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Humanitarian action/National Humanitarian Conference

Published on April 2, 2014
Speech by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs (excerpts)

Paris, March 31, 2014


I’d like to recall four major principles that guide my country’s humanitarian action.


The first principle of our humanitarian action is quite simply respect for international humanitarian law. This year we’re celebrating the 150th birthday of the first Geneva Convention of 1864 and of the creation of France’s first national society. The principles adopted more than a century and a half ago, under the impetus of Henri Dunant, are still written into the conventions that today govern international humanitarian law: namely, the obligation to treat wounded people without distinction as to nationality, the neutrality and inviolability of medical personnel and medical establishments and, finally, the distinctive sign of the Red Cross on a white background. I also want to pay tribute to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose Director-General has honoured us with his presence, and the French Red Cross, which will be celebrating its 150th birthday, for their commitment and outstanding work to help all people in need around the world.

Those principles of 1864 are unfortunately still being flouted today in many scenarios, and we must do the maximum to ensure they’re respected. That’s the struggle which all of us here are waging and the commitment France has made in every forum, including the United Nations Security Council; those are the principles that ultimately mean the difference between life and death.


The second principle is the choice we Europeans have made to join forces, not only in order to be more effective but also out of conviction, because European humanitarian action at global level reflects what we believe is a deep-seated aspiration on the part of our citizens, a demand for solidarity between peoples. Europe – you know this but it’s not well enough known outside Europe – is the world’s main humanitarian donor.

Bolstered by these partnerships with the NGOs, the Commission’s humanitarian policy is an absolutely essential factor in our idea of the EU’s external action, in the framework of the European consensus on humanitarian aid, which affirms the values, basic principles and political scope of European humanitarian aid. The imminent creation of the European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps will help raise awareness of our joint action. This volunteer scheme is also a concrete expression of the notion of European solidarity with people in need throughout the world. (…)

We’ll remain extremely mindful of the resources allocated to European humanitarian policy. Madam Commissioner, we’re grateful to you for your efforts, in a context of tight budgetary constraints. It’s essential that ECHO’s resources are protected and the commitments made are respected. I think the European Union’s credibility is at stake.

For its part, France will continue to honour its commitments, with a contribution of 16.5% of the EU’s total budget. The average French share of ECHO, depending on the year, is €170-200 million – about double what we commit bilaterally. We’ll stick to our commitments.


The third principle, which you all know because you’re its direct messengers, is the obligation to provide assistance where civilians and victims need it. Access to the victims of disasters and armed conflicts is the very essence of humanitarian action. Attacks on civilians are many and the forms of violence that characterize armed conflicts therefore further increase the number of civilian victims. More than 45 million people around the world have been uprooted, including more than 15 million refugees. (…)

The humanitarian needs of civilians, above all, must guide our action; that’s what we’ve striven to do since the beginning of the crisis in Syria – even though a sector of the public is said to have criticized us for it; we’ll never manage to do enough –, through our cross-border assistance operations and our direct support to civilian councils and local institutions to help people who benefited from no or little humanitarian assistance. That’s the choice we’ve made.

It’s also what we’re doing today in the CAR, stepping up the number of initiatives aimed at gaining access to the Muslim population.


The fourth major principle is to adapt our tools constantly. At a time when crises are growing in duration and number and countries are subject to tight budgetary constraints, it’s our responsibility to try to improve our tools and intervention methods. These discussions about adapting tools and about the effectiveness of aid must be held in every forum. On this subject, France welcomes the organization in 2016 of the first global humanitarian summit, which our Turkish friends will be hosting. It’s a unique opportunity for all the parties involved to meet to make humanitarian action more effective, inclusive and global and therefore more modern. I want to emphasize the essential role in organizing this summit given to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, led by Valerie Amos, whose commitment and dedication I salute.

More generally, the UN humanitarian agencies’ role, under OCHA’s coordination, in ensuring the consistency of humanitarian action and advocating humanitarian causes in every forum is essential and recognized by all stakeholders. We too in France, in our institutions, are having these discussions about the effectiveness and modernization of humanitarian action and about innovation.

As you know, the pledge has been made to double the share of French official development assistance which passes through NGOs. I’d like this measure, which is long-awaited and a key element in our partnership, also to benefit emergency action. At our request, the AFD [French Development Agency] will work on this, in close liaison with the crisis unit.

Concurrently, we must continue our efforts to improve our system if possible by simplifying it, because it’s a little complex.

So it’s about both being more effective and also bearing in mind the thinking under way about the consistency between humanitarian and political development action across a spectrum including emergencies, stabilization and reconstruction. (…)

As far as we’re concerned, an initial step was taken at the beginning of the year with the incorporation into the crisis unit of the interministerial mission for managing external crises. Its mandate has been redefined and it will now focus more specifically on the instruments that can lead to the stabilization of countries emerging from crisis.

But I’d like to go further by starting to think about how our response to humanitarian crises is organized. This job is going to be carried out through broad consultation of all government actors and our humanitarian partners. And I’d like us to succeed in more coherently structuring our crisis response mechanism.


Finally, I also want to take on board developments under way in the humanitarian landscape by putting greater emphasis on partnership, be it with companies – most often through their foundations – or with regional authorities.

I believe that partnerships with companies are already up and running. The protocol agreement I signed in February this year with the Airbus Helicopters Foundation is an example of this. Its first, very concrete point of application made it possible in the Philippines to help the national authorities assess the extent of the damage more effectively. This mechanism was also activated during the recent flooding in Bolivia.

The partnership with the French local authorities is a long-standing one, as are, in many countries, simple twinning or cooperation links between town, general and regional councils.

In order to be more effective and also more attentive to the needs expressed by the authorities of countries hit by crises and disasters, less than a year ago we created – but it went far too much unnoticed – the Fonds d’action extérieure des collectivités territoriales (FACEC) [regional authorities external action fund]. We have set it the objective of pooling local authority resources to benefit humanitarian assistance by drawing on the expertise of our humanitarian players and our teams in the crisis centre, and giving more visibility to the contributions from others involved in humanitarian action, the regional authorities. (…)./.