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

09-11-2007 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 62nd session, Third Committee, Item 42 of the agenda, Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 8-9 Novembre 2007

Mr Chairman,

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) would like to draw attention to the important issue of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and more generally, civilians affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence.

The principles of humanity dictate that the civilian population be spared from armed conflict and its effects. However, we are all aware that contemporary warfare regularly exposes civilians to severe consequences.

This is not because the law is inadequate. Both international humanitarian law (IHL) and other bodies of law aim to limit the effects of armed conflict on civilians. IHL prohibits parties to a conflict from indiscriminately attacking civilians or arbitrarily displacing them. Yet in today’s armed conflicts large numbers of people are brutally uprooted, fleeing dangers that are often the immediate consequences of IHL violations.

IHL is binding on all parties to conflicts – both States and non-State actors. This means that if all armed forces and groups were to comply fully with their obligations under this body of law, much of this displacement and devastation would be prevented. The ICRC would like to emphasise that ensuring compliance with the law must be prioritised as a matter of urgency.

Mr Chairman,

The primary responsibility for protecting civilians lies with the State and other authorities that exercise control over a population. However, in armed conflict these authorities are often unable or unwilling to discharge that responsibility. In such cases, ensuring the protection of civilians becomes a challenge for the international community.

For its part, the ICRC strives to promote the faithful application of IHL and other relevant bodies of law. It takes direct action to prevent violations thereof, stop them if they occur and avoid their recurrence, so as to provide at least a modicum of protection for those at severe risk. But humanitarian action, which aims to save lives and alleviate suffering, cannot be seen in itself as a means of ensuring comprehensive protection for affected populations.

Developing an environment conducive to more effective protection of civilians affected by conflict requires improved adherence to international treaties, changes to national legislation, the creation of reliable institutions, education on the law, public promotion of the rule of law, and the provision of physical security, assistance and compensation, among other things.

Therefore, complementary action of a diverse nature by range of actors is required to achieve effective protection. In addition to humanitarian action, we can distinguish distinct domains including judiciary, political, economic and at times security or military that may be required to take action to ensure the protection of civilians. One such domain cannot substitute for another, for example humanitarian action cannot substitute for political action. Greater and more complementary efforts are required from each of these domains to more effectively protect people at risk in armed conflict.

Mr Chairman,

IDPs are of primary concern to the ICRC. Protecting and assisting them, as a category of victims affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence, lies at the core of the ICRC’s mandate and operational priorities. The ICRC therefore welcomes the enhanced awareness of the plight of IDPs and the more comprehensive collective response to their needs.

The ICRC however also wishes to stress that concern for IDPs must not be at the expense of other categories of victim. In its efforts to help victims of war and other situations of violence, the ICRC is wary of predetermined approaches or preferential categories of victim.

For example, a preferential concern for IDPs assumes that IDPs are always the worst affected group in an armed conflict, while the'non-displaced'are better off. But some people may not flee - even if staying behind puts their lives at risk. The elderly, the disabled or the wounded may be physically unable to leave, while others may be prevented from fleeing due to the hostilities. Focusing on IDPs could lead one to overlook the fact that people left behind sometimes face even more dire circumstances than the displaced.

Moreover, an exclusive IDP focus diverts attention from the causes of displacement, and thus risks undermining preventive efforts. Addressing the needs of the affected population as a whole, including residents, for example those who host IDPs, can contribute towards preventing displacement.

The ICRC response is grounded in the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality, and is prioritized according to the assessed needs of the affected population. Operations are frequently conducted in conjunction with other components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

The ICRC also values its longstanding relationships with UNHCR and other UN agencies. Based on a common aspiration – to help people in need of protection and assistance – the ICRC seeks reality-based, action-oriented coordination that makes the b est use of available resources and capacities on the ground, while avoiding gaps or duplication, so as to achieve maximum impact on the lives of people in need.

Mr Chairman,

In addition to supporting these efforts, the ICRC calls on the States party to the Geneva Conventions to redouble their efforts to comply and promote compliance with IHL and other relevant bodies of law, and to step up their complementary efforts to ensure effective protection of civilians affected by armed violence.

Thank you for your attention.