Press Releases

    18 July 2002

    Human Rights High Commissioner Says Economic and Social Council Has Significant Role in Advancing Rights of Most Vulnerable

    Council Concludes Humanitarian Affairs Segment

    NEW YORK, 17 July (UN Headquarters) -- Indigenous people, trafficked persons and those suffering from HIV/AIDS or disabilities were often invisible within their own societies and their rights neglected, Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the Economic and Social Council today.

    Echoing the dominant themes of the humanitarian segment, which concluded today, Ms. Robinson said the Council had a significant role to play in advancing the rights of such individuals and groups. Human rights obligations must be more fully integrated into national responses to HIV/AIDS. She also urged the Council to ensure that the rights of such persons were not forgotten when measuring implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.

    The representative of Namibia said natural disasters, widespread hunger, chronic poverty and the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS in southern Africa called for swift action from all relevant agencies and the donor community. He noted the drop in humanitarian funding currently channelled through the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP), which had become the most vital tool for resource mobilization, humanitarian coordination and strategic planning in complex emergencies.

    Angola was battling an emergency humanitarian situation affecting more than 5 million people, the representative of that country said. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had launched the CAP for Angola early this year, but it had so far received only 34 per cent of the total amount requested. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of Angolans in desperate need of attention would not receive it. Response to the appeal would help millions of Angolans and play a pivotal role in peace and national reconciliation in his country, which involved the demobilization and reintegration of about 85,500 combatants and 300,000 family members.

    The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania said the drought now raging in southern Africa stressed the usefulness of a strengthened regional response. However, he added, strengthening the regional presence had to go hand in hand with capacity-building measures for the government and local populations to equip them with the relevant expertise in contingency planning and regional coordination.

    The representative of Cameroon noted that the nature of present humanitarian situations encouraged many players to act in close cooperation. She strongly supported the promotion of regional capacities to deal with crises. The world should acknowledge the desire of Africa to mobilize itself for peace.

    Mongolia's representative said the intensity and frequency of humanitarian emergencies around the world during the past decade had placed sometimes overwhelming pressure on the resources of affected countries. His country's three-year bout of severe natural calamities had highlighted the importance of the CAP as a useful mechanism for mobilizing and coordinating humanitarian assistance. He stressed that capacity-building for early prevention, detection and coping with disasters, as well as better coordination with regional and international humanitarian assistance agencies, was also vital.

    The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator spoke at the close of the segment. The representatives of the Sudan, Algeria, Colombia, Nigeria, Bhutan, South Africa, El Salvador, Ukraine, Jamaica, Iran, Indonesia, Suriname and Malta also spoke, as did the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); the Director, Office of Emergency Programmes, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); the observer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; and representatives of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

    The Council will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 18 July.


    The Economic and Social Council met this morning to continue the general debate of its humanitarian segment.


    DORA MSECHU (United Republic of Tanzania) said the debate had a lot of relevance to her country's situation, both as a victim and a provider of assistance in emergencies. She, thus, appreciated the strengthening of the regional presence of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Such a presence would make timely responses to humanitarian emergencies possible.

    She said the drought situation now raging in southern Africa served to emphasize the usefulness of a strengthened regional presence and response, and she hoped that the famine now ravaging the subregion would be accorded the response it merited, so as to avoid more serious consequences. It was worth reiterating that the strengthening of a regional presence had to go hand in hand with capacity-building measures for the government and local populations, in order to equip them with the relevant expertise in contingency planning and regional coordination.

    She agreed with the Secretary-General's observation that one of the key challenges for the protection of civilians was to ensure that combatants were separated from civilians -- a problem the international community had had difficulty in addressing, thus far. The problem was compounded in situations where large numbers of people fled persecution, thus, compelling the country of asylum to deal with large numbers of asylum seekers among whom were armed combatants. It was utterly unrealistic, to expect an overwhelmed country of asylum to be able to distinguish between bona fide asylum seekers and armed combatants, "while struggling desperately to provide succour and refugee to them". She added that the plight of women in situations of natural disasters and armed conflict had been well documented and spoke strongly of the need to include women and a gender perspective in all efforts, national and international, to prepare for, and recover from, humanitarian crises.

    OMER BASHIR MOHAMED MANIS (Sudan) said that, because of its experience and cooperation with the United Nations through Operation Lifeline Sudan, the Sudan paid special attention to the humanitarian segment. The Secretary-General's report had covered many aspects of humanitarian action. Needless to say, humanitarian assistance was based on the basic guiding principles that humanitarian assistance should be provided at the request of affected States and in accordance with the sovereignty of States.

    While the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) had proven its effectiveness as a useful mechanism, the deterioration in the response to the CAP was a matter of concern, he continued. By the middle of 2001, the CAP had not exceeded more than 23 per cent of original estimates. It was regrettable that the situation this year seemed to be even worse. The poor response to the CAP posed many serious questions. He called for due attention to the issue so that the root causes of the phenomenon could be tackled.

    Some methods in providing humanitarian assistance aggravated the problem of resources, he continued. Scare resources were used to cover air transport expenses, in particular. Other less expensive alternatives, such as land, river and rail transport, could be considered. Those methods were not only less expensive, but also more effective in transporting larger quantities of relief supplies. Also, requirements should be purchased from the affected or neighbouring countries, when possible. The advantages were evident.

