United Nations


General Assembly

Distr. GENERAL  

4 October 1996



General Assembly
Fifty-first session
Agenda item 105


                     New international humanitarian order

                        Report of the Secretary-General

1.   At its forty-ninth session, the General Assembly, in its
resolution 49/170 of 23 December 1994, took note of the reports of the
Secretary-General 1/ and expressed its appreciation for his continuing
support for the efforts to promote a new international humanitarian
order.  The Assembly also requested Governments to make available to
the Secretary-General, on a voluntary basis, information and expertise
on humanitarian issues of special concern to them, in order to
identify opportunities for future action.  It also invited the
Independent Bureau for Humanitarian Issues to continue and further
strengthen its activities in cooperation with Governments and the
governmental and non-governmental organizations concerned.  The
Assembly requested the Secretary-General to remain in contact with
Governments, non-governmental organizations and the Independent Bureau
for Humanitarian Issues and to report on the progress made by them to
the General Assembly at its fifty-first session, at which it would
review the question of a new international humanitarian order. 
2.   Since the inclusion of the item entitled "New international
humanitarian order" in the agenda of the thirty-sixth session of the
General Assembly, the Secretary-General has presented eight reports
and transmitted to the Assembly the views of 48 Governments and a
number of specialized agencies and non-governmental organizations. 
Once again, pursuant to Assembly resolution 49/170, the
Secretary-General, on 10 June 1996, addressed communications to
Governments and a number of non-governmental organizations requesting
their contributions, views and information on the progress made by
them in the implementation of the resolution.  As at 31 August 1996,
comments on the subject had been received from the Governments of
Monaco and Turkey and from the Independent Bureau for Humanitarian Issues. 
The texts of those communications are annexed to the present report.

3.   The contribution of the Independent Bureau for Humanitarian Issues
underlines the need to further build upon and strengthen existing
humanitarian instruments and mechanisms in order to ensure rigorous
respect for humanitarian norms and to devise more effective means for
the implementation of humanitarian programmes of assistance.
4.   The attention of the General Assembly is also invited to the
reports submitted by the Secretary-General 2/ pursuant to its
resolution 46/182 and subsequent resolutions 3/ on the strengthening
of the capacity of the United Nations system to respond to
humanitarian emergencies.  In those reports, the Secretary-General
addressed questions relevant to the development of a new international
humanitarian order.


     1/  A/37/145, A/38/450, A/40/348 and Add.1 and 2, A/41/472,
A/43/734 and Add.1, A/45/524, A/47/352 and A/49/577 and Corr.1.

     2/  A/50/203-E/1995/79 and A/51/172-E/1996/77.

     3/  General Assembly resolutions 47/168, 48/57, 49/139 and 50/57
and Economic and Social Council resolution 1995/56.


             Replies received from Governments and the Independent
                        Bureau for Humanitarian Issues


                                                           [Original:  French]

                                                            [14 June 1996]    

1.   The Permanent Representative of the Principality of Monaco to the
United Nations presents his compliments to the Secretary-General of
the United Nations and, in reply to the latter's note verbale of
10 June 1996 concerning General Assembly resolution 49/170, has the
honour to inform him that his Government is deeply concerned at the
obstacles of all kinds which sometimes hamper the application of
international humanitarian law, particularly in times of armed
conflict.  Among the measures that Member States could consider to
overcome these obstacles and ensure the protection of the most
vulnerable members of the civilian population, especially children,
women and the elderly, is the preparation of an international
convention on the establishment and operation of humanitarian zones.

2.   Such zones, which, under certain conditions and circumstances,
could be obligatory for the States Parties to an instrument of this
kind, must be provided with neutral means of access (roads, airports,
rivers or ports, etc.) in order for the essential food and medical
needs of the people benefiting from protection to be met without
obstacles or hindrance.

