UN: EU Statement on Strengthening of the co-operation of humanitarian and disaster-relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance

UN 61st Session; Plenary Meeting, Agenda Item 69: Strengthening of the co-operation of humanitarian and disaster-relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance

New York, 13 November 2006

Statement by H.E. Ms. Kirsti Lintonen, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Finland to the United Nations, on behalf of the European Union

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Madam President

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union.

The Acceding Countries Bulgaria and Romania, the Candidate Countries Turkey, Croatia* and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, as well as Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova align themselves with this declaration.

* Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.

Madam President,

The European Union wishes to thank the Secretary-General for the reports provided for this session. At the outset the EU wishes to express its condolences to respective countries in view of recent humanitarian emergencies resulting in lost lives and livelihoods. We wish to pay tribute to the courageous humanitarian field workers and express our sorrow over the personnel who have lost their lives in bringing assistance to those in need.

Madam President,

The EU is committed to advancing the humanitarian reform agenda to promote a more predictable and effective humanitarian response, including the development of a stronger standing response capacity, improved coordination capacity and more predictable funding. The EU wishes to reaffirm the United Nations' leadership role in humanitarian action and welcomes the improvements in humanitarian response now underway as a result of the reform efforts.  However, joint and decisive action is needed to further improve humanitarian action and to prevent crises from the outset. The EU is especially alarmed at the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in Sudan, particularly in the Darfur, and in Sri Lanka.

The humanitarian principles - humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence - remain the cornerstones for the provision of humanitarian assistance, which has to be needs-based. This is what makes humanitarian assistance unique and is something we as humanitarian actors are committed to. The EU is an active proponent of international humanitarian law, human rights and refugee law, including the protection of civilians and humanitarian personnel.

The primary responsibility for the protection of civilians rests with national governments. In this regard, we also recall the World Summit outcome from last year on the responsibility to protect. Based on this responsibility that the national governments have, the EU wishes to strongly urge all governments and parties to conflict to ensure safe and unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance and protection of affected populations. The protection and security of staff both in the field and at headquarters is of utmost importance. Attacks on humanitarian personnel cannot, under any circumstances, be tolerated. The EU strongly condemns all threats and acts of violence against humanitarian personnel and United Nations and associated personnel.

The EU calls for an immediate end to all violence, including sexual and gender-based violence. Effective measures for prevention as well as for protection and support to victims of gender-based violence must be put in place by Member States. This should include the development and effective implementation of necessary legislation, standards, policies and resources at all levels.  

Bringing perpetrators to justice is vital. The EU affirms once again the need to hold accountable those responsible for illegal acts and strongly urges all States to take stronger action to end impunity, including by ensuring that any such acts committed on their territory are investigated fully and that those responsible are brought to justice without delay. The EU strongly supports the International Criminal Court and calls upon all states that are not yet party to the Rome Statute of the ICC to ratify or accede to it without delay.

The EU finds it encouraging that the number of refugees throughout the world continues to decrease but recognizes that refugee situations have become more complex and protracted and that the number of internally displaced persons has grown. The protection and assistance to IDPs should be comprehensively strengthened. The EU welcomes UNHCR's new role as a cluster lead in the clusters of camp coordination and camp management, protection and emergency shelter in conflict-related internal displacement situations, and looks forward to achieving further clarity in the system-wide response to the IDP issue.

The Humanitarian Coordinator/Resident Coordinator system is a key to a successfully coordinated humanitarian response at the country level. The EU welcomes the improvements already made, including reinforced training programmes and the establishment of a pool of humanitarian coordinators. The recently launched cluster leadership approach is equally important, as it strengthens coordination by more systematically identifying roles and responsibilities within the UN system. This facilitates strengthened leadership, co-ordination, strategic planning and identification of needs and response gaps. The cluster approach should be an inclusive process involving all humanitarian actors in order to increase efficiency at the field level.  The EU looks forward to further efforts in this regard, including the strengthening of surge capacity.

