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Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects

24-10-2008 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 63rd session, Fourth Committee, Item 31. Statement by the ICRC, New York, 24 October 2008.

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Mr Chairman,

People affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence need protection. This is a critical challenge and it is at the heart of the mandate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Civilians bear the brunt of the violence in armed conflict. Direct targeting of civilians is often a blatant strategy – and protection shortfalls are stark. However, this is not because of inadequate legal rules. It is a result of failures to comply with international humanitarian law (IHL) and other normative standards. Indeed, the obligations of all parties involved are clearly defined. Hard work and perseverance are required to better ensure the knowledge of and compliance with the law to ensure protection of civilians in armed conflict and other situations of violence.

Today, protection needs far exceed the capacity of any one actor. Thus the ICRC welcomes recently enhanced response efforts. However, an increase in actors calls for effective coordination – which must consider different mandates and approaches.

Constructive interaction has been established between the ICRC and the United Nations, and specifically DPKO, notably in relation to the promotion of IHL. This is especially important as ICRC and UN peacekeepers co-exist in many theatres of operations. Increasingly, UN peace support operations are deployed in countries pl agued by armed conflict – the primary operating environment of the ICRC. The ICRC has a clear protection mandate given to it by States. This is expressed in IHL and its Statutes. SC Resolution 1674 of 2006 suggests that peacekeeping, political and peace building missions may in certain cases be mandated to protect civilians. Hence, in certain contexts, both UN forces and the ICRC endeavour to protect civilians. However, our mandates and roles are distinct.

In fact, we would like to emphasize that we do not pursue protection objectives in the same manner. The ICRC has a strictly humanitarian mission that cannot be blurred with any military, political or economic dimensions or considerations. Operationally, the ICRC relies on proximity with people at risk and direct dialogue with all parties in a conflict. Establishing these relationships, particularly with non-state actors, is often an arduous and sensitive undertaking. This can be quickly compromised, with potentially severe consequences, if doubts arise over the independence, the neutrality, or the purely impartial and humanitarian intentions of the ICRC.

In order to play its humanitarian role effectively, the ICRC must continue to be - as well as to be perceived to be - neutral and independent from all actors and interests.

Obviously humanitarian efforts alone do not ensure complementary protection. Political engagement is critical in seeking solutions to the causes. Legal efforts tackle impunity and suppress violations. And ensuring physical protection of civilians often requires the presence of trained police or military personnel, such as UN peacekeepers. Indeed, ensuring physical protection is often a crucial dimension of the protection effort. 

Thus it is clear: humanitarian efforts, political action, legal measures and physical protection are all distinct aspects of a complementary protection response. Each requires different compete ncies and approaches. And they must not be fused nor confused.

Pursuing the common goal of protecting civilian populations should not translate into duplicated efforts, with many actors doing the same thing in the same manner. Rather, it requires a range of diverse efforts that are distinct, but complementary.

For the ICRC, it is crucial that these different approaches are not mixed. Humanitarian work must continue to be viewed as neutral and independent by all actors. It must be seen as free of political or other associated interests. Any blurring in this regard could severely undermine the humanitarian effort, putting many people – both civilians and humanitarian workers – at even greater risk.

Mr. Chairman,

In conclusion, we together face an important challenge – ensuring protection. Whether as humanitarians or peacekeepers, our specific mandates call us to act. We have a common interest in defining an effective interface between our distinct but complementary approaches to protecting civilians. We must make the most of our respective strengths, while managing the risks. Together, we can take advantage of our complementarity in order to better protect people at risk. The ICRC will continue to cooperate, in the field and here in New York, in defining this interface to better protect persons at risk in armed conflict and other situations of armed violence.

Thank you for your consideration