    He welcomed the Secretary-General's appeal for capacity-building at the local and regional levels. He also welcomed OCHA's presence in the Horn of Africa to enhance the potential of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), which had established an early warning system for conflict. Some natural disasters occurred in a predictable pattern. Radical solutions to ensure sustainable means for local people during times of drought, for example, should be sought. The Sudan had called upon the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) to reconsider its methods of work and not to resort to instigation methods. He hoped that IRIN would respond to his appeal, so that an atmosphere of trust could be created, rather than conflict and instigation.

    In many areas of conflict, warlords prolonged wars to the detriment of innocent citizens and launched attacks against humanitarian actors, he said. He called on international community to pay due consideration to that criminal phenomenon and take the necessary action against warlords. The worst humanitarian disaster witnessed since the Council's last session was the humanitarian situation in occupied Palestine. He had expected that the Secretary-General's report would devout specific space to that situation. The report had detailed difficulties in supplying human assistance in areas all over the world, yet was silent on the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people under occupation.

    ISMAEL ABRAÃO GASPAR MARTINS (Angola) said the international community needed to re-examine its provision of humanitarian and disaster-relief assistance to vulnerable people. Financial support should not only be given based on the duration of the crisis, but also on the dimension, impact and assistance needed. Often, long conflicts tended to be forgotten due to donor fatigue. He appealed to the international community to attend with equal vigour to the forgotten crises in the world, particularly in Africa.

    His country was battling an emergency humanitarian situation affecting more than 5 million people, he said. The OCHA had launched a Consolidated Appeal for Angola early this year to fund 130 projects in 13 sectors. However, it had received only 34 per cent of the total amount requested, which meant that hundreds of thousands of Angolans in desperate need of attention would not receive it.

    The situation in Angola underscored the need for Member States to respond to appeals, he continued. That response would alleviate the plight of millions of Angolans and play a pivotal role in the process of peace and national reconciliation in his country, which involved the demobilization and reintegration of about 85,500 combatants and 300,000 family members. His Government had taken several positive steps in recent years to provide humanitarian assistance, which had been possible due to increasing cooperation between Angola and the international donor community.

    DONATO KINIGER-PASSIGLI, InFocus Programme on Crisis Response and Reconstruction, International Labour Organization (ILO), said that through its InFocus Programme, established in 1999, the ILO promoted employment-friendly reconstruction, helping save existing jobs and creating new ones. In doing so, the ILO had built a valuable knowledge base on crisis response, preparedness and prevention, which fed into its advocacy and capacity-building work aimed at helping practitioners recognize and apply decent work principles in peace building.

    One of the most important lessons learned, he said, was that there was inadequate awareness among donors and key actors, both national and international, of the importance of the employment dimension of crises. The ILO must, therefore, be an advocate for crisis prevention, preparedness and response, including post-crisis reconstruction programmes, to fully take into account that important dimension. The ILO had also concluded that more should be done to ensure timely funding of transitional and development activities and to sensitize donor governments to provide the necessary resources. Major emphasis should be placed on bringing employment concerns to the forefront of the disaster and crisis management cycle.

    KUNIO WAKI, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said the need to strengthen United Nations humanitarian assistance and to ensure a smooth transition from relief to development was indeed great. The UNFPA Humanitarian Response Unit was now fully operational. That Unit would contribute to increased coordination and to meeting the special reproductive health needs of women and adolescents. As an active member of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), the UNFPA was committed to strengthening the CAP and fully supported the Secretary-General's recommendations in that regard.

    The humanitarian crises in Afghanistan and the occupied Palestinian territory had dominated the world media over the last year, he said. In both places, there had been a strong response from the United Nations system. In Afghanistan, the UNFPA was collaborating closely with the Ministry of Women's Affairs and the Ministry of Public Health to improve maternal- and child-health facilities, train health workers and equip maternity hospitals as part of a long-term plan for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

    In the occupied Palestinian territory, emergency obstetric care was inaccessible to most women in labour, he said. Delays at checkpoints had resulted in unattended roadside births and even the deaths of some women and infants. The UNFPA had called for access to medical care and trained midwives, distributed clean delivery kits and established a telephone hotline to assist home birthing.

    The Great Lakes region was still a priority area for the UNFPA, he added. Estimates of mortality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were in the millions. Sexual violence was widespread and was being used as a weapon of war. In West Africa, the UNFPA was working with partners to promote the increased involvement of women in peacemaking and peace-building. Stronger efforts were needed to prevent HIV infection in conflict situations to meet international development goals. Greater commitment and increased funding were essential. United Nations peacekeepers were on the frontlines of HIV prevention. The UNFPA was actively working with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to train peacekeeping personnel on HIV prevention and gender awareness.

    BRYNJULF MUGAAS, Observer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said his organization advocated increased clarity of the humanitarian legal framework, which would improve operational responses, as well as planning and coordination tools. The Federation had already begun a study of existing legislation governing international disaster response - the IDRL Project -- which focused on reaching the vulnerable by facilitating humanitarian response in times of disaster.

    Access to victims, as well as fast and efficient relief, particularly in the immediate aftermath of a major disaster, were constant challenges for humanitarian actors, he said. Problems experienced by relief workers in the field, especially during those crucial first hours and days, were exacerbated by unduly onerous or inconsistent administrative and legal procedures, ignorance of various legal instruments designed to expedite relief activities, or a lack of any legal guidelines at all. Frequently, relief workers were unable to enter a country while awaiting a visa, relief goods were delayed in customs, funds were inaccessible due to lack of official legal status, or communication was difficult through lack of access to telecommunications networks.

