRC.