Looking back at a year marked by acute violence in countries such as Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, Mr Kellenberger highlighted the issue of internal displacement as one of particular concern to the ICRC. "Displaced people - usually mostly women and children - constitute a particularly vulnerable group," he said. "Their presence very often places a heavy burden on already impoverished host communities." The president said that more robust efforts were needed to tackle - and prevent - internal displacement.
"International humanitarian law in principle prohibits the displacement of civilians", said Mr Kellenberger. "It also sets out basic rules intended to spare civilians from the effects of hostilities. Ensuring respect for these rules is therefore the best means of preventing displacement in the first place and avoiding the often profoundly destabilizing consequences for entire populations."
With a network of some 12,000 staff in 80 countries, the ICRC worked in a wide variety of conflict zones in 2006. These operations ranged from rapid response in the case of sudden or worsening crises, such as those in Lebanon, Sri Lanka and Somalia, to ongoing aid in chronic emergencies such as those in Chad, the Central African Republic and Colombia. Over the year, ICRC expenditure reached its highest level in half a century - with over 40 per cent going for Africa.
The ICRC assisted a total of 3.5 million displaced people in 19 countries - an increase of some 300,000 over the previous year. Millions of other people affected by armed conflict - including vulnerable rural populations, the sick and wounded, detainees and relatives of the missing - also benefited from the organization's humanitarian work. Water, sanitation and construction projects, for example, met the needs of close to 16 million people. Visits to detainees, tracing and other work to restore family links, and efforts to promote international humanitarian law with all concerned remained key ICRC activities.
In a year when the Geneva Conventions finally gained universal acceptance, there nevertheless remained a glaring lack of respect for international humanitarian law. "Each violation means that a life has been wrecked", said Mr Kellenberger. "One of the ICRC's top priorities is to improve respect for the law - in particular by reminding the parties to armed conflicts of their obligations. It is then up to the belligerents themselves and all the States party to the Geneva Conventions to demonstrate the necessary political will to apply and enforce the law."
For further information, please contact:
Claudia McGoldrick, ICRC Geneva, tel +41 22 730 2063 or +41 79 217 3216