    The IDRL Project aimed to increase awareness, understanding and implementation of the various existing legal instruments applicable in times of natural disaster through compilation and publication under the new framework of International Disaster Response Law. The Project would also evaluate those laws to identify existing gaps and weaknesses needing further attention and development by the international community. That would be achieved by studying the laws themselves and through field studies, which would help evaluate their effectiveness on the ground during disaster operations.

    ROBERT G. PAIVA, International Organization for Migration (IOM), said the IOM participated in the IASC, of which participation in the CAP was important. Concerted efforts by all participants, assisted by OCHA, had steered plans for dealing with humanitarian needs far ahead of where things were a few years ago. For smaller operational agencies, the process was sometimes burdensome, but the IOM recognized the advantage of current plans to deal with complex humanitarian emergencies and crystallizing its own role in that response. The CAP was more than just a resource mobilization tool; it was a strategic planning and programming process. Unfortunately, the response had sometimes fallen short of its goals.

    Highlighting the creation of the Unit on Internal Displacement within OCHA, he said that that important inter-agency effort in a field of great complexity merited the international community's strong support. Hopefully, the Economic and Social Council would endorse the relevant recommendation contained in the Secretary-General's report. He also agreed with the report's assessment of the increasing complexity of emergencies compounded by natural disaster in many parts of the world. Afghanistan had been high on IOM's agenda over the past year, as it took part in managing internally displaced camps, at OCHA's request, alongside its more traditional work of transporting internally displaced persons and returnees. Funding difficulties had forced a temporary suspension of those activities, as the focus turned to the longer term, despite the fact that the immediate needs remained.

    ALFATIH IBRAHIM HAMAD, representative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said that without educational support to the people displaced by civil wars, ethnic conflicts and other natural and man-made disasters, humanitarian assistance could only produce an ephemeral impact on the social fabric of societies, falling short of the essential need to create hope for a brighter future. The UNESCO hoped that education, in its most compelling forms, would become "the fourth pillar" of humanitarian assistance, along with food, shelter and health care. Yet, even though education was included in United Nations consolidated inter-agency appeals, it was far from enjoying adequate consideration among donors and the United Nations system alike, notwithstanding full recognition of education programme as a central part of the continuum from emergency relief to development.

    Although UNESCO was not included in the membership of the IASC on humanitarian affairs, it stood ready to play an effective role in the inter-agency collaboration to consolidate immediate and long-term responses to education needs in emergencies. That should include conception and implementation of specifically designed learning programmes for both children and adolescents.

    As clearly stated by the Secretary-General in part IV of his report, pertaining to the CAP, the review commissioned by the Emergency Relief Coordinator had revealed a number of discrepancies in funding between different sectors. The Secretary-General recommended encouraging donors to meet annually to consider the global trends in humanitarian response, in order to ensure that imbalances could be addressed. The UNESCO believed that the consolidated appeals mechanism could benefit tremendously from such an approach.

    NILS KASTBERG, Director, Office of Emergency Programmes, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said that over the last 10 years the nature and magnitude of conflicts had changed. Most recent humanitarian crises had been internal conflicts arising out of human rights violations and political disenfranchisement. Children faced multiple threats: they were often victims of violence and landmines, suffered malnutrition and disease and were separated from their families. Today, an estimated 20 million girls and boys were displaced by armed conflict, human rights violations or natural disasters. Children were not only victims, but had also become deliberate targets and weapons in war.

    There was, however, a welcoming trend internationally to place human security, the rights and well being of citizens on the international peace and security agenda. The protection of civilians, which had in recent years moved to the centre stage of the political agenda, must be strengthened. The framework for the protection of children in armed conflict was based on legal obligations and political commitments. Those obligations and commitments guided the work of governments who had the primary responsibility for the protection of civilians. Taking the various legal instruments, especially the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF worked to meet the survival, protection and development needs of children affected by conflict and natural disasters.

    When children were uprooted by armed conflict, education was a key factor in bringing stability and security back into their lives, he said. A learning environment was a protection tool. UNICEF's ability to protect children was intrinsically linked to access. Without access, UNICEF was unable to meet humanitarian needs and was also severely constrained in its efforts to protect those who were most vulnerable to human rights abuses. OCHA's assistance in negotiating access had been a tremendous help. Operationalizing protection must be grounded in collaboration and coordination globally and at the county level.

    General Assembly resolution 46/182, adopted 10 years ago, created the framework for the current international humanitarian response. The resolution established four core mechanisms: the Emergency Relief Coordinator, the IASC, the Central Emergency Revolving Fund and the CAP. The UNICEF was actively involved in all those processes. One of the major advantages of the mechanisms established by resolution 46/182 was that they allowed UNICEF to put children's issues on the agenda of the wider humanitarian community. Children made up a significant proportion of the victims in complex emergencies. The UNICEF, however, could not do it all. Mechanisms such as the IASC ensured that all humanitarian actors were incorporating children's issues into their work; the children were seen as "everybody's business".

    MARTHINUS VAN SCHALKWYK (South Africa) briefed the Council on status of the draft resolution it was expected to adopt at the conclusion of the session. As facilitator of the negotiations on the text, he could say that good progress had been made. At the current stage, there had been a first reading of the draft. A revised draft had been produced and distributed. In general, the draft contained positive, action-oriented language. The majority of the resolution would be cleared by the end of the week. He regretted that the draft would not be adopted at today's meeting, but it was almost there.

