ECOWAS Code of Conduct On Humanitarian Action in the Pipeline

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Dakar-Senegal — ECOWAS is in the process of designing a rights-based Code of Conduct for Humanitarian Action (ECCHA) for civilian humanitarian actors, the Director of Humanitarian and Social Affairs at the ECOWAS Commission, Dr. Daniel Eklu, has said. Speaking at the opening of a three-day Regional Workshop on International Disaster Law in West Africa, on Monday, 17th September 2012 in Dakar, Senegal, the director said the ECCHA, a joint operational approach aimed at contributing and assisting persons in distress "will complement the Code of Conduct of Armed Forces and Security Services in West Africa."

According to him, the strategic objectives of the ECOWAS Humanitarian Policy are based on the fundamental humanitarian principles of humaneness, neutrality, independence, impartiality and accountability, among others. Dr. Eklu said the Dakar workshop jointly organized by the ECOWAS Commission and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) Societies sought to promote the facilitation and regulation of relief operations and assistance within the context of disaster response. He described the workshop as timely, coming at a time when several ECOWAS Member States, particularly Senegal, are experiencing floods that had claimed human lives and caused serious damage to property and displacement of the population.

Against the backdrop of climate change, characterized by a ferocious intensity of disasters with grave consequences and increase in vulnerabilities, the director stressed the need for adequate preparation by all concerned for the prevention and effective response mechanism. He said the lack of a reference framework, laws or specific regulation also made effective coordination and response all the more difficult, hence the need for the workshop as a follow-up to the Memorandum of Understanding signed by ECOWAS and the IFRC in March 2010. The memorandum seeks to strengthen cooperation between the two organizations for the development of coordination efforts in advocacy on issues of mutual interest and to expedite action on responses to the challenges posed by natural disasters. Dr. Eklu said such cooperation would facilitate the promotion of partnerships between ECOWAS Member States and the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The President of the Senegalese Red Cross Society, Mr. Abdoul Aziz Diallo, the IFRC Regional Representative for West Africa, Mr. Momodou Lamin Fye, and the Director of the IFRC for the Africa Region, Mr. Alasan Senghore, all expressed similar sentiments in their remarks.

The Director of Senegal's Civil Protection Agency, Mr. Mare Lô, who presided over the opening ceremony on behalf of the Minister of the Interior, noted that the occurrence of a serious natural disaster is always a time for national and international communities to demonstrate their solidarity with the afflicted populations through the mobilization of assistance as part of humanitarian operations which often involve huge logistics, financial costs and complex administrative procedures. Consequently, he said "the facilitation of administrative procedures and legal oversight of the assistance operations to the victims are extremely important within the context of emergency efforts, as well as the conduct of the entire administrative processes by complying with laws and the rights of all the stakeholders involved." Experts have observed that many of countries lack the relevant laws or where they exist these are poorly implemented in facilitating and regulating international aid.

The result is that during crisis and humanitarian emergency, response teams often face problems relating to tax and customs procedures, restrictions, coordination and control of assistance operations. In response to this challenge, the IFRC in 2007 adopted a new set of guidelines for national facilitation and regulation of international relief operations in the event of disaster and initial recovery assistance," also known as the "IDRL Guidelines." States are urged to use these Guidelines to strengthen their national laws and to promote and develop bilateral and regional agreements. The Dakar Workshop brings together officials in charge of disaster management in ECOWAS Member States, the National Directorates of Red Cross Societies in West Africa, and officials of Specialized UN agencies and representatives of NGOs engaged in cross-border disaster response. The workshop seeks to provide a common understanding on the Guidelines, and particularly, to explore mechanisms to integrate them into national legislation and contingency relief plans.

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