3.   At the preliminary stage, Member States and specialized agencies
should be consulted about the timeliness of such an instrument, its
content and the form it might take, inasmuch as it may prove useful
before a convention is adopted to adopt a General Assembly
recommendation or declaration that would be less binding than a
convention but broader in scope.

4.   The Principality of Monaco considers the humanitarian role of the
United Nations to be a priority of a higher moral order, arising from
a peremptory norm of international law (jus cogens).  Its role in
protection is essential and fully complementary to that of the
International Committee of the Red Cross and United Nations
organizations such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees


                                                          [Original:  English]

                                                          [25 July 1996]      

1.   Owing to the rise in the population needing international
protection and international humanitarian assistance, and the
limitation of sources, international humanitarian assistance should be
provided more efficiently with a wider perspective.

2.   Turkey is committed to the internationally accepted principles
concerning humanitarian assistance and continues to provide
humanitarian aid either directly from Government to Government or
through various international humanitarian organizations.

3.   The 1949 Geneva Conventions and additional protocols form the
legal framework of international humanitarian issues and they are
constantly evaluated in relevant international forums.

4.   There should be no objection to enhancing the social dimension of
humanitarian assistance, that is to protect and meet the needs of the
people affected by natural and man-made disasters.  Activities such as
the protection of women and children during armed conflicts,
protection of fresh water resources, prevention of famine,
reunification of families, prohibition of certain types of weapons,
assistance to refugees, to displaced persons and to the victims of
natural or technological disasters, integration of long-term
development assistance with humanitarian assistance, consideration of
the humanitarian impact of economic sanctions, protection of the
independent nature of humanitarian activities during a crisis, and
enhancing the capabilities of non-governmental organizations in
providing humanitarian assistance are continuously gaining importance
and attracting wider public attention.

5.   Without exception, all kinds of humanitarian assistance must be
carried out with due respect for the sovereignty of States.  This
aspect of humanitarian assistance has been emphasized by the Turkish
representatives as well as representatives of other countries at
various international meetings on humanitarian assistance.  On the
other hand, some countries defend granting to international
humanitarian organizations unrestricted access to countries that have
internally displaced persons or refugees, in order to provide direct
protection or direct assistance within their mandates.  Until now a
consensus or common understanding on the matter has not been reached.


                                                          [Original:  English]

                                                          [10 September 1996] 


1.   In its resolution 49/170 of 23 December 1994 on a new
international humanitarian order, the General Assembly invited the
Independent Bureau for Humanitarian Issues to continue and further
strengthen its activities in cooperation with the governmental and
non-governmental bodies concerned.  It is recalled that the Assembly,
when considering at its forty-second session the final report of the
Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues, a/ took
note of the establishment of the Bureau to disseminate and follow up
the work of the Independent Commission (resolution 42/121 of
7 December 1987).

2.   The present report is a succinct account of the activities of the
Independent Bureau in terms both of its original mandate of
dissemination and follow-up and additional activities it has
undertaken in keeping with the subsequent resolutions of the General
Assembly. b/

Dissemination and follow-up

3.   The final report of the Independent Commission as well as the
eight sectoral reports supplementing it c/ have been published in book
form in almost all the major languages of the world.  Over 60 editions
have appeared in various countries in Africa, Asia, North and South
America and western and eastern Europe.  They have been used by
various Governments in their policy-making process as well as by
intergovernmental bodies, non-governmental organizations and
educational institutions.  The demand for editions in local languages,
notably in countries facing humanitarian emergencies, continues.

4.   The follow-up activities have included consultations and
discussions with Governments and international organizations for the
implementation of the recommendations of the Independent Commission. 
Out of 160 specific recommendations relating to various humanitarian
issues, over 120 have been implemented and incorporated into national
and regional policies or have served as international guidelines for

5.   In order to ensure a wider outreach to the public without access
to books, a series of six television documentaries entitled Humanitas
were prepared on the basis of the sectoral reports.  They were
broadcast by national television networks in a number of countries,
notably in Africa and Asia, as well as in educational institutions in
Europe and elsewhere.

