Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Mr. Cornelio Sommaruga, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, on Cooperation between ICRC and UNHCR, Geneva, 14 July 1998
We should like to share with you the main points to evolve from the annual ICRC/UNHCR senior management meeting which was held in Geneva on 22 June 1998. The frank and open atmosphere which characterized the meeting advanced mutual understanding and should result in strengthened cooperation between our two agencies, most particularly in the field.
Although the ICRC and UNHCR have clearly distinct humanitarian mandates, they are complementary in that both serve to protect the civilian victims of armed conflicts, violence and persecution. As noted during the meeting, our activities are currently taking place in a constantly changing environment. Intra-state conflicts are becoming more pervasive and complex. The line between war and peace is increasingly blurred, the respect by combatants for fundamental values and basic humanitarian principles is eroding dangerously and we carry out our work in ever more insecure conditions. Thus, the urgent need to join forces to maximize the effects of our efforts.
Our discussions last week focused on those key issues our two agencies expect to face in the near future, namely assuring the security of humanitarian operations, determining prevention strategies and the promotion of respect for humanitarian and refugee law principles. We reached the following conclusions and observations.
Security of humanitarian operations:
The nature of conflict is rapidly evolving in complex and unpredictable directions. Faced with this situation, ICRC and UNHCR have an interest in strengthening their cooperation to improve security conditions in the field, particularly in management of hostage-taking situations and of staff stress.
Both organizations share the view that the kidnapping of humanitarian staff is unacceptable. A common approach to the management and negotiations of such crises was agreed. Key elements include exchange of information and a common approach towards the media in any hostage-taking situation.
Both organizations should analyze the value of incorporating a common approach to stress management, through the exchange of experiences and training methodologies and material.
The issues of armed protection and armed escorts of humanitarian personnel was discussed. Although some common views were expressed, the particularities and different guiding principles did not allow a consensus on these issues. However, there is common ground for further discussion on security support to humanitarian operations and on the relation between political and humanitarian actors in the management of crises.
Given the importance of the issue of staff security, it was decided to release a joint press statement stressing the main concerns.
ICRC's prevention and dissemination approach, and UNHCR's activities to enhance respect for humanitarian principles and refugee law:
Though the working definitions of prevention are different for each organization, the work we carry out in this area is complementary. ICRC is predominantly engaged in the prevention of suffering, while UNHCR has an interest in preventing or mitigating situations of persecution, violence and armed conflict which provoke refugee movements and other forms of forced displacement.
Probably the most important task is the establishment of strategic partnerships and broader constituencies, some of which will be traditional but others quite new to our organizations. In the case of ICRC and UNHCR, our partnership is of utmost importance for the successful attainment of prevention and dissemination objectives.
The ethical and legal issues surrounding prevention, dissemination and respect for humanitarian and refugee law and principles need to be further discussed, including an in-depth exchange of views on preventive strategies. A follow-up meeting on these specific issues will be convened between our two legal divisions in the fall.
Cooperation involves staff at all levels of both organizations. We strongly encourage you to reinforce direct contact with your counterparts as a step towards more comprehensive and closer collaboration. Through these contacts and the implementation of joint activities, where suitable, and especially in the fields of promotion and dissemination, cooperation between ICRC and UNHCR will expand and develop.
As a new century approaches, we must reinforce efforts to assure adherence to humanitarian principles and values. One step is through a more prominent interaction in our respective governing bodies and international conferences. Hence, UNHCR has invited the President of ICRC to give the keynote address at the Executive Committee session in October 1998. At the same time, ICRC will be undertaking the necessary démarches to provide the High Commissioner with a similar opportunity during the next International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, scheduled to take place in Geneva in November 1999. The ICRC has also asked UNHCR to take an active role in its preparatory process.
We invite you, the staff of ICRC and UNHCR, to reinvigorate efforts to link our respective expertise and energies in a complementary manner to better serve the victims of conflicts, violence and persecution. We hereby make a personal pledge to support this effort in every possible way.
Mr. Cornelio Sommaruga
International Committee of the Red Cross
Mrs. Sadako Ogata
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees