A wider understanding of IDRL

Published: 4 November 2003

Mr. Chairman,

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) took the floor in the Sixth Committee at the United Nations General Assembly in 2002 to describe the work it was doing to promote a wider understanding of IDRL - the acronym used to cover the laws, rules and practice relating to international disaster response. That statement was one of several on the subject in different Main Committees and the Plenary at the General Assembly.

Since then, there has been a great deal of consultation on the subject with governments, international organisations, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, academics and, of course, practitioners in disaster response. There has also been an intense work programme at the IFRC aimed at bringing together the results of legal and field research examining the way existing international laws and other instruments might better facilitate the provision of much-needed response to disasters.

The outcome has been a decision to include IDRL as a high priority for consideration at the December 2003 International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. At the Conference, governments and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies sitting together as partners will adopt an Agenda for Humanitarian Action covering the period 2004-2007.

It is in this context that the IFRC believes the evolution of understanding IDRL concept is relevant to this important United Nations programme promoting the wider appreciation of international law.

One of the most important findings of the work done so far on IDRL is perhaps unsurprising. It is that there is a great deal of international law in the field - over 300 treaties, and very many other instruments and rules. Equally, there is a clear and worrying gap between the laws and rules and their appreciation. All too often this insufficient understanding among various partners results in ambiguities and even contradictions between the laws and rules adopted at the international, regional and national levels. This in turn can amount to significant but unintended obstacles to the provision of effective disaster response.

Obstacles mentioned above require more research into the nature of these existing laws and rules at all levels and their relationship to practice. Importantly, our findings indicate that the research should most usefully focus on the better implementation of existing instruments rather than drafting new ones. There are some indications that greater coherence in the work of international organisations will also be important, as will the inclusion of IDRL-related issues on the agendas of other conferences dealing with disaster response and international law.

The IFRC and its 178 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies will be working hard over the next years to address these issues and offer practical solutions. It is our hope that the IDRL concept will also commend itself to the United Nations Programme of Assistance, and to member States in this context. Once our joint International Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference has concluded its work on 6 December 2003 in Geneva, we will bring the Agenda for Humanitarian Action to the attention of the UN Legal Counsel and officials responsible for important activities like the Geneva International Law Seminar.

We do hope that the relationship of law to field practice in this area will be seen as a valuable addition to the extremely challenging and substantial agenda now being pursued.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.