6.   The objectives of the Independent Bureau have remained the same as
those pursued by the Independent Commission, i.e., to study specific
humanitarian issues that have been inadequately dealt with to date or
that call for solutions in line with new realities; to identify
opportunities for more effective action by the international community
and to make practical, action-oriented proposals to that end; to
enhance public awareness of the conditions that create and perpetuate
human suffering; and to strengthen efforts at governmental and
non-governmental level to bring about appropriate changes and

Other activities

7.   In line with the invitation of the General Assembly to further
strengthen its activities, the Independent Bureau has also undertaken
action-oriented research, not only on humanitarian issues but also on
humanitarian situations of concern to the international community;
evaluation of humanitarian aid programmes; and capacity-building and
technical training relating to humanitarian problems of local staff
within and outside government structures in disaster-prone countries. 
These additional activities have been undertaken by the Independent
Bureau with the support of both Governments and the international
organizations concerned.

8.   The Independent Bureau has, in particular, paid attention to
countries and regions with actual or potential armed conflicts.  For
example, analytical studies including concrete recommendations for
action have been undertaken in relation to situations in Central and
South Asia, the Balkans, etc.

9.   The capacity-building and technical training activities of the
Bureau have included formation and strengthening of local non-
governmental organizations; information dissemination; and advocacy as
well as advisory services to governmental and non-governmental bodies
within disaster-stricken countries.  These activities have been
limited only to man-made disasters and notably to situations of
internal armed conflict and the consequent displacement of

10.  Recognizing the importance of access of people at the grass-roots
level to international documents relating to human rights and
humanitarian issues, and to facilitate the task of international
observers and monitors, the Independent Bureau has also undertaken to
publish a series of books in local languages, notably in the Balkans
and the Caucasus.

11.  The Bureau is also addressing some of the humanitarian problems of
growing dimensions.  For example, it is playing an advocacy role
regarding problems such as statelessness and mass expulsions and
carrying out related action-oriented research.  The Bureau is also in
the process of publishing nationality laws of all countries, a task
that has been neglected since the publication of those laws by the
United Nations in 1959.

Future activities

12.  With the support of Governments and intergovernmental and non-
governmental organizations, the Bureau proposes to continue, and
expand as required, the activities outlined above.  In addition,
specifically in the context of efforts to promote a new international
humanitarian order, the Bureau proposes to undertake activities in
line with the views expressed by various Governments and international
bodies as communicated to the Secretary-General and transmitted by him
to the General Assembly.

13.  It is worth noting in this connection that the agenda item
relating to the humanitarian order has been used in past years as a
kind of umbrella item for addressing special concerns of Member
States.  It is thus that a series of resolutions were adopted by the
General Assembly for strengthening international action regarding man-
made and natural disasters as well as international cooperation in the
humanitarian field.  The Independent Bureau proposes to support this
trend, particularly in view of the increasingly felt need that
emerging problems and "grey areas" in the humanitarian field need to
be more adequately addressed.

14.  In this context, the Independent Bureau is of the view that there
is need for developing an "Agenda for Humanitarian Action" by the
United Nations, similar to what has been done by the Secretary-General
in other important domains (Agenda for Peace, Agenda for Development).

15.  The Bureau also wishes to support the idea that the fiftieth
anniversary, in 1998, of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, a landmark in the development of international action
for respect of those rights and for preservation of the dignity of the
human person, be appropriately celebrated.  The celebration should not
only mark the progress made in recent decades in the field of human
rights but also be an occasion to reinvigorate the efforts for greater
respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms and for further
articulation of those humanitarian principles and norms which can more
adequately address contemporary and emerging humanitarian problems. 
The anniversary should thus serve as a bridge between human rights and
humanitarian issues and an occasion to better prepare for the next

16.  The Independent Bureau is sensitive to the fact that in the post-
cold-war era there is need for a reassessment of international
responses to humanitarian challenges.  The fundamental changes in the
world scene and the promise they held in the early 1990s, which many
celebrated as the "new world order", must not be allowed to degenerate
into a dismal landscape of internal armed conflicts, widespread ethnic
rivalries, unbridled nationalism and a multitude of humanitarian
problems adversely affecting human well-being in all continents. 
There is, consequently, a dire need for renewed efforts regarding
standard-setting in the humanitarian field and for more effective
implementation of existing norms and principles.