    J. ENKHSAIKHAN (Mongolia) said the intensity and frequency of humanitarian emergencies around the world during the past decade, especially over the past few years, had placed strenuous and sometimes overwhelming pressure on the resources and capacities of affected countries. That had been particularly true for developing countries. Mongolia believed that adopting a broader regional approach to humanitarian aid would help strengthen regional infrastructures.

    He also highlighted the importance of capacity-building for early prevention, detection and coping with disasters at local and national levels, as well as better coordination with regional and international humanitarian assistance agencies. Mongolia supported the Secretary-General's report to establish and strengthen the "culture of protection", and all that implied, including ensuring access, justice and reconciliation for vulnerable groups, refugees and internally displaced persons. With that in mind, he said that the role of States in protecting their civilians needed to be strengthened.

    Mongolia was recovering from three years of successive severe natural calamities, he said, noting his country's experience had highlighted the importance of the CAP as a useful mechanism for mobilizing and coordinating humanitarian assistance. On moving from emergency relief to development, he said such a transition could not be made without focusing on education, an important component of disaster prevention and coping strategies.

    ABDELAZIZ DJERAD (Algeria) said the increase in complex emergencies in recent years due to conflict or disaster illustrated just how complex the question of humanitarian assistance was. The reform of that United Nations sector had envisaged machinery and tools to ensure covering and coping with the vital needs of emergency situations. However, that reform did not seem to have escaped conflict of interest and selectivity, which disregarded impartiality and neutrality.

    The humanitarian situation in many regions was sufficiently tragic to make the international community aware of how important humanitarian assistance was, he said. It would be useful to concentrate efforts on internal and external causes, which were particularly prevalent in Africa, rather than on unfocused action. Also, as was made clear in the Secretary-General's report on humanitarian assistance, there was a need to mobilize further resources. It was alarming to see today's downward trend in the provision of those resources.

    Natural disasters and emergency situations had affected vast regions of the globe, he continued, with developing countries particularly vulnerable. In that respect, contributions to humanitarian assistance should not be made to the detriment of development assistance. He noted that the transition from the phase of emergency operation to development deserved international attention, as it was a delicate process which must be conducted within the context of close collaboration between the United Nations and the national authorities concerned.

    JOSE NICOLAS RIVAS (Colombia) said the issues surrounding humanitarian assistance should be addressed in an integrated way. Assistance should be provided as part of a process to accomplish the reconstruction of social structures of affected populations and should contribute to the development of economic measures that guaranteed sustainability after crises. The framework established by resolution 46/182 was fundamental to achieving that purpose. Besides offering the guiding principles that directed the provision of humanitarian assistance, it also set in place the structure for a coordinated response. All humanitarian assistance activities must be provided on the basis of the principles contained therein.

    He was pleased that both the Secretary-General's report and the draft resolution emphasised the transition from relief to development and the need for active involvement of affected communities in the process. The transition from relief to development was more than an economic process. It was important to ensure that the earliest assistance efforts provided the seeds of future recovery. The coordination of humanitarian assistance should include community participation, local structure improvement and the strengthening of national institutions. Coordination was essential. The CAP constituted a significant improvement in the coordination, strategic planning and advocacy for the promotion of humanitarian assistance.

    Special attention should be given to the situation of vulnerable populations, such as women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities, he said. Women could constitute a powerful factor for positive change. He also attached great importance to internal displacement. Colombian legislation included a broad policy of response to internal displacement. Current programmes included five components: prevention of displacement, humanitarian assistance, socio-economic development, protection and institutional strengthening. Colombia had appealed to the international community to support its efforts to provide solutions to the problems affecting internally displaced persons. Colombia was also concerned about allegations of sexual abuse, exploitation and misuse of humanitarian assistance by humanitarian personnel. Appropriate measures should be adopted in that regard.

    M.K. IBRAHIM (Nigeria) said that Africa continued to be ravaged by a series of natural and complex humanitarian emergencies. They ranged from the strange combinations of drought and floods and earthquakes to armed conflict. Added to those was the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS. Truly, African had never had it so bad.

    He acknowledged that coordinated efforts by the United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations, donors and other organizations had offered some degree of relief to the vulnerable, he said. Much more, however, needed to be done, especially in the areas of relief assistance and the transition to development. Thousands of demobilized combatants, for example, now roamed the streets jobless in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Those people could be compelled by deep frustration to indulge in criminal activities capable of endangering the fragile peace and plunging the region into another round of conflict and humanitarian crisis.

    Planning and implementing development projects, particularly in areas of small and medium enterprises should be a top priority, he continued. That was one of the major challenges facing the international community in the subregion. He also thought that United Nations efforts to strengthen the coordination of humanitarian assistance, particularly in Africa, could be enhanced through greater support for regional initiatives for conflict prevention and resolution.

    OM PRADHAN (Bhutan) commended the work of OCHA in addressing emergency and complex humanitarian situations around the world, most recently in Afghanistan and southern Africa. In providing humanitarian assistance, it was essential that the international community abide by the guiding principles of General Assembly resolution 46/182. The principles of impartiality, neutrality and humanity must be respected at all times. While he welcomed efforts to strength the CAP as a coordination and strategic planning tool, he was concerned that there had been a steady decline in the proportion of humanitarian assistance channelled through it. He hoped that the donor countries would be able to garner the political will to reverse the trend as soon as possible.

