Welcoming Speech at ICRC-IOA Seminar

The FOLLOWING IS MY WELCOMING Speech AT THE SEMINAR ON “Protection and Assistance of Civilians Affected by complex Emergencies and Armed Conflicts”, HOTEL EQUATORIAL kUALA LUMPUR

Mr Werner Kaspar, Head of Regional Delegation ICRC Kuala Lumpur, Distinguished speakers, Guest of honors, respected participants: I warmly welcome you to participate in this seminar on “Protection and Assistance of Civilians Affected by Complex Emergencies and Armed Conflicts” which is organized jointly by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Islamic Outreach ABIM. I believe that today’s event will bring fresh understanding and greater awareness about this important theme, especially for those who are involved in civil society organizations that have a political and moral responsibility to act in such situations.

The Islamic Outreach ABIM aligns itself with the ICRC in pursuing the following objectives of the seminar, which include; (i) enhancing dialogue on humanitarian issues between representatives of Islamic organizations and the ICRC, which has substantial activities in Muslim countries; (ii) discussing the challenges faced by humanitarian relief workers in situations of complex emergencies and armed conflict, as well as issues of coordination and inter-agency collaboration that may come up during those situations; also, strategies that can be developed to facilitate collective coordination of organizations in such situations; and (iii) bringing about awareness and recognition of the humanitarian needs of those affected by armed conflict and complex emergencies, and explain how international humanitarian law is one way to address those needs.

I am sure that the above objectives will underscore the ever increasing significance of our work in addressing humanitarian issues and from it the participants will be able to appreciate and enrich themselves with the dif­ferent protection strategies, discuss best practices and take cognizance of past failures – and possibly formulate new ideas on how we can improve upon the existing strategies.

In recent years the international community has shown a remarkable commitment and increasing dedication to the protection of civilians in conflict. We know for a fact that the global framework for the protection of civilians is principally enshrined in international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law. For example, the establishment of the International Criminal Court is one concrete proof of the commitment to end impunity for the most serious crimes, and thereby protect the rights of civilian populations affected by conflict.

However, despite the expressed commitment to protect civilians, the impact of armed conflict has continued to disproportionately affect the civilian population – especially women and children. In his report on “protection of civilians in armed conflict” to the Security Council from 2005, the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, highlighted the changing nature of conflict. Today, the impact on civil­ians has a profound consequence for the respect for civilian status and the safety and well-being of civilian populations. Targeted attacks, forced displacement, sexual violence, forced conscription, indiscriminate killings, mutilation, hunger, disease and loss of livelihoods are collectively used as means of war. This new emerging warfare paints a dreadfully grim picture of the human costs of armed conflict.

We are also facing increased challenges in providing assistance for civilians post natural disasters. I am sure that during this seminar we will be able to hear from the experts the realities and lessons from international relief operations, which have become increasingly important with more countries being hit by natural disasters, the most recent being the case of the typhoon-ravaged Manila and the earthquake that hit Padang, Sumatera in Indonesia.

Today’s seminar is an expression of commitment by the Islamic Outreach ABIM to work hand-in-hand with other organizations in promoting human rights and humanitarian law. Allow me to share briefly our work. We have been in existence for more than 25 years now, providing unconditional services and assistance for various groups, including those who are interested to learn about Islam and those who are in the underprivileged groups. We have six core programs that we offer to the Malaysian public; namely Converts Development Program, Guided Tour of the Mosque, Orang Asli Socio-Economic Development Program, Childrens Welfare and Sponsorship Program, Hospital Visit Task Force and Islamicare.

While these core programs are not directly related to natural disaster or conflict-related humanitarian initiatives and protection mandate, we have throughout our experience come across situations that require us to actively promote respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. We realize that we are not alone in this: armed conflicts are part of a world illness. We encourage our activists and volunteers to return to the fundamental concepts of our faith and the essential elements of sharing within our society. We must invite others, within our country and beyond, to see the societal role in every act of an individual, and the value that such an ethic holds for a society and for the world. We encourage our activists and volunteers to give of ourselves in these difficult times to others less fortunate. But we cannot do it alone, we must come together as Muslims and citizens of this World.

Islamic Outreach ABIM is one group which allows us to do these things, and to re-emphasize and re-dedicate ourselves to Islamic principles reflected in our vision: inviting, sharing and giving. It is not only money but also – even more so – our time and our caring and our values. And our work must go beyond racial, religious and background considerations. This is why IOA has decided to have its approach open in working with other non-faith based organizations. By being true Muslims, we can help in these times of crises and be a light of good values for the world.

It is in this light that I believe that faith-based organizations such as Islamic Outreach ABIM are relevant to work with in promoting respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.

Through our work, we have come across opportunities to develop strategic working relationship with a number of UN humanitarian agencies and international organizations with a protection mandate such as UNHCR, UNICEF, OCHA and ICRC being the most recent organization, as well as Malaysian NGOs working on protection, such as the Malaysian Relief Agency, COMPLETE, AMAN Malaysia and MERCY, to name a few. These organizations all make significant contributions to the security and safety of civilian populations affected by war by implementing various protection strategies at different stages of conflicts.

At this moment, we have also come across opportunities to assist in the protection and assistance needs of refugees. Personally I have been involved in assisting refugees with their temporary refugee protection card application to UNHCR, as well as providing legal assistance to refugees who have suffered from wrongful detention. Especially, the refugees have long been underserved by the international community. In Malaysia, the number of conflict-generated refugees remains exceptionally high. Therefore, we urge for more proactive actions to be made to strengthen the UN system’s response to refugees. And as a committed civil society organization we shall continue to work for the improvement of the international guidelines for the refugees as well as improved assistance for this group.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech; the success in implementing strategies to protect civilians has unfortunately been limited despite great international commitment. It is my fervent hope that this seminar will significantly contribute to identify where the problems lie, and what we can do to address it. We may not come up with many solutions – but today’s deliberations may help to narrow down the troubling concerns that are germinating in our minds. Through the exchange of practical experiences from the ground, we can share examples of effective implementation strategies.

Finally, by bringing together participants with different backgrounds and different approaches to protection – from the Department of Islamic Development, the military, the Bar Council, Islamic NGOs such as the Islamic Information Services, Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association, ISMA, PEWARIS, humanitarian organizations, local NGOs, research institutions and academics – we have a distinctive op­portunity to forge new partnerships; and that if the partnerships come to fruition, they will help strengthen the existing initiatives by other organizations.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank; in particular Mr. Werner and our friends at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for inviting us to jointly organize this seminar. And thank you to the speakers for gracing us with your wisdom, to the organizing committee, and the participants for your presence, support and commitment. By these words I warmly welcome you all and wish for a fruitful and constructive discourse. Thank you.

14th October 2009 Hotel Equatorial, Kuala Lumpur

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