17.  The General Assembly may wish in this connection to initiate a
process of evaluation regarding the adequacy of international
legislation and practices in the humanitarian field and of developing
guidelines and instruments that can preserve and further strengthen
the existing humanitarian infrastructure for the benefit of future

18.  Specifically, with regard to the promotion of a new international
humanitarian order, it is recalled that when the item was proposed for
inclusion in the agenda of the General Assembly, it was suggested that
a universal declaration formulating certain fundamental humanitarian
principles and inviting the assent of the international community of
States to it should be framed. d/  The suggestion was made in the
specific context of humanitarian law and the argument was based on the
observation that a code of conduct was necessary for the law of peace,
which should receive as much attention as the law of war had in the
1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Protocols.  The code was to be
designed primarily as a moral standard and guide to compassionate
action in the face of human suffering. e/

19.  In broader terms, however, the vast number of existing
international instruments, declarations and resolutions could serve as
the building blocks of the proposed order.  A realistic beginning
could be to address a few selected humanitarian issues which, in
recent years, have caused deep concern to Governments and unnecessary
suffering to millions of people that could be mitigated or avoided if
the world community were to ensure the observance of a set of basic
rules of conduct.  Distinct from the framework of fundamental human
rights and freedoms, such an approach would concentrate on practical
humanitarian problems whose continuing growth needs to be vigorously
discouraged through solidarity with the victims as much as the human
suffering they entail needs to be alleviated.

20.  A glaring example of such problems is the phenomenon of internally
displaced persons whose number worldwide has now largely surpassed
that of refugees.  The latter received considerable attention during
the cold war period as regards international legislation and practice
while the former are still in a "grey area" even though they are often
in an analogous situation to refugees in terms of hardship. 
International funds and national efforts are often diverted from
developmental activities to immediate relief operations but the
protection of internally displaced persons remains ad hoc and calls
for well-defined rules of conduct for the international humanitarian
actors as well as the Governments concerned.

21.  A related phenomenon which has affected millions of people in
recent decades is that of forced relocation of populations.  These are
carried out by Governments in the name of economic development, or as
a result of internal tensions, but they are often motivated by
political considerations and usually affect vulnerable groups.

22.  Another recurrent problem is that of mass expulsions involving
widespread hardship and avoidable suffering.  While expulsion of
individuals is regulated by national legislation, the phenomenon of
mass expulsion calls for international attention.  A provision
regarding mass expulsion is included in the African Charter on Human
and Peoples' Rights which could help in international standard-
setting.  In recent years, owing to fragmentation of States into newly
independent countries, the twin problems of forced relocation of
populations and mass expulsions, including the so-called "ethnic
cleansing" operations, have resulted in the involuntary displacement
of millions of people as well as considerable suffering and loss of
life and property.  A set of internationally approved principles
regulating the conduct of Governments and communities could go a long
way to containing these recurrent involuntary movements of populations
including minority groups.

23.  In recent decades, the nature of armed conflict has radically
changed.  War between countries is, by and large, replaced by armed
conflicts between people and communities.  These internal conflicts
have claimed more lives than the total number of casualties during the
two world wars.  This has necessitated a broader interpretation of the
"threat to peace and security" as foreseen in the Charter of the
United Nations and has involved actions by the Security Council not
only in situations of internal conflict but also in the humanitarian
efforts they entail.  Certain aspects of this growing phenomenon call
for better-defined rules of conduct.