    Bhutan was situated in one of the most geologically fragile mountain environments in the world, he said. The eastern Himalayan region was prone to earthquakes, heavy soil erosion, glacial lake outbursts and floods. Every year, incessant monsoon rains resulted in floods and disruption of communications and power lines, as well as shortages of food, fuel and medical supplies. Floods and soil erosion in the Himalayas also affected large areas of India and Bangladesh. One of the main causes of natural calamities was large-scale deforestation and unsustainable land use patters in mountain regions.

    Natural and man-made disasters would always occur, he said. Careful prevention, however, both at the national and international levels, to deal with such disasters would reduce human suffering. Many natural disasters could be prevented, and their impact reduced, through advanced and long-term measures to halt environmental deterioration and global warming.

    JEANETTE NDHLOVU (South Africa) said that an estimated 20 to 25 million persons had been displaced as a result of armed conflict, violence or massive human rights violations. An additional 12.1 million were living as refugees. That was unacceptable. While the responsibility for ending the suffering of that large number of civilians, and for permitting safe access to them by humanitarian workers, lay primarily with the Member States involved, accountability also rested with the international community to take all reasonable political and humanitarian action to relieve their suffering.

    The fundamental socio-economic needs of human beings must be addressed through international cooperation, she said. That, in turn, should eliminate the socio-economic disparities and hopelessness that could give rise to grievances and civil unrest, degenerating into armed conflict. She believed that the aims and objectives contained in the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) were vital and should be included in efforts by humanitarian aid agencies and other relevant role players in addressing humanitarian crises in Africa.

    Women, children and the elderly could be powerful factors for positive change in humanitarian crises, she continued. She welcomed the continued mainstreaming by the IASC of a gender perspective into the humanitarian responses to emergencies. Recent allegations of sexual exploitation of women and children in West Africa highlighted the additional need for the protection of those groups.

    LAURA CRUZ RUBIO (El Salvador) said the Secretary-General's report was a good basis for the Council's deliberations. Although natural disasters could take place anywhere, developing countries were most vulnerable to their devastating effects. That had been El Salvador's experience with earthquakes and the El Niño phenomenon. Contingency planning and long-term preparedness was essential. Humanitarian activities should not just respond to humanitarian consequence of natural disasters, but also be able to meet those consequences. Regional planning systems must include prevention and disaster-mitigation components. Capacity must be strengthened nationally and regionally.

    While the conceptual framework for humanitarian assistance was positive for merging the efforts of the various players, certain aspects required further attention, she said. Holding regional workshops was a positive step. A closer relationship and understanding among the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) teams was necessary. Greater integration among members of the IASC would make it possible to establish a common set of objectives and promote the effective use of limited resources. Gaining access to vulnerable populations was crucial. General Assembly resolution 46/182 was an important framework for providing humanitarian assistance. Regarding financial support for humanitarian assistance, the international community must strengthen its response when dealing with complex emergencies. It was also necessary to deal with the imbalance in financing among the various sectors. It was vital to strengthen the CAP as a planning and coordination tool.

    MARKIYAN KULYK (Ukraine) said the Secretary-General's report had addressed the need for strengthening the capacity of Member States in the areas of emergency preparedness, prevention and effective response, including strengthening regional response mechanisms. Ukraine, being prone to various natural hazards, had established cooperative arrangements with regional partners, with a view to ensuring a timely, adequate and efficient response. Ukraine was participating in a joint regional project with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on civil emergency planning and disaster preparedness and management. It was also establishing mechanisms of mutual warning with civil defence and emergency structures of neighbouring countries.

    He said that in addressing the issues of transition from relief to development, one should not overestimate the role of local structures and institutions, including private sector and non-governmental organizations, as well as the importance of building effective partnerships with United Nations agencies. The CAP remained an important instrument for resource mobilization and a key coordination, strategic planning and advocacy tool for humanitarian assistance. Turning to the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster, he said its impact on the lives of millions of people, 16 years later, continued to represent an enormous challenge.

    Thus, he said his country attached special significance to the role of the United Nations in strengthening international cooperation in mitigating the consequences of that catastrophe. The new United Nations strategy on Chernobyl, "A strategy for recovery", would serve as a vital framework for optimizing the international community's response. His Government was interested in the early implementation of the concrete projects contained in the new strategy, and it stood ready to expedite that process. He underlined the need for greater donor involvement in, and purposeful support of, those projects to help address the human needs resulting from that accident.

    O'NEIL FRANCIS (Jamaica) said climate change had played a major role in the increased scope and severity of natural disasters during the past decade. The devastating effects of those calamities on millions of people -- most in the developing world -- had undermined development, particularly in countries with limited capacity to respond effectively. Today, more than ever, an effective and integrated humanitarian response to natural disasters and to the tragedies of armed conflicts was vital for those affected countries and the wider international community.

    He said that projections that the world would face an increasing number of climactically related natural disasters were particularly salient for small island developing States. Those States were extremely vulnerable to natural disasters and their small economies made response and recovery efforts difficult. As a result, such devastation posed a serious threat to sustainable development. With that in mind, he welcomed the planning process under way among United Nations agencies to identify key services that could release resources in response to natural disasters and identify areas where national and local capacities should be strengthened.

    He went on to say that the increasing number of humanitarian operations under way in conflict zones had affected the ways in which relief aid was now provided. The need for crisis prevention and the adoption of measures to address root causes of conflicts before they developed were central to the United Nations role. The Council had a key role in supporting efforts -- through social and development activities -- to prevent the emergence of conflict as a critical strategy for addressing increased complex humanitarian emergencies.

