It is by now well-known to Commission members that the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies takes this item very seriously. Its scope, covering as it does the broad range of rights which are of particular concern to the most vulnerable people in the world, is of direct relevance to the work of the International Federation and its National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in virtually every country in the world.
The starting point for our contribution to this 60th Session of the Commission is our hope that members will have in the forefront of their minds the positions they adopted at the 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in December 2003. At that Conference, States and National Societies together worked under the theme "Protecting Human Dignity" to adopt an Agenda for Humanitarian Action. Within that AHA, States and National Societies agreed on a variety of measures relevant to this item, and it is our hope that the spirit of that Conference will add value to the Commission's outcomes.
We would also hope that Commission members and the Office of the High Commissioner will be able to make the link between the commitments accepted at that International Conference and the Millennium Development Goals. 2005 is to be the year in which the international community will make its first thorough assessment of work done towards those goals, nearly all of which have a direct relationship to discussion of economic, social and cultural rights.
The International Federation's approach to the fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights is to work with governments and international organisations to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable are at the top of the agenda, nationally as well as internationally. We were pleased to be able to describe our approach during a valuable debate in the Commission for Social Development in New York in January 2004 under its item on "Improving Public Sector Effectiveness". In that case, the Secretary-General's background document [E/CN.5/2004/5] made specific reference to aspects of service delivery in the social field which are of direct relevance to this debate.
Our contribution was designed to ensure that as service delivery is assessed and improved, there needs to be much stronger involvement of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and of wider civil society, in the design and implementation of services designed to assure the provision of those needs. There must also be mechanisms, usually managed with and through community organisations and the persons most affected, to ensure that the most vulnerable receive services commensurate with their needs.
Only through this kind of comprehensive approach to the provision of services in the economic, social and cultural fields can there be any meaningful advance towards the satisfaction of the rights of individuals we are discussing today.
There is a growing international debate on the relationship of rights to needs. The debate has more to do with rights in the economic, social and cultural fields than in any others, so it is appropriate for the International Federation to restate its approach.
Our work is motivated by and responsive to needs. The needs which we move first to address are those of the most vulnerable in communities. The needs must be met irrespective of the legal or other status of the people concerned, and they must be addressed without discrimination of any kind. The methodology for assessing needs, and for delivering responses, must be designed in collaboration with the affected people themselves, and there is a consequent obligation on all service providers to work to build the capacity of people at the community level to take an active and constructive part in that work.
This is, in our view, a fundamental element in the task accepted by all governments and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in December 2003, the task of protecting human dignity. It is also a fundamental element in the first tasks set by the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000: without participatory capacity-building at the community level, and without a coordinated approach to the provision of needs, there can be no prospect of adequate fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals.
It is at this point that the International Federation brings the economic, social and cultural human rights into its planning and operational strategies. As stated, we prioritise according to need. While doing so, we take account of the commitments and obligations of others to determine how the responsibilities for meeting needs are distributed. We integrate into our planning a variety of other specific rights, such as the right to be free from discrimination. We develop our programs accordingly, and consider that our approach can be stated, in short terms, as one which is driven by needs, informed by rights.
We believe this is a sound way of proceeding, and we take great care to monitor and contribute to the debates which continue about the status or definition of various human rights. One such, which is of particular concern to us, is the right to health.
The Red Cross Red Crescent Agenda for Humanitarian Action, adopted in December 2003, contains a clear expression of the agreed position of all governments and National Societies on this issue, in General Objective 4:
"reduce the impact and further spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases and promote the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health as one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition, with a special emphasis on marginalized and vulnerable populations".
In our view there has been a dissipation of the value of many of the economic, social and cultural rights because of the politicisation of the debate around their place in the human rights lexicon, and because of too narrow a focus on questions of obligation and responsibility. We believe much of this can be resolved through sensitive and well-planned debate, at the community level, and through the development of national policies designed to deliver the services that most of the rights in question entail. We also believe that much of the debate about the quality of rights has been needlessly artificial. We are guided by the general principle of the interdependence and indivisibility of human rights, and we inform our approaches to needs accordingly.
That is why we also attach importance, as we said to the Commission for Social Development to the opening of well-directed dialogue between governments at all levels and their counterparts from National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. This is also an important part of the outcomes of the December 2003 International Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference, where the character of National Societies as auxiliaries to their governments in the humanitarian field was examined and conclusions adopted which will further the opportunities for dialogue and mutual support in the future.
We look forward to opportunities for further contributions on this issue here and in other relevant fora, and trust that the topic will also benefit work being done towards the fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals.