Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator a.i., Ramesh Rajasingham, closing remarks at the end of the annual network meeting of the Consultative Group on Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination

News and Press Release
Originally published


Virtual, 3 May 2021 – as delivered

Distinguished guests, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, friends,

It is my pleasure to join you here today at the end of an engaging annual meeting of the Consultative Group on Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination.

This is a subject that is very close to my heart throughout my career. It is the first time that we hold this meeting virtually and my sense from everything that I hear is that it was a success even if, we missed the normal side-bar chats and meetings outside the conference room which was an important part of the HNPW exercise.

One advantage of holding it virtually is that we had colleagues join us from all over the world who may not have had the opportunity previously so there are some advantages that come out of this virtual platform.

Also in order to accommodate other time zones, we are holding another Consultative Group meeting with a greater focus on the Asia Pacific region tomorrow morning, Geneva time.

I am honoured by the presence of Member States at today’s meeting, as well as other longtime supporters and partners of the humanitarian civil-military coordination community.

I am humbled to also have to convey our best wishes in farewell to Ambassador Toni Frisch, who has been a pillar for us and has been the Chair of the Consultative Group on Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination since 2010.

Mr. Ambassador, your excellent leadership, your engagement, your passion over the years has helped cement the key role of civil-military coordination in humanitarian response and it is growing in ways we could not have imagined.

I will say a few words about the Ambassador’s tenure as Chair, but before I do, allow me to highlight a few points as well.

This past year has been extraordinary for us globally.

We have had to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on top of ongoing humanitarian crises – from the complex crises in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin to Syria, Yemen and Ethiopia, to name but a few – as protracted conflicts and climate shocks combine with entrenched vulnerability.

Beyond its immediate health impacts, COVID-19 has increased vulnerability, especially in humanitarian settings, due to its secondary effects in economies that are already very fragile or fragmented.

By the end of 2020 for example, over 270 million people worldwide were suffering from acute food insecurity because of disruptions to supply chains, movement restrictions, and market volatility. These are the impacts of COVID-19. In addition, gender-based violence increased sharply, as well as the risk of the abuse and neglect of older people, who are most at-risk of dying from COVID-19.

Distinguished guests, colleagues, ladies, and gentlemen,

More is expected from us as we strive to ensure that our humanitarian response is sustained, principled and effective in the face of these developments.

I am glad to note that the Civil-Military Coordination Service has been at the forefront in providing technical guidance and operational support globally in response to COVID-19.

It has worked closely with the Civil Military Coordination Advisory and the Operational Group to foster information exchanges and the timely delivery of critical supplies. The Civil-Military Coordination Service for example, collaborated with the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization to mobilize military and civil defense assets to transport globally Protective Personnel Equipment – life-saving in this case.

To ensure seamless support to the global humanitarian response, the Civil-Military Coordination Service and the wider humanitarian civil-military community continues to find innovative ways to build the capacity of Civil-Military Coordination practitioners, despite financial and logistical challenges.

As you have seen it yourself, the way that humanitarian civil-military coordination provides support to and enables humanitarian assistance has changed over the years. Times are changing and the Civil-Military Coordination Service is evolving with these times. From the United Nation’s Secretary General to many of the Member States and organisations attending this meeting, issues of protection of civilians, gender, and gender-based violence are at the forefront of concern.

It, therefore, comes as no surprise that the Civil-Military Coordination Service is making these areas a focus of its own work – whether looking at developing, with your concerted support, global guidance on what a Humanitarian Notification System should be, to infusing a greater understanding of protection issues such as gender-based violence and protection against sexual exploitation and abuse in a civil-military coordinator’s work on the ground.

Particularly in the last year, this Group has asked the difficult question of what the Civil-Military Coordination Service’s role is, when it comes to non-state armed groups, given armed groups play a significant role when it comes to populations under their control. As said, the Civil-Military Coordination Service is evolving to meet the needs of the population that we serve, and also your needs.

It is no longer sufficient to focus on the more traditional armed forces engaged with armed groups. To ensure that people in need receive a principled humanitarian response, the Civil-Military Coordination Service has a role to play when it comes to non-state armed groups, such as underlining their role and responsibilities under International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law, or even depending on context, negotiating with them.

This is a work in progress and in crisis environments, the Civil-Military Coordination Service will look more holistically at all the parties that are part of a conflict.

As noted in the discussions with the High-level Task Force on Preventing Famine, chaired by the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, certain armed groups are using hunger and famine as weapons of war. OCHA’s role through the Civil-Military Coordination Service is clearly to safeguard humanitarian principles and support our partners to make these armed groups aware of what they are responsible for.

I see the humanitarian civil-military coordination community as a connector, an enabler, of access to these groups through dialogue that can – and will – improve the effectiveness of a humanitarian response. I have seen this firsthand in the communications we have had with armed groups in north-eastern Syria, and how we can improve their behavior toward civilian populations, and especially for example women in displaced settings.

With your support, the Civil-Military Coordination Service can strengthen the community’s ability to be a stronger voice by reviewing policy, guidance and training – all of which will result in allowing civil-military coordinators to do their job better, and in turn, this translates into vulnerable people being assisted with the humanitarian and protection services that they need.

Distinguished guests, colleagues, ladies, and gentlemen,

We have been very fortunate to have Ambassador Toni Frisch’s wisdom and guidance, as the Chair of the Consultative Group on Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination, over the past decade.

Ambassador Frisch, Toni, you have always been on the frontline, fearlessly intervening at the highest levels to help those in need.

We are eternally grateful for your incredible energy, passion and invaluable contribution to our work.

Distinguished guests, colleagues, ladies, and gentlemen,

I truly believe that we are on the right track in strengthening the role of humanitarian civil-military coordination in support of effective and principled humanitarian action.

Indeed without this we would find that the future much more difficult in our interactions with armed groups.

We must remain focused to address the challenges at hand, be agile, and those that lie ahead of us as we work, alongside our partners in the development and peace sectors, to address root causes of vulnerability and to reduce humanitarian need.

Thank you again for your time.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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