Historical archive

Norway's keynote address at the 28. International Red Cross Conference (Helgesen)

Historical archive

Published under: Bondevik's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Speech by State Secretary Vidar Helgesen, Geneva, 03.12.03. (04.12.03)

State Secretary Vidar Helgesen
28. International Red Cross Red Crescent Conference
Geneva, 3 desember 2003

Norway's keynote address at the 28. International Red Cross Conference

Mr. Chairman,
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen

Humanitarian action is about alleviating the suffering caused not least by conflict. As governments, while we support independent humanitarian action, we cannot allow ourselves to escape the responsibility for preventing such suffering in the first place.

To this end, states must re-commit themselves to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law. Governments should not interpret these binding rules as relative norms that can be set aside as new patterns of conflicts develop. International Humanitarian Law is a set of binding rules that are applicable also in present-day conflict.

As Governments, we also need to do more to prevent conflict in the first place. We need to think in new ways when it comes to dealing with sources of conflict. We must not put ourselves in a situation in which we identify military means as the primary way of addressing new security threats. We need to put in more political effort - more concerted, multilateral efforts - at avoiding conflict, containing conflict, limiting conflict and ending conflict.

The peaceful resolution of conflict reduces humanitarian suffering. It also has the added advantage of providing improved access for humanitarian assistance. We have, for example, seen that in the efforts to end the conflicts in Sri Lanka and in Sudan.

This Conference is one of the most important humanitarian fora in the world. It is an expression of the unique global mandate of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Movement, as well as the strength of the local presence of the National Societies. It is increasingly important that the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement builds and makes use of this wealth of local capacity. The Norwegian government expects to see a systematic and unified effort of the RC/RC Movement over the coming years to strengthen and utilise its global web of local roots.

However, for this network to be able to operate in present-day conflicts, governments must do their part in dealing with the impediments to humanitarian assistance.

Firstly, today access is impeded due to lack of will or lack of ability of some governments to guarantee such access. In these situation other governments must not leave it to the humanitarian organisations alone to push for access.

Secondly, the general security situation is often detrimental to humanitarian action. In such situations governments must seek to assist in establishing a security environment that can ensure the provision of humanitarian aid.

Thirdly, my government is outraged by seeing how in some areas today humanitarian actors are deliberately targeted. Some terrorist groups have claimed that humanitarian assistance is part of a western campaign against Islam. As governments we must take our responsibility not to do or say anything that can actually give rise to such misconceptions.

While we shall not take lightly on those perpetrating such acts, we should not limit this to an issue of providing physical security to humanitarian agencies. We need to engage in a broader, political dialogue in order to strengthen the legitimacy, integrity and security of humanitarian action. Several difficult questions must be dealt with.

Firstly, international agencies should take a closer look at how they operate on the ground in order to ensure legitimacy and local support. We must avoid that security arrangements for humanitarian personnel create a bigger distance between the aid workers and the local population.

Secondly, the international humanitarian dialogue must be revitalised and broadened. As donor governments, we must open up for consultation and coordination that cut across traditional divisions. Norway proposes that major host countries of refugees, other countries in regions ridden by conflicts, and traditional and new donor countries alike should be more closely involved in co-operation on how to prevent humanitarian suffering as well as how to ensure access and space to alleviate humanitarian suffering.

Thirdly, as part of this dialogue we need a more thorough analysis and discussion of how humanitarian agencies and military/peace-keeping forces can best interact to increase security and access to vulnerable groups, without compromising the integrity of humanitarian agencies.

Ladies and gentlemen,

These problems should take centre stage in the dialogue between governments. Because today, in an unprecedented way, these issues are so vital to the wider aim of ensuring international peace and security.

Thank you.