    The ability of the humanitarian community to respond effectively to complex emergencies depended significantly on its ability to reach vulnerable populations, he said. As more and more civilians, particularly women and children, were targeted by combatants, there was an increasing need to promote respect for international humanitarian and human rights law. He added that every effort should be made with relevant organs of the United Nations system to improve the environment for safe and secure provision of humanitarian assistance by enhancing legal and physical protection of humanitarian personnel.

    GERHARD THERON (Namibia) highlighted the ongoing humanitarian crisis in southern Africa, noting that the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) had recently described the devastating circumstances as "a total health and humanitarian crisis" as big as anything the agencies had faced in the past decade. Persistent drought and erratic rainfall over the past two years had only made things worse. The agencies warned that more than 300,000 people might die in that region due to severe food shortages and diseases.

    He said Namibia was a drought-prone southern African country and, as a result, many segments of the population, particularly those persons living in remote areas, suffered life-threatening food insecurity. In its efforts to ensure a high level of emergency preparedness, the Government assumed a central role in activities to reach vulnerable groups. An Emergency Management Unit had been created in the Office of the Prime Minister to facilitate the implementation and coordination of emergency operations. The Unit currently coordinated relief programmes which included free food distribution for vulnerable groups, such as expectant mothers, disabled and elderly persons.

    Although Namibia faced many humanitarian problems, it had always been ready to assist its neighbours, he continued. In that regard, the Government was actively involved at the regional level. Namibia hosted a number of refugees and, when possible, provided other means of humanitarian assistance. The recent ceasefire between the Government of Angola and National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) had provided the Namibian Government better access to people that had been deprived of humanitarian assistance. The Government was also involved in resettling the refugees to Angola.

    He said the combination of natural disasters, widespread hunger, chronic poverty and the devastating effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in southern Africa called for swift action form all relevant agencies and the donor community. The respective countries alone could not deal with the magnitude and scale of those problems. Therefore, he could not overemphasize the need for the effective coordination of funds. In that regard, he noted the decline in humanitarian funding currently channelled through the CAP, which had become the most important instrument for resource mobilization, humanitarian coordination and strategic planning. He called on all governments, donor countries, financial institutions and humanitarian agencies to recognize the critical importance of providing needed assistance to vulnerable populations in complex emergencies.

    NASROLLAH KAZEMI KAMYAB (Iran) said the international community needed a new vision in its efforts to make the transition from humanitarian assistance to development. He saw capacity-building as a key component for overcoming disasters and felt that the United Nations should play a major role. Recent experience supported the conclusion that strong national capacity was the best vehicle for efficient response to emergencies. He supported OCHA's efforts to provide better assistance to and coordinate existing national response mechanisms. Relief organizations should recognize the need to promote national capabilities in disaster management.

    Worse than disasters was the precarious situation of refugees at the global level, he continued. Their plight could hardly find a more pressing example than that of the Palestinian people. The systematic destruction of their homes and occupation of their settlements in the Palestinian territories must be stopped.

    The activities of the United Nations system in providing assistance to displaced persons must be appreciated, he said, although that was not the core function of humanitarian and related agencies. He commended the leading role the United Nations had taken in its operations in Afghanistan, which were aimed at the ultimate development of that war-torn country. The Organization was currently facing many challenges there, such as refugees, land degradation and the consequences of underdevelopment.

    MAHOUVE SAME CATHERINE (Cameroon) said the nature of present humanitarian situations encouraged many actors to act in close cooperation. She congratulated OCHA and the IASC for their work in promoting the humanitarian cause. Conflicts had increased in frequency and intensity and had led to significant losses of human life and the mass destruction of social and economic structures. It was important to prevent armed conflicts by attacking their root causes. Measures for consolidating peace in post-conflict periods must also be encouraged.

    The majority of victims of humanitarian crises lived in developing countries, she said. Africa had been shaken for years by many destructive conflicts. The AIDS pandemic had aggravated the situation. Effective prevention strategies would not only make it possible to save financial resources, but also to save human lives. She strongly supported the promotion of regional capacities to deal with crises. The world should acknowledge the desire of Africa to mobilize itself for peace. The most urgent humanitarian task was to ensure the welfare of civilian victims. To do that, it was essential to promote a culture of protection for civilian populations. Greater respect for humanitarian principles must also be promoted.

    On access to vulnerable populations, she said the growing number of deaths among civilians showed disregard for the provisions of international humanitarian law. She supported the establishment of clearly defined procedures for identifying armed elements in situations of massive population displacements. The United Nations efforts to expedite rescue operations must be encouraged. She was pleased at the establishment of the internally displaced persons unit and encouraged the application of the related guidelines.

    DESRA PERCAYA (Indonesia) said there had been a steady decline in the proportion of resources directed to the CAP over the last 10 years. Similarly, resources devoted to humanitarian relief efforts had also begun to stagnate. Those two trends had placed the worldwide humanitarian assistance system under pressure precisely at a time when natural disasters and problems related to internally displaced persons and refugees were increasing.

    More needed to be done to assure adequate resources for humanitarian assistance, while, at the same time, not diverting existing resources targeted towards other goals, such as sustainable development, he continued. "We must resist the temptation to redirect resources from the 'pauper' tragedies to the 'celebrity' ones', he added. Strengthening the CAP and reducing bilateralism would go a long way towards helping solve those problems. Strengthening regional cooperation and responses to crises was also important, especially in the cases of landlocked States and other States dependent on the capacities of their neighbours to help and provide aid during disasters.

