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10 November 2008 - Item 65 - Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance - Statement delivered on behalf of the European Union by H. E. Jean-Maurice Ripert


Mr. President,

I am honoured to speak on behalf of the European Union.

The Candidate Countries Turkey, Croatia* and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania and Montenegro, as well as Ukraine and Armenia, align themselves with this declaration.

Firstly Mr. President, please allow me to thank the Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs for the reports submitted to this session. The European Union reiterates its full support for Mr. John Holmes as well as for all OCHA teams, which play crucial roles in smoothly coordinating humanitarian actors, both at the head quarters and on the ground.

Conflicts, natural disasters, climate change, increased competition for scarce resources as well as humanitarian crises sadly continue to buffet civilian populations around the globe. In December 2007, the European Union agreed on the "European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid" as a framework for its humanitarian action European action in this area is built on compliance with principles and international humanitarian law. This action takes a "partnership" approach between different actors across a range of aid phases (i.e. diagnosis, implementation, disaster preparation, crisis management and reconstruction) and acknowledges the coordination role played by the actors, which is the United Nations’ responsibility, while emphasizing the primary responsibility of States themselves. The European Union would like to express its gratitude and solidarity towards humanitarian personnel, who often risk their lives in increasingly difficult conditions to bring relief to populations adversely affected by crises. The EU reiterates its commitment to the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. Compliance with these principles is essential so that host populations in often complex political and security contexts accept humanitarian actors.

The European Union condemns the attacks committed against humanitarian personnel, which continue to occur in a number of crises, notably in Darfur, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan.

It is even more worrying and unacceptable to find that humanitarian workers, both those from the United Nations and NGOs, are now becoming specific targets on a daily basis. The European Union underlines that the primary responsibility of States hosting United Nations operations or installations is to guarantee the security of humanitarian personnel. The EU further recalls its firm condemnation of all acts of terrorism, of any form, anywhere and whatever the excuse.

The European Union attaches great importance to the respect of humanitarian space, which is essential for providing access to populations in distress. Humanitarian action has its own logic. However, in some circumstances, as a last resort and with certain conditions, it is sometimes necessary that humanitarian action be secured in a way that allows aid to reach in-need populations while protecting the humanitarian personnel. The European Union recalls that using military means and civilian protection for humanitarian operations must be compliant with the Oslo and MCDA Guidelines.

Furthermore, the independence of humanitarian actors as regards the needs assessments of populations affected by crises must be maintained.

Mr. President,

As several recent crises linked to natural disasters or conflicts illustrated, there are unfortunately still States that deliberately restrict humanitarian access to disaster-stricken populations. To be effective, the concerned States and the international community must ensure that humanitarian aid can be delivered without restrictions in compliance with the status and the freedom of movement of humanitarian personnel. This is a crucial point for the European Union, which is one of the leading players in international humanitarian action.

As agreed by the Heads of States and Governments at the World Summit in 2005, the European Union is convinced that each individual state has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The International community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to protect populations from those crimes. But where national authorities are manifestly failing to meet the responsibility to protect, the international community has confirmed that it is prepared to take collective action through the UN Security Council. The effective implementation of the "responsibility to protect" is of utmost importance to the European Union. We committed to this. We owe this to the populations in distress.

Mr. President,

Millions of civilians are victims of conflicts. Women and children are particularly vulnerable and unfortunately often become the main targets in conflict situations. The European Union is particularly concerned by the increase in sexual and gender-based violence as an actual war tactic. Effective preventive, protective and support measures for victims must be set up and integrated into all aspects of humanitarian assistance.

The European Union underlines in this regard the importance of fully and effectively implementing UNSC resolutions 1674, 1325, 1820 and 1612. These resolutions provide an important framework for the protection of civilians and those, particularly women and children, who are most adversely affected by conflict.

The European Union intends to soon adopt the Guidelines to Combat Violence against Women to show that action in this domain is a priority and to make this action sustainable over the long-term.