24.  Likewise, Chapter VIII of the Charter relating to regional
organizations deals mainly with threats to peace and security.  It
could serve as a basis for broader definition of the role of regional
organizations in the field of humanitarian emergencies, in terms of
both preventive and security measures.

25.  In this connection, it is important also to highlight the
importance of local capacity-building and strengthening of indigenous
non-governmental organizations.  Because they involve people at grass-
roots level, their direct relevance to the process of greater
democratization cannot be denied any more than the value of their
contribution to human well-being on the basis of empathy and better
understanding of local needs and conditions.  They are also more cost-
effective.  International non-governmental organizations and donors
that play a vital role in humanitarian emergencies need to take this
aspect into account.  This can be facilitated by an agreed set of
principles regarding international support for the efforts to
establish or strengthen local non-governmental organizations.

26.  It is axiomatic that humanitarian problems such as those
enumerated above would not become crisis situations if their root
causes were addressed in time.  It is possible without unnecessary
infringement of sovereign prerogatives of States to encourage
indigenous non-governmental organizations, supported when necessary by
independent and impartial international non-governmental
organizations, to initiate timely action.  However, to do so, they
would require increased financial support.  This increase would be
easily validated through the economy of resources resulting from
prevention or containment of future emergencies.  For measures of
prevention and containment to be effective, there is need to develop
an international consensus regarding a modus operandi which takes
fully into account the sensitivities involved.

27.  The future activities of the Independent Bureau would be geared,
inter alia, to contributing towards the solution of the humanitarian
problems mentioned in the preceding paragraphs.  To begin with, the
Bureau proposes to assist in the elaboration of a declaration of
principles relating to humanitarian emergencies.

28.  The declaration would articulate the inter-linked aspects of
concerted efforts which such emergencies call for:

     (a) The rights of the victims with regard to protection and

     (b) The related duties of the States concerned;

     (c) The responsibilities of the international and national
humanitarian actors.

29.  It would elaborate on a strategy of prevention and containment and
highlight, inter alia, the following issues:

     (a) Solidarity with the victims;

     (b) The involvement of regional institutions at all stages of a
humanitarian emergency;

     (c) The need to develop a more adequate modus operandi which
ensures rapid deployment of humanitarian actors;

     (d) Implementation of quick-impact projects for the benefit and
protection of victims;

     (e) The need for local capacity-building in humanitarian
emergency areas.

30.  The purpose of the proposed declaration of humanitarian principles
is not, however, to address in detail all aspects of humanitarian
emergencies but rather to articulate those principles which, through
the practice of States and international organizations, have already
become norms to be respected and which need to be codified and further
strengthened.  This could be the beginning of a process of concerted
international effort which could serve as an integral part of the
bridge to the next century.


     a/  Winning the Human Race (Zed Books, London and New Jersey,
1988).  Also published in Arabic, French, Japanese, Italian, Russian
and Spanish.

     b/  Resolutions 43/129 of 8 December 1988, 45/101 of
14 December 1990 and 47/106 of 16 December 1992.

     c/  Famine:  A Man-made Disaster?; The Vanishing Forest:  The
Human Consequences of Deforestation; The Encroaching Desert:  The
Consequences of Human Failure; Street Children:  A Growing Urban
Tragedy; Modern Wars:  The Humanitarian Challenge; Disappeared: 
Technique of Terror; Refugees:  Dynamics of Displacement; Indigenous
Peoples:  A Global Quest for Justice.

     d/  A/36/245, para. 6.

     e/  Ibid., para. 7.


This document has been posted online by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). Reproduction and dissemination of the document - in electronic and/or printed format - is encouraged, provided acknowledgement is made of the role of the United Nations in making it available.

Date last posted: 28 December 1999 17:35:10
Comments and suggestions: esa@un.org