27th International Conference
of the Red Cross and Red Crescent

Address of Carol Bellamy

Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund to the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent,Geneva - 1 November 1999

Mr. Chairman, Your Majesty, President Sommaruga, President Heiberg, Deputy Secretary-General Frechette, Dr. Brundtland, Ms. Bertini, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great pleasure to join you for this 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent . the world. s foremost guardians of humanitarian law, as well as UNICEF. s oldest and most stalwart partners in protecting the rights of children and women in natural as well as human-made disasters.

Mr. Chairman, this gathering comes at an especially timely moment, in this 50th anniversary year of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the principal instruments of international humanitarian law. Alongside the two Additional Protocols . and Convention on the Rights of the Child, whose 10th anniversary we celebrate this month . they are at the heart of the mandate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

With the ICRC. s long history in developing and strengthening humanitarian principles . and the vital role played by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and all National Societies in natural-disaster response and preparedness . there is no mystery about why this Movement, through the ICRC, has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize not once, but four times.

Mr. Chairman, the context within which humanitarian actors work is much changed in the 136 years since Henry Dunant. s account of a horrific battle in Solferino, Italy, inspired the movement that gave the world the ICRC.

Indeed, the most profound transformation in the nature of armed conflict has occurred in the relatively brief period since the end of the Cold War.

Only four years ago, UNICEF was working with its partners in some 15 countries gripped by violent conflict. Today that number has more than tripled. All involve situations that profoundly threaten the lives and welfare of children and women . and the future of the very societies in which they live.

The proliferation of armed conflict within States, the routine targeting of civilian populations, the "privatisation" of warfare facilitated by private economic interests, including the universal trafficking in small arms . all of these have helped create what Graša Machel has called a moral vacuum, a vast, pitiless place in which millions of human beings, most of them women and children, are brutalised and slaughtered with impunity.

Mr. Chairman, as an agency that is operational before, during and after armed conflict and other disasters, UNICEF has seen how the same children whom we have helped nurture, immunise and educate are now being systematically targeted . many of them recruited as killers, or pressed into service as porters and sexual slaves. Others end up maimed or psychologically traumatised.

It is a tragic tableau that the ICRC has been examining from the ground up in its "People on War" project, a remarkable year-long survey of some 20,000 people in 17 countries . combatants and non-combatant civilians alike . whose opinions about why such horrors occur are being studied as part of an effort to find ways to protect civilians.

Mr. Chairman, given the complexity of today. s conflicts and humanitarian crises, it is clear that a collaborative, multi-actor approach is the only way to provide effective protection for civilian populations at large and displaced women and children.

I have seen for myself the fruits of the close working relationships that exist between UNICEF, the IFRC, and the National Societies, whether in the aftermath of the recent earthquake disaster in Turkey, or in hurricane-ravaged Central America at this time last year. And UNICEF and the ICRC continue to collaborate in a wide variety of projects, whether it is in health and nutrition programmes in the Sudan; immunisation in Angola and the DRC; family tracing, immunisation and water and sanitation in East Timor; or child protection in West Timor.

Indeed, the collective efforts of the ICRC and UNICEF and numerous other agencies and groups, including non-governmental organisations, have helped spark a growing awareness within the international community of the primacy of the rights of children and women in situations of armed conflict and social instability.

The Security Council. s recent condemnation of the targeting of children and women in armed conflict is only one of the latest signs that the issue of child rights is moving, step by step, to the very heart of the international peace and security agenda.

The ratification of a global ban on anti-personnel landmines; the adoption of the Rome Statute authorising the creation of an International Criminal Court; the establishment of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; and the continuing campaign for a ban on the recruitment and participation of children under 18 in armed conflict . all of these are evidence of a growing international resolve to combat the culture of impunity . and in all of these, the ICRC has worked tirelessly to help mobilise public opinion on a global scale.

