INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS
 

Statement 

by

Mrs Anne Petitpierre
Vice-President
of the International Committee of the Red Cross

at the
World Summit on Sustainable Development

Johannesburg, South Africa
29 August 2002


Mr Chairman,

Sustainable development is commonly defined as a process that improves today's quality of life without compromising tomorrow's. In many respects, war can be defined as the opposite of sustainable development. This is because,. whatever. its causes and justifications, war inevitably has a destructive effect. The destruction can be immediate and final, as when human life is lost. But it can also be sustained, as when a population is displaced, a school is demolished, or farmland is destroyed. Armed conflicts disrupt society both socially and psychologically. They divert useful economic resources to destructive aims and often cause long term damage to natural resources.

The incompatibility between war and sustainable development was fully recognized 10 years ago at Rio. Principle 24 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development states that, I quote, "warfare is inherently destructive of sustainable development". Promotion of peaceful settlement of dispute is therefore an important contribution to sustainable development.

Mr Chairman,

What can be done once a conflict has started is only to alleviate its destructive impact.

Even war has limits. These limits are laid down most notably in international humanitarian law. Thus, parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants, and between civilian property and military objectives. Attacks may be made solely against military objectives. Certain kinds of property, such as hospitals-, -cultural--property;-places of worship, agricultural areas, drinking water installations and supplies, and works or installations containing dangerous forces, are entitled to special protection. In addition, international humanitarian law restricts or prohibits the use of certain weapons, such as antipersonnel mines, which can continue to harm the natural environment many years after the end of hostilities. The choice of the methods or means of warfare cannot be made without due consideration for the long term impact of this choice.

In recent years, in its capacity as guardian of humanitarian law, the ICRC has devoted particular attention to provisions that are intended to protect the environment in times of armed conflict. Thus, after consulting a group of international experts, the organization proposed Guidelines for Military Manuals and Instructions on the Protection of the Environment in Times of Armed Conflict. In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly invited all States to "disseminate [the Guidelines] widely" and to "give due consideration to the possibility of incorporating them into (...) [the] instructions addressed to their military personnel". I encourage all those interested in taking this initiative to contact an ICRC delegation.
 
 

As we have seen, there is no lack of rules that can contribute to maintaining the conditions for sustainable development during armed conflicts. What is lacking, however, is respect for those rules. What is needed, then, is to disseminate the rules, to teach them, to apply them and to ensure that they are applied.

Mr Chairman,

Humanitarian activities can and must play a role in promoting sustainable development. War- disrupts- the process of development. Any attempt to curb the effects of such a disruption must therefore come from within the framework of the process. With very few exceptions, humanitarian operations using only outside resources are both expensive and - to the extent that they are suited to the purpose - effective for only a very short time. We need, then, to nurture local resources, both material and human, rather than to take their place. The use of these resources is a way of maintaining or even strengthening them during a crisis, and of giving them the chance to participate fully in the subsequent resumption of the process of development.

The ICRC strives, from the very beginning of an emergency operation, to look at things from the perspective of sustainable development. If, for example, a region is facing a shortage of clean drinking water, then rather than set up a new facility from scratch, the ICRC prefers to rehabilitate and support an existing water treatment plant. The plant will thus continue; to function and will be prepared to resume its normal activities at the end of hostilities. All of our relief operations, whether relating to water and sanitation, food aid, or health are based on the same principles. I might add that in the framework of this approach, the ICRC has the good fortune to be able to count on the National Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies in the countries concerned. The National Societies are a valuable local resource, the role of which extends well beyond emergencies resulting from armed conflicts and which can bring substantial contribution to reconstructing a sustainable society.

In conclusion, Mr Chairman, I would-like to emphasize once more that we cannot allow war to destroy everything. The tools needed to safeguard achievements and preserve future prospects are available to us. It is incumbent upon all of us to make use of them.