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

08-11-2006 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 61st session, Third Committee, item 41 of the agenda, Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 8 Novembre 2006

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Mr. Chairman,

It is a great pleasure for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to address the members of the Third Committee during the 61st General Assembly of the United Nations on such an important topic as the issue of internally displaced persons and in particular the plight of IDPs in times of armed conflict.

In recent years, the displacement of civilians within their own country has been a recurrent feature of armed conflicts and other situations of violence. Millions of men, women and children have been affected, suffering extreme insecurity and deprivation which threaten their very survival at all stages of their displacement.

Unlike refugees, IDPs are not the subject of a specific international convention. They are nevertheless protected by various bodies of law – although not expressly referred to therein – including national law, human rights law and, if they are located in a State experiencing an armed conflict, International Humanitarian Law (IHL). If they are not taking a direct part in hostilities, internally displaced persons are entitled to protection as civilians regardless of the fact and cause of their displacement.

IHL aims at preventing the displacement of civilians in the first place and, should they nevertheless have to leave their place of residence, seeks to ensure their protection during their d isplacement. Indeed, IHL expressly prohibits any party to an armed conflict from compelling civilians to leave their home. Exceptionally, temporary evacuations may be carried out if the security of the civilians or imperative military reasons so demand. In addition to this express prohibition, the rules of IHL intended to spare civilians from hostilities and their effects play an important role in preventing displacement. The violations of these rules very often cause civilians to flee their homes.

As a matter of priority and urgency, action is required to ensure compliance with the law. The ICRC, in its capacity as custodian of IHL and as a neutral and independent humanitarian institution, will continue to remind all those directly concerned of their responsibilities in that regard. However, such humanitarian endeavours come only as a complement to political action and not as a substitute to it. We would like to remind that all States party to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 have a responsibility to ensure the respect of IHL pursuant to Article 1 common to the four Conventions.

Mr. Chairman,

IDPs can be very vulnerable in various stages of their displacement and even upon return. For instance displaced civilians are often brutally separated from their families and deprived of their livelihoods, of the support of their communities and of the possibility to access essential goods and services. IDPs are also frequently exposed to explosive remnants of war, to dangers arising from tensions with host communities and to an increased prevalence of sexual violence and underage recruitment.

The primary responsibility for protecting IDPs and responding to their needs unequivocally lies with the State or other authorities under whose control the IDPs find themselves. Humanitarian needs created by the displacements of populations, whether IDPs or refugees, very often present a fo rmidable challenge both to the authorities and tohost communities. Too often, however, the authorities are unable or even unwilling to provide protection and assistance to IDPs. This is where humanitarian organizations have a role to play.

As persons affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence, IDPs are of primary concern to the ICRC. Ensuring their protection and assistance lies at the core of the ICRC's mandate and operational priorities. This requires the ability to deploy rapidly as well as both work in situations of emergency and engage in longer-term commitments. To this end, the ICRC adopts flexible strategies and bases its activities on its own field assessments. The ICRC's humanitarian response is situation-driven. It seeks to find a balance between assisting and protecting IDPs through targeted actions or have them benefit from more general efforts aimed at broader segments of the population.

The ICRC has also repeatedly stressed that the international community’s increased awareness of the plight of IDPs should not lead to neglecting those who have not left their homes and neglecting the protection and assistance needs of host populations. In fact those who remain behind are sometimes faced with even greater threats to their survival and well-being.

This is why the ICRC strives to provide the civilian population, including IDPs, with a comprehensive response to their multifaceted needs. It does so by combining protection and assistance activities. These activities include the provision of goods and services such as food, water, shelter and healthcare. Efforts are also made to prevent the separation of families, to restore family links and trace missing persons as well as to conduct mine-action programmes. Whenever conditions for safe and dignified returns exist, the basic needs of returnees, as well as of the rest of the community, should be addressed, especially in the initial period fol lowing return. Return is, however, not always possible. Long-term displacement requires the implementation of durable solutions, which raises challenges for humanitarian as well as development actors.

Significant parts of ICRC's activities are implemented in cooperation with our counterparts within the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. In 2005, such activities were developed in 35 countries worldwide, including Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Colombia, Uganda, Chad, DRC, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Eritrea, just to name a few.

Mr. Chairman,

While protection and assistance activities in favour of IDPs clearly fall within ICRC's mandate, the scope and magnitude of their needs clearly surpass the capacity of a single agency.

The ICRC has closely followed the United Nations'humanitarian reform process, and particularly its efforts to develop the " cluster " approach launched just over one year ago. As we all know, UNHCR has accepted a lead role within the UN inter-agency humanitarian response system in the fields of protection, emergency shelter, and camp coordination and management for IDPs during conflict-generated emergencies.

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. In a recent High Level meeting, both organizations reaffirmed their will to expand their cooperation in responding to the needs of IDPs.

The ICRC reaffirms that, in order to preserve its unique character and its capacity to act as a purely independent and neutral intermediary and institution, it intends neither to take the lead of a clu ster nor to be a cluster member.

The ICRC hopes that the cluster mechanism will effectively improve the capacity of the humanitarian community to provide a timely and quality response to the needs of IDPs. For its part, our organization continues to be committed to a field-based and action-oriented cooperation to ensure that available capacities are used as efficiently as possible, avoiding duplications and gaps, in order to meet the best interest of the persons in need.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.