The EU welcomes efforts to develop and improve stand-by capacities for humanitarian assistance. In our view this could include more permanent arrangements with member states and with regional organisations. Local capacity is particularly important in sudden-onset disasters.

Recognizing the benefits of effective engagement and coordination of relevant humanitarian actors, the EU continues to support and further encourages strong partnerships with local actors, non-governmental organizations and civil society, including the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Humanitarian perspectives should be taken into account in political, security and peacekeeping operations, bearing in mind the importance of preserving humanitarian space in integrated missions. The EU believes that the Peacebuilding Commission can further contribute to a coordinated response of the United Nations to states emerging from conflict. The first country-specific meetings held in October on Sierra Leone and Burundi, represented an encouraging start. The EU remains committed to the work of the PBC and emphasizes the importance of the country-specific meetings as a platform for all relevant stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations and civil society, to engage in an interactive dialogue.

The predictability, timeliness and equity of humanitarian funding needs to be improved, as some emergencies remain chronically under-funded or neglected. In this regard, the establishment of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) constitutes a major improvement. The report of the Secretary-General indicates that the CERF has contributed to the timeliness of response and towards improved coordination, in particular at the country level. It has also contributed to a more equitable distribution of aid, addressing core needs in under-funded emergencies particularly in Africa. The Member States of the EU have so far contributed over some 180 million dollars to the CERF, and additional pledges have been made. The EU notes that some UN agencies with existing rapid reaction mechanisms are improving these and some are creating new mechanisms. The EU believes that the CERF and these rapid funding mechanisms should be viewed as complementary assets to each other. As humanitarian donors, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), as well as a number of member states, have a rapid response capacity in their funding mechanisms.

The European Union remains committed to the Good Humanitarian Donorship initiative and encourages efforts by all donors to implement the principles rigorously. An effective coordination amongst donors themselves would contribute to a more coherent response, and a decrease in unnecessary and overlapping actions by donors.

The EU recalls the need for reliable, accurate and timely needs assessments and multi-agency lessons learned processes. Efforts to further improve the quality and inclusiveness of the Consolidated Appeals Process should continue.

Natural disasters are on the increase and have a debilitating impact particularly on low income populations. We fully agree with the Secretary-General that prevention is better than cure. Additional investments are needed for disaster risk reduction to proceed from merely reacting to disasters by relief efforts to actually building resilience. Donors and hazard-affected countries need to invest more in disaster mitigation and preparedness measures, including, in particular, national level and local capabilities, which includes the idea of saving not only lives but also assets and livelihoods. Disaster risk reduction efforts should be integrated into sustainable development and poverty reduction strategies. Close cooperation of Member States with the UN, in particular UNDP and the International Strategy for Risk Reduction (ISDR), as well as the international financial institutions, is crucial in building long-term resilience and implementing the priorities set out in the Hyogo Framework for Action.

It is a great challenge to find ways to turn the tragic events of natural disasters and conflicts into an opportunity for long term-development and settlement.  The UN system needs to give more attention to bridging the existing gaps in addressing situations of transition from relief to development.  The EU welcomes the designation of UNDP in leading in the early recovery cluster within the cluster leadership framework. Successful transition can only be achieved if there is a strong commitment to ensure that all members of society are able to take an active role in the process. Achieving sustainable development will not be possible without the full involvement of women. The EU wishes to underline that gender and age should be included in strategies for emergency response and reconstruction programmes as cross-cutting issues from the earliest stages.

The EU also believes that the work of the General Assembly should be continuously revitalized. The EU is of the view that our future discussions would benefit from a re-grouping of the humanitarian items in the Assembly.

Finally, the EU wishes to pay tribute to Mr. Jan Egeland for his untiring efforts over recent years in the humanitarian area. We would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm our strong support for him and his team at the United Nations Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in their important work. The EU remains committed to contributing towards a more coordinated and effective humanitarian response.

I thank you, Madam President.