There are also signs that the international community is beginning to recognise the extent to which armed conflict is fueled by private economic interests, which are as ruthless as they are powerful. And indeed, among private entities themselves, there have been some successes, such as limitations in the trade in diamonds or oil where those activities have had a negative humanitarian impact. But it is clear that more initiatives are needed in connection with such issues as drug trafficking, small-arms transfers, and the private use of mercenaries.

UNICEF, with its mandate as the world. s leading advocate for the protection of child rights, welcomes these developments . and with partners like the Red Cross Movement, we will continue our efforts to ensure that child protection becomes an integral component of all humanitarian and development activities, as well as UN peace-keeping missions.

The Security Council. s Resolution is in line with the recommendations of the Graša Machel Report on Children in Armed Conflict, as well as UNICEF. s Anti-War Agenda, and UNICEF. s Peace and Security Agenda for Children that we first described to the Security Council in February.

UNICEF. s Agenda includes an end to the use of children as soldiers and the establishment of 18 as the internationally recognised age of recruitment; protection of humanitarian assistance and humanitarian personnel; an end to the impunity of war crimes and crimes against humanity, especially those committed against children; support of humanitarian mine action; and the inclusion of children in peace-building, particularly in demobilisation efforts.

Mr. Chairman, as the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies know from their own experiences with youth volunteers, young people bring a unique perspective to the immense task of healing and rebuilding . and they have asserted their fundamental right to participate such activities in countries ranging from Colombia and Sri Lanka to Liberia and Turkey.

Collaborative efforts are vital. Yet they must not relieve States of their primary responsibility in humanitarian crises . particularly in regard to their duty to protect civilian populations, as well as to take humanitarian action themselves . or, failing that, to permit others to do so when States are either unwilling or unable.

The consequences of inaction are legion. The unwillingness of the international community to respond to repeated pleas by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to disarm the genocidaires in Rwanda wreaked havoc on the countries of the Great Lakes region . and that terrible legacy is still being felt to this day.

Mr. Chairman, the responsibility of States . in fact, all parties to conflict . also looms large in a related area that requires urgent action: the protection of humanitarian staff.

As we are all painfully aware, they are coming under increasing attack . kidnapped, detained, harassed, assaulted, killed and wounded in cross-fire . and even deliberately murdered, as happened just last month in Burundi, where UNICEF. s Country Representative, Luis Zuniga, and a colleague from the World Food Programme, Saskia Louise von Meijenfeldt, became the 12th and 13th UN staff members to die in the line of duty in 1999.

In recent years, Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement members have been killed in air raids, by land mines, by stray bullets, and by attacks on their offices and vehicles. UN aircraft have been downed, with extensive loss of life. UN property has been looted with impunity, with losses exceeding many tens of millions of dollars.

Mr. Chairman, humanitarian workers have always put themselves in harm. s way. It comes with the territory. But we can no longer view these tragedies as isolated incidents. They are part of a growing pattern of attacks in which humanitarian workers are being singled out. It is a pattern the world can no longer tolerate.

For his part, the Secretary-General has called on the Security Council to enhance the protection of humanitarian workers . and ensure the implementation of the 1994 Convention on the Safety of UN and Associated Personnel.

Mr. Chairman, I suggest that it is time to adopt an optional protocol to this instrument, one that will cover staff who are deployed by mandates other than those issued by the General Assembly and the Security Council.

However, ensuring that States will ratify the Convention, much less an optional protocol, remains a major challenge. And as we are all too well aware, treaties are effective only in direct proportion to their implementation and enforcement at the national level.

In this connection, Mr. Chairman, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of ensuring early ratification of the Rome Statute on an International Criminal Court. As you are aware, the Statute addresses individual responsibility for "intentionally directing attacks against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance or peace-keeping mission."

We are already seeing an impact on the behaviour of individual actors in the field, as a direct consequence of the fact that a very comprehensive Statute has been adopted. In particular, we have found support in recent Security Council resolutions and actions, and because the Statute largely reflects customary international law.