    Indonesia urged the developed countries to live up to their commitments of official development assistance (ODA). On the issue of transition from relief to development, he said that funds tended to dry up when a relief effort had ended, because rules governing donor responsibility did not make provisions for promoting development. It was there, in that gap, that non-governmental organizations could make a substantial impact, as they could be more flexible and were more community oriented. He added that assisting in building up local capacities should assist community relief efforts and ultimately might work to mitigate disasters. Indeed, a prosperous, self-supporting community was less vulnerable to calamities.

    IRMA LOEMBAN TOBING-KLEIN (Suriname) said the humanitarian segment was immediately linked to human beings, including victims of war, floods, drought and earthquakes. The humanitarian segment was also about the increasing number of victims of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis. Much was being done to reach the victims of natural disasters and complex emergencies. Vulnerable people, namely, women and children, should be lifted out of lives of poverty, violence and exploitation. They should be reintegrated into their own societies. The reproductive capacities of refugees should be used for reconstruction and sustainable development.

    It was important to know who the vulnerable were and what kind of assistance they needed, she continued. Most importantly, however, resources were needed to do the job the right way. As the Council had heard yesterday, the United Nations did not have the financial capacity to lead when speed was important. As long as the goal of doubling ODA was not reached, it would be impossible for the international community to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Unless there was agreement that human rights was a prerequisite for sustainable development, the realization of the Millennium Development Goals would remain a dream.

    MARY REINER BARNES (Malta) said her country's neutrality and impartiality made relief actions possible in situations that were difficult for other entities to access. Malta also carried out reconstruction and rehabilitation following the acute phase of relief work.

    For a long time, leprosy relief had been one of Malta's main aims in the developing world, she said. Her country took care of the national leprosy programmes in Cambodia, ran a hospital in Senegal and assisted in leprosy relief in other countries. Recently, Malta's mission had broadened to include diseases or handicaps leading to social isolation. It had started programmes in developing countries to treat pregnant women with HIV, prevent infection between mother and child, and support mothers and children suffering from AIDS.

    Malta operated many medical centres around the world, she continued, with most of its dispensaries in Lebanon and El Salvador. In developing countries, many hospitals, medical centres and dispensaries were supported -- and at times directed -- by Malta. The Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem was supported by members of the Order of Malta worldwide. Its main goal was to provide high quality maternity care for all regardless of race, religion, culture or social condition. Since 1990, more than 25,000 babies had been born there. Due to continuing political instability and the tight economic situation, the need for that hospital's services had increased.

    DAVID HARCHARIK, Deputy Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said his agency's increased attention to emergencies over the past five years had been motivated by intensifying civil and regional conflicts and the growing frequency of natural disasters. Those trends too often affected the poorest and most vulnerable population groups -- mostly in rural areas -- and in countries least able to cope. He said FAO strongly supported the relevant report of the Secretary-General, which emphasized the fact that poverty and weak planning increased vulnerability to natural disasters.

    He said the FAO welcomed the Secretary-General's call for the planning and programming of development assistance to take place as early as possible in the humanitarian process. Emergency relief should be delivered with a view to the immediate reconstruction and development of affected communities. The agency's initiatives sought to reduce dependency on food aid as soon as possible, to prepare for development and to restore the livelihoods and dignity of rural populations.

    He said it was important to note that during the transition from relief to development in that aftermath of complex emergencies, initiatives must address the needs of the most vulnerable population groups. For FAO, that entailed that refugees and internally displaced farmers must be helped to return to their farms as quickly as possible and re-start the process of agricultural production. For those that could not return, FAO supported efforts to allocate plots to them in their new areas of residence.

    In concluding remarks to the Council, KENZO OSHIMA, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said he had been impressed by the Council's discussion. He had noted broad consensus on the response to natural disasters and emergencies. Regarding internally displaced persons and civilians in armed conflict, only a collaborative approach would allow the United Nations system to come to terms with the task before it.

    He noted the Council's emphasis during the debate on the need to reach affected populations. The importance of sustained access to vulnerable populations and the safety of humanitarian workers had also been highlighted. Many Council members had stressed the importance of abiding by the principles of humanitarian law. Many had acknowledged the need to negotiate with all parties to ensure the success of non-State actors. The IASC would finalize guidelines on the circumstances in which the United Nations would negotiate with armed groups to safely provide assistance to vulnerable populations.

    He said he was heartened by the Council's emphasis on promoting a culture of protection. While it had been made clear that the main responsibility rested with Member States, it had also been stated that all parties needed to make greater efforts in creating a culture of protection. A culture of protection was an evolving concept. It would be important to work together to translate that concept into practice at the national, regional and international levels. The core of that concept, however, included the right of affected populations to receive assistance and for their human rights to be fully respected. The OCHA was arranging a series of regional workshops to reach a common understanding on the practical steps needed to enhance the protection of civilians.

    Regarding the needs and protections of civilians in areas of conflict, he said the people in the occupied Palestinian territories had provided the most recent example of where the cooperation and support of all parties was needed to ensure that the protection and material needs of civilian populations was addressed. Many members had highlighted the responsibility of humanitarian workers and the standards to which they must adhere. Allegations of sexual abuse by humanitarian workers had shocked all. The IASC was committed to resolving the problem. As of today, the IASC had expressed support for a plan of action to prevent abuse and to ensure the highest standards of accountability and responsibility.

