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Statement of the ICRC concerning Internally Displaced Persons - Report of the UNHCR

05-11-2008 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 63rd session, Third Committee, Item 39 of the agenda, Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 5 November 2008

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Mr Chairman,

We thank you for giving the ICRC the opportunity to share some observations on the very important issue of internal displacement that is a prevalent feature of modern armed conflicts and has dramatic human cost.

In the last few months alone, several hundred thousands of civilians have had to flee their places of residence, forced out by their fear of armed violence. Georgia, Pakistan, the Philippines, the DRC or Somalia are only some of the places where this has happened recently. The ICRC is substantially engaged in all these countries, and in many other places in the world, providing a wide range of services aimed at protecting and assisting people and communities in direst need.

Mr Chairman,

Allow me to express four general comments:

First, displacement is often a very concrete consequence of violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), such as, for instance, deliberate attacks against civilians and civilian property or the starvation of civilians. For displaced persons, flight is often a desperate bid for safety. They are fleeing an imminent threat. It bea rs repeating that IHL expressly prohibits all parties to an armed conflict from arbitrarily displacing civilians. Persuading the armed forces of States or organized armed groups to spare civilians from the effects of hostilities can make a big difference for persons and families caught in such situations – it will help to prevent displacement and reduce the dramatic hardship and often extreme vulnerability it causes the persons affected.

Second, IDPs are often cut off from their usual support and coping mechanisms, and their vulnerability increases dramatically. They have to cope with dramatic change and loss, as well as with deep uncertainty and fear for themselves and their loved ones. All the while, they live with the persistent threat or effects of the armed conflict.

Third, greater concern for IDPs should not, however, come at the expense of other people at risk. Any discussion that emphasizes the plight of IDPs might be understood to imply that those who have not been displaced are comparatively safer and that IDPs are systematically at greatest risk. This is not always the case. There are many instances when people are unable to flee their homes during an armed conflict, even when staying may endanger their lives. They also need our priority attention. 

Finally, there are many different forms of displacement depending on causes and the environment in which they take place; some people take temporary shelter in families or with host residents. In other cases, the whole communities flee to urban area or camps and may end up in protracted situations. Depending on the various stages in the process of becoming displaced, those who are affected have a number of different protection and assistance needs. As there is no single solution to all this, we must continue to develop innovative responses. If displacement is indeed unavoidable, then the support and response put in place must deal effectively with the specific needs o f IDPs and others affected by displacement - including those hosting IDPs and those left behind.

Mr Chairman,

The ICRC has a legal mandate from the international community to ensure the protection of IDPs and to provide them with much needed assistance, when they are victims of armed conflicts. IDPs are very high on our list of operational priorities and are fully integrated in our humanitarian efforts in favour of the overall population affected by armed conflicts and other situations of violence.

We all know that demands far exceed the response capacity of any one organization, and thus, the ICRC welcomes the increase in numbers and diversity of humanitarian actors protecting and assisting people at risk. Continued efforts are required to ensure that such changes translate into tangible impact at field level, with real improvements in the situations of people affected in their every day life.

On 6 October, the ICRC's President, Mr. Jakob Kellenberger, mentioned at the Executive Committee of the UNHCR two permanent key challenges for humanitarian actors in fulfilling their duty in today's armed conflicts and situations of violence; first, the understanding of the evermore diverse and complex environments in which we work, and second, the necessity to deliver a response that effectively addresses the multitude of needs faced by the affected populations.

Mr Chairman,

In some of the most complex and challenging environments of armed conflict and other situations of violence, the ICRC's recognised neutral, independent and exclusively humanitarian approach is a very concrete operational tool to ensure and maintain regular access to entire communities and territories. In 2007, the ICRC and its Red Cross/Red Crescent partners provided assistance and protection to 4.1 million displaced people and returnees in 27 countries.

In this effort, UNHCR and the ICRC have complementary mandates and a long tradition of cooperation that is enriched by a close operational dialogue at all levels. Both organisations at the highest level recalled, in a joint note signed in 2006, their commitments to strengthen interaction in the field and enhance predictability, consistency and complementarity in their work, taking into account both UNHCR and the ICRC's primary responsibility for refugees and for IDPs respectively. Our common challenge today is to push this dialogue further in search of enhanced results for people at risk. We also work very closely and have partnerships with other UN organisations such as the WFP, UNICEF and WHO to mention just a few.

Mr Chairman,

In situations of armed conflict and other situations of violence the ICRC is also responsible for overseeing and coordinating the international relief operations of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (Movement), an important network that makes a distinct and unique contribution in the general humanitarian effort.

To enhance the Movement’s contributions in the area of internal displacement, the ICRC, with the help of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, is drafting a Policy on Internal Displacement for the Movement. The particular objective of this policy is to reinforce the available capacities of the Movement in emergencies and to coordinate them effectively, in accordance with the Fundamental Principles of the Movement. 

Mr. Chairman,

Let me conclude by stressing that the ICRC has constructively been engaging in flexible strategies in order to coordinate, in priority at field level, its own responses to situations of internal displacement with those of other actors. These strategies allow to better take into accoun t the mandates and comparative strengths and advantages of the actors and agencies present in the field, as well as the different contexts in which internal displacement occurs.

Thank You