Australian Permanent Mission and Consulate-General
Switzerland, Liechtenstein


31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent

Commission E: Humanitarian access and assistance

Statement by Ms Szabina Horvath, Counsel International Law, Department of Defence, Australia

29 November 2011


Australia sees the main obstacles to gaining access to civilian populations in need of humanitarian assistance and the delivery of rapid and appropriate assistance to these populations during times of armed conflict as including: (i) violence directed against humanitarian personnel; and (ii) administrative, logistical and security constraints.

It is well established that civilians are increasingly the victims of armed conflict, and humanitarian workers are suffering the same fate as other civilians. It is appalling that humanitarian workers are also being specifically targeted, in violation of IHL, which affords them protected status.

While a great amount of work is being done to pursue practical measures to improve the safety and security of humanitarian personnel, including through improved conflict analysis and risk assessment, development of security guides and increased security policy development and training for personnel, there is more work to be done in developing and mainstreaming such initiatives. In addition to searching for new approaches, it is also necessary to reaffirm the old – through engaging, for example, in increased dialogue with all actors to increase the understanding and acceptance of humanitarian action, and ensuring that humanitarian personnel themselves at all times respect the principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality.

States at times face real challenges implementing obligations in relation to humanitarian access and assistance, including administrative, logistical, or security constraints. This will vary depending on the State concerned and the situation of armed conflict. There must be dialogue between States and both domestic and international humanitarian organisations in each situation of armed conflict, to identify ways of minimising these constraints and facilitating the provision of access and delivery of humanitarian assistance as rapidly as possible in the particular circumstances of that armed conflict.

One particular obstacle that Australia considers needs attention is the handling of the proliferation of humanitarian organisations seeking access in order to provide assistance. The sheer numbers of organisations seeking and providing access slows down the administrative processes that States must follow in relation to measures such as the issuing of visas, slows the delivery of assistance and makes it difficult for parties to conflicts to distinguish between organisations and their mandates. Australia considers that States and humanitarian organisations need to find ways of ensuring that organisations wishing to provide humanitarian assistance are regulated and coordinated, to avoid States being overwhelmed in times of crisis. The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has a special role to play in this regard given the Movement’s acknowledged role in providing leadership in this sector.

Thank you.