    On the issue of internally displaced persons, he said the Council had highlighted the importance of working together to ensure a predictable response to the matter. He expressed his gratitude for the Council's support for the newly established internally displaced persons unit within OCHA. The United Nations' response to natural disasters had formed an important part of the Council's discussions. The deliberations had reflected the importance the Council attached to the ability to respond to disasters. Many had referred to the need for a comprehensive disaster-risk management approach, including the integration of disaster reduction into sustainable development planning. He was committed to working with other agencies and players to further develop a comprehensive approach.

    The upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development presented a golden opportunity to relay the Council's message and ask that it be translated into reality by incorporating disaster-risk management into sustainable development planning. On the alarming spread of HIV/AIDS, without doubt that crisis was worsening, particularly in Africa. In addition to human suffering, HIV/AIDS reduced the coping mechanisms of communities in crisis. HIV/AIDS was spreading in complex humanitarian emergencies. He was determined to make sure that HIV/AIDS would be addressed in humanitarian programmes.

    Turning to the issue of the transition from relief to development, he said the Council had underlined the importance of the participation of affected populations, need assessment and planning. The important role of women in all areas was highlighted. Many members had expressed support for the CAP. The Council had expressed concern with the lack of resources flowing through the CAP to address enormous humanitarian needs. The Council had identified the need for better prioritization and broader participation. He was pleased with the Council's support for a global tracking system. He called on all members to strengthen their support for the CAP.

    Statement by Human Rights High Commissioner

    MARY ROBINSON, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, briefed the Council on the fifty-eighth session of the Commission on Human Rights, which had taken place in Geneva earlier this year. She characterized the session as "particularly difficult" -- requiring deep reflection following its conclusion. That reflection was now taking place within the extended Bureau of the Commission and within her Office, where a high-level task force had been established to that end.

    She said a number of positive initiatives had emerged, however, including the creation of a new mandate on the right to health. Two new working groups had been established to follow up the World Conference on Racism, including one that would focus on the situation of people of African descent. Another positive development had been the Commission's resolution to recommend an Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, on preventative visits. She added that, although that had not been a consensus decision, she hoped the Council would forward the text, with its approval, to the General Assembly.

    Some developments, she continued, had been less welcome. The Commission had been forced to operate under extraordinary organizational constraints this year. With no evening or night meetings, the Commission's extended Bureau had to make drastic adjustments in its work. She trusted that such a situation would not be repeated in the future, even though the role of the Bureau had been strengthened in the process. One of the most troubling aspects of the reduced meeting schedule was that speaking times had been dramatically shortened. The non-governmental organizations and the special rapporteurs and experts of the Commission had most felt that cut. But, it was precisely those interventions and opinions that made the Commission so unique and valuable and which set that body apart from most other intergovernmental forums.

    She said that, as expected following the tragedy of 11 September, the Commission had spent considerable time on the issue of terrorism and human rights. It had been, unfortunately, less effective in reaching a consensus on how to deal with that issue. She said an ambitious resolution, which sought to create a human rights framework to parallel the security focus of the Counter-Terrorism Committee, had been tabled and subsequently withdrawn. She hoped that, between now and the next session of the Commission, further thought would be given to how the United Nations human rights system could address the urgent matter.

    Another focus during the session was the terrible escalation of violence in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel, which had led to a special sitting during the course of the Commission. The Commission had requested her to visit the region, but the necessary agreement from the Israeli authorities had not been forthcoming. In all, seven resolutions on the human rights situation in the region were adopted. She said it had also been troubling that the Commission's human rights protection role had been called into question. That unprecedented trend had been exacerbated by a marked increase in block voting groups. Regional solidarity was a poor response to evidence of serious human rights violations. Those critical of the existing methods of addressing country situations had an obligation to propose credible alternatives.

    She next turned to issues of concern in which the Economic and Social Council could play a leadership role. This year, her report to the Council would highlight the plight of people living with HIV/AIDS, people with disabilities, indigenous people and trafficked persons. Each of those groups was often invisible within their own societies, and their rights were often neglected or ignored. She urged the Committee to consider the rights of those living with AIDS. While increased appreciation of the role of human rights and the realization of the right to health had emerged during the past year, it was necessary to ensure a fuller integration of human rights obligations into national responses to HIV/AIDS.

    On persons with disabilities, she urged the Council to consider that the rights of such persons were not forgotten when measuring the implementation of the Millennium Development goals. She also hoped that the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable development would guarantee indigenous people a key role in the elaboration and implementation of national plans to address the challenges of development. On trafficked persons, she said, through the millennium human rights goals, States had vowed to take measures to ensure the protection of the rights of migrants. Trafficking in persons was a particularly abusive form of migration. She urged States and intergovernmental agencies to make use of the Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Trafficking in efforts to prevent and protect the rights of trafficked persons.

    As this would be her last address before the Council, Ms. Robinson took the opportunity to thank members for their support. She said she had seen a transformation in the approach to human rights over her five-year tenure, particularly in the mainstreaming throughout the United Nations system of a rights-based approach to its work. The transformation was also evident in the strong links now made between human rights and human development, and in the way that civil societies in every region were learning to use the commitments of governments in ratifying human rights covenants as a means of securing transparent and participatory decision-making on economic and social issues. The major focus over the coming years needed to be on developing and strengthening national protection systems, because it was at national and local levels that human rights were either protected or violated.

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