Vulnerable groups and individuals

Published: 8 April 2004


We are sure that all members of the Commission on Human Rights, and all observers of its work, know that the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and all its member National Societies around the world, have a profound concern for vulnerable groups and individuals. Our daily work, everywhere in the world, is based around the need to provide support and protection for the most vulnerable.

In this context, we cherish the hope that our interventions in this Commission's deliberations, backed as they are by the dialogue which our National Societies maintain with governments at all levels in their countries, will help make a difference to the plight of the most vulnerable.

The fact is, however, that the numbers of people rendered vulnerable by disaster, disease, neglect, discrimination or other factors continues to grow.

We have spoken under other items during this Commission Session to point to some of our concerns, and will not repeat those comments here. We do, however, wish to underline now our concerns for some other groups meriting particular concern.

One such is people who are marginalised because they live outside their country of nationality. We do not wish to get into a sterile legalistic argument about how they got there - whether as migrants, guest workers, refugees, asylum seekers, trafficked persons, etc - but about the continuing basic obligations governments must meet with respect to the dignity and well-being of the persons themselves.

Another such group includes the victims of disasters who find themselves forgotten and marginalised once media attention is lifted from the cause of their suffering and support moves on elsewhere, following the cameras. In our view, the people who continue to suffer in situations where the circumstances which plunged them into suffering have been forgotten are a group which urgently needs the attention of this Commission and the Office of the High Commissioner.

In other words, we cannot allow fatigue to overwhelm our concern for the suffering of people who have already been marginalised by the nature of their disaster. We all know that the impact of so-called "donor fatigue" has created its own continuing humanitarian emergency for some people, and we welcome the work of the UN's Emergency Relief Coordinator to address this problem. It is our hope that the Office of the High Commissioner will take the same action in the field of human rights support.

It is not the business of the International Federation or National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to name names in a debate of this kind. We do, however, sense that one of the reasons for the emphasis the Millennium Development Goals places on so many issues of basic human rights concern is that without that emphasis the gravity of the deprivation of the people themselves would continue to lie in the background, forgotten or unattended.


These are issues which have to do with the core of the responsibility accepted by all States and National Societies at the 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in December last year. At that Conference, States and National Societies committed themselves "to protect human dignity in all circumstances by enhancing respect for the relevant law and reducing the vulnerability of populations to the effects of armed conflicts, disasters and diseases". This was phrased as a recommitment, and both States and National Societies agreed on a mechanism to monitor the implementation of it and the other commitments made in the Agenda for Humanitarian Action adopted at the Conference.

We first addressed the issues of marginalised communities in a useful debate conducted in the Commission for Social Development in New York in January this year, on the topic of improving public sector effectiveness. The Secretary-General's report to that Commission put the issues of marginalisation and accompanying vulnerability into a strikingly interesting context, but we noted at the time that it was difficult to anticipate a strong response in many countries until the issues had been debated in other responsible settings as well.

We very much hope that the Commission on Human Rights will be in a position to contribute its expertise to this important discussion in future. To that end, it is our hope that future Sessions will see a document submitted by the Secretariat which will stimulate your consideration of the way specific vulnerability and marginalisation must be addressed if human dignity is to be protected.


The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world's largest humanitarian organization, with 189 member National Societies. As part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, our work is guided by seven fundamental principles; humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. About this site & copyright