Violence against children is also particularly intolerable. Accordingly, the United Nations has adopted legally binding instruments. Subsequent to Security Council Resolution 1612, an original mechanism was established to fight recruitment of child soldiers and to protect children in armed conflicts. The European Union welcomes the action of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict and reaffirms actions made to reintegrate children victims of war, in particular by UNICEF.

Mr. President,

Now, I would also like to mention the three major crises facing the international community: climate change and natural disasters, spiralling food prices and the consequences of the financial crisis.

Cyclone Nargis in Burma and recent hurricanes in the Caribbean battered already vulnerable populations, and many other examples could be provided. The European Union reaffirms the need to help OCHA, in liaison with relevant national authorities, to play its role in the coordination of disaster response, and underscores the major role that NGOs and the humanitarian community play on the ground every day.

The EU is determined to promote disaster risk reduction and to prepare populations as best as possible for potential disasters in developing countries through coherent and coordinated actions at local, national and regional levels. Local capacity-building is also essential. The EU encourages States to implement the Hyogo Framework for Action, and in particular Priority Five on integrating risk reduction strategies in the preparatory phase. It also supports the coordination role played by the "International Strategy for Disaster Reduction" and recalls the importance of successfully integrating risk reduction and early planning strategies in development cooperation.

As regards the food crisis, the United Nations is in the front line with respect to mobilizing the international community and helping to provide immediate response in the hardest hit countries. The European Union would like to highlight the quality of the work done by the United Nations Task Force, coordinated by Mr. John Holmes. The response to the food crisis will have to take place over the long term so as to address its structural causes. This is the aim of the Global Partnership for Food, promoted by the G8 countries, which the EU fully supports.

Although it is currently difficult to accurately assess, it is clear that the current financial crisis will impact humanitarian action. On the one hand, greater needs linked to a deterioration of the situation of populations already in distress can be predicted. On the other, developing countries fear a potential reduction of financial contributions. The European Union, which reaffirms its engagements towards the Millennium Development Goals, and which is the largest donor to UN humanitarian agencies, encourages the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs to broaden the donor base and calls upon all States to mobilise resources.

The EU supports enhanced predictability and flexibility of humanitarian financing. In this regard, the establishment of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and the pool funds were highly positive developments. The EU welcomes the improvement of rapid response to crises by OCHA thanks to the CERF and its emphasis on underfunded crises. OCHA should give consideration to the outcome of the independent evaluation of the CERF.

In view of all these challenges, the international response to humanitarian crises should be improved through enhanced response coordination from various actors and the establishment of specific priorities for action. The European Union supports the United Nations humanitarian reform, especially the cluster approach, and the role of Resident and Humanitarian Coordinators, whose recruitment and training should be improved. The cluster approach helps to achieve more coherent humanitarian action, brings together all humanitarian actors, including local and international NGOs, and allows better assessment of strengths and weaknesses of the humanitarian assistance. A balance should be found between coherence and flexibility in the implementation.

The European Union also supports the partnership-orientated approach set up within the "Global Humanitarian Platform". To guarantee the effectiveness of humanitarian aid, needs assessments must be improved both at a global and local level. Successful needs assessment requires reliable information and clearly defined priorities. The European Union welcomes the key role of the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) teams. Lastly, is it not enough to simply provide an emergency response: early recovery and reconstruction must be the natural successors to humanitarian assistance. In order to strengthen ties between emergency relief, rehabilitation and development (LRRD), the European Union encourages humanitarian and development actors to coordinate their action from the earliest stages of crisis response. In transition situations, synergies between humanitarian action and development aid are essential, as is respecting the mandates and approaches of the different actors.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate the European Union’s full support for the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mr. John Holmes. You may all rest assured that the European Union will continue to work closely with the United Nations and all humanitarian actors in order to provide relief support to conflict and disaster victims./.

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