It is an honour for me to address this International Conference. Let me take this opportunity to also congratulate you on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the foundation of the International Institute of Humanitarian Law in San Remo.
The title of this conference refers to the "Application of International Humanitarian Law, Human Rights and Refugee Law" in disaster situations. In some such situations, all three of these "big three" fields of international law most associated with human dignity and protection may be brought to bear.
This has been demonstrated in the December 2004 tsunamis, which struck areas with recent or ongoing armed conflicts and existing refugee issues, and whose aftermath also raised a number of questions on basic human rights. We therefore look forward to the discussions at this conference on means to enhance the implementation of these areas of law where they are applicable to disasters.
However, there are many other disaster situations where these "big three" fields of law leave basic questions unanswered. In the absence of armed conflict and displacement across borders, what rules and principles apply in the wake of a disaster such as a tsunami, a drought or a nuclear accident?
This past August has been wrought with natural catastrophes and disasters. These tragedies have resulted in thousands of deaths and victims. The devastating Hurricane Katrina, after ravaging Florida, left a trail of chaos, pain and damage in the States of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.
This torrid month of August has also devastated part of Spain with fires, and deluged Central Europe with floods: Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia, Croatia and Germany witnessed the overflowing of main rivers and the weakening of dams and canalizations, bringing about the horror of death and destruction of homes and livelihoods.
In many places, the intervention of emergency teams prevented the disasters from producing a higher death toll.
Is there a right to humanitarian assistance in such situations? What principles remain where emergency conditions allow for the limitation or derogation of human rights standards? Is there an obligation on governments to seek outside assistance if they are not able to meet the needs of those affected with domestic resources? Is there a corresponding duty of the international community to provide such assistance when it is requested?
As far as the Red Cross Movement is concerned, and long since affirmed by the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, it is clear that there is a fundamental right of all people to both offer and receive humanitarian assistance in non-conflict disasters and that our Movement and the individual national societies have a corresponding duty to provide relief to all disaster victims impartially and neutrally on the basis of need (Principles and Rules for Red Cross and Red Crescent Disaster Relief, XXIst International Conference, as revised).
This duty requires us to offer assistance to our own communities and beyond our borders, on the basis of our Fundamental Principles and in a spirit of full cooperation with public authorities and local communities themselves.
More urgent, then, from our point of view, is the need for answers to the mundane questions about precisely how disaster assistance should be facilitated, coordinated and regulated.
Without a single overarching framework governing this area, we have found that legal and administrative barriers to the entry of international relief personnel, goods and equipment, uncertainty as to the legal status of international actors acting in affected countries, and ambiguous standards as to the quality, transparency and appropriateness of international assistance remain consistent challenges to our own work and to the effectiveness of international disaster assistance in general.
The growing concern of the international community with regard to the actions of States in cases of natural or technological disasters is clear. And the work that the International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent has developed and continues to carry out in such cases, and since its inception, is well known.
Experience in disaster situations has revealed the need to improve the international legal framework to facilitate intervention activities in disaster situations. Long customs procedures for authorizing the entry of rescue material, difficulties in obtaining fly-over and landing rights, and restrictions in communications and for obtaining visas are just a few of the obstacles that need to be surmounted in order to carry out urgent relief activities in cases of disaster.
The Federation has therefore embarked on an exploration of the area of "International Disaster Response Laws, Rules and Principles" (or "IDRL") in order to clarify and raise awareness of the existing norms in this area as well as to identify gaps.
IDRL is not and will never be "another IHL" because the premises and needs are so different when armed conflict is involved. Yet, IDRL has a similar potential to vastly improve the situation of persons made vulnerable by vast forces over which they have no control. I hope that there will be an opportunity to discuss this potential at this conference in addition to the contribution the more established areas of international law can make.
We can say that the development of legislation for disaster prevention and response does not just fulfill a legal role, but a social and ethical one as well, insofar as it helps forge what some refer to as a disaster prevention culture.
There must be a frame of reference clarifying the competences of the various bodies, and above all, establishing the rights of victims of natural disasters. Let me now stress how relevant the work currently being conducted by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement towards the adoption of the Third Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions is in disaster situations.
The Movement is becoming more and more internationalised in the way it works. The willingness of people in all countries to support people in others was demonstrated to an amazing degree after the Tsunami.
This led to a very large number of our National Societies offering their assistance to their sister Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the affected countries.
The response showed the world how global our network of National Societies has become, which is an important factor in the humanitarian purpose of the proposed Third Protocol.
I would therefore like to conclude by emphasizing the point that our Movement has made throughout the debate on the draft Third Protocol, that its humanitarian purpose is paramount.