But we believe that the actual entry into force of this treaty will have a major deterrent effect with regards to attacks on humanitarian staff.

At UNICEF, we have worked hard to improve staff security by instituting systematic and predictable systems in recent years. But recent incidents have obliged us to begin looking carefully at the ways in which we can best balance staff security and our presence on the ground on behalf of protecting civilians.

At the moment, UNICEF is exploring ways to strengthen our capacity to prepare for insecurity . and is supplying staff with additional training and equipment so that they can cope with the lawlessness and violence that awaits them. UNICEF, together with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Programme, has invested heavily in this area. We are also exploring joint ventures, such as the shared operation of communications equipment in West Africa.

In the last year, UNICEF helped to establish a UN-wide procedure allowing for post-exposure treatment for HIV infection for staff who have been assaulted. This service, which is now available in strategic locations world-wide, is just one example of the wide range of innovations that we must bring to the fore.

In all its efforts, UNICEF is committed to finding joint strategies to deal not only with the humanitarian consequences of emergencies, but with their root causes and solutions. It is why UNICEF stresses a holistic approach that combines humanitarian relief with long-term development objectives, whether in Angola, Kosovo, Timor, Afghanistan, or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mr. Chairman, the protection of children in armed conflict and other humanitarian crises must be framed by the standards and norms embodied in international human rights instruments and humanitarian law. And we have that framework in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Convention is not only history. s most universally embraced human rights treaty, but the only one that explicitly refers to humanitarian law. Indeed, Article 38 of the Convention specifically obligates States Parties to respect the rules of international humanitarian law relevant to children in armed conflict.

It is because of this linkage, Mr. Chairman, that UNICEF has become increasingly focused on protection issues, which are key elements of today. s conflicts and instability.

Unlike the ICRC and UNHCR, UNICEF is not in a position to deal with individual protection cases except in rare instances. Instead, we are concentrating our efforts on strengthening the protection environment, using a bottom-up approach to rights-based programming.

In southern Sudan, for example . and soon in East Timor . we are exploring ways to promote child rights and women. s rights by linking them to local traditions and values. And in eastern DRC and Tanzania in 1996 and 1997, UNICEF collaborated with UNHCR and the ICRC to set up simple systems to prevent family separations.

But in all our work, Mr. Chairman, we need the help of the Movement in taking into consideration the particular needs of children.

UNICEF also looks forward to working with the Movement in preparing for a watershed event for children in 2001 . an event that will mobilise international leadership to achieve the remaining goals of the World Summit for Children; tackle the huge obstacles of poverty, HIV/AIDS and armed conflict; and establish a new agenda for children for the first years of the 21st Century.

In linking it to the Special Session of the General Assembly in 2001 on follow-up to the World Summit, we envision this event as the most representative gathering for children the world has ever seen. It will include not only governments, but broad elements of civil society, including children themselves, NGOs, the media and the private sector . and our colleague UN agencies

Mr. Chairman, the virtually universal embrace of the Convention on the Rights of the Child . the growing concern with the protection of refugees and internally displaced . the increasing resolve to deal with those who commit atrocities during conflict . and the recognition that lasting peace and sustainable development require the fulfilment of the rights of children and adults . all of these are hopeful trends that can contribute to the mitigation of the effects of the many humanitarian emergencies we now face.

For UNICEF the truest measure of our success is the protection and well-being of the world. s children . and the strength of our determination to act always in their best interests.

In all of this, our close and ever stronger collaboration with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement will always be a cornerstone of our efforts.

Thank you.

Text submitted prior to speech

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© 1999 | French (homepage) |
Proceedings

Speeches

Cornelio Sommaruga, ICRC

Astrid Heiberg, Int.Fed.

Louise Fréchette, U.N., Deputy Secretary General

Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO

Catherine Bertini, WFP

Carol Bellamy, UNICEF

The Plan of Action for 2000-2003