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Echoes from the 27th International Conference

Five participants reflect on the conference: join the discussion by joining the Movement web site's discussion group at rcrc-magazine at, or by writing directly to

The 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent was a success for two reasons. First, the Plan of Action adopted by consensus covers all the important aspects of humanitarian action and identifies the essential points on which the states party to the Geneva Conventions and the components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement need to act in the coming few years. It is a reference document, a tool, which will enable us to keep a close track of progress made and problems encountered and to report back to the 28th Conference.

Second, I think the organizers did well not to be afraid to innovate. The pledges made by the states and the Movement's components reinforced the humanitarian nature of this conference "with a difference". The workshops added a special dynamism by allowing discussions on new issues or ones that have not yet achieved a consensus to take place in an atmosphere conducive to dialogue.

Jacques Forster Vice-President ICRC

Philippe Kirsch  
Canadian Ambassador to Sweden

The main challenge of the conference was to agree on a Plan of Action that would be practical, meaningful and dynamic. All in all, the results are satisfactory. The document that was adopted reflects not only an effort to make progress on such long-standing objectives as the overall protection of the civilian population, but also a general understanding that new circumstances require new focus. This is exemplified by provisions on such issues as small arms, anti-personnel landmines, the needs of women and girls, children in armed conflicts and protection of humanitarian personnel.

Some of the specific commitments that were originally sought were qualified during the negotiations, but no significant elements of the original draft were lost. The value of the Plan of Action will depend on actual implementation of the commitments that have been accepted. The tendency of some states to emphasize existing obligations and downplay new commitments, as well as the absence of any specific reference to internal conflicts despite the humanitarian crises they created in the recent past, unfortunately reflects a continuing tension between sovereignty and security concerns, on the one hand, and the development and implementation of international humanitarian law, on the other.

The need to accommodate many special concerns to achieve a Plan that was acceptable to all led to results that stand at some distance from the raison d'Ítre of events such as the conference, which is an unequivocal commitment to the protection of victims. Yet, there is no real alternative if progress is to be made with the cooperation of states and other interested parties. The challenge now is to go beyond the simple acceptance of humanitarian values and to develop an understanding that they are complementary to and not inconsistent with the interests of all concerned.

A new beginning

The joint strategies and workshops were not the only new feature of this conference. Artists from around the world contributed their musical and dancing talents to an opening concert. All production costs were covered by corporate sponsors, in particular Credit Suisse Group, Tetra Pak and Royal and Sun Alliance. The show's theme centred around the four elements (water, air, earth and fire) calling attention to the positive and negative forces in man and nature. Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, Chairman of the Standing Commission, explained that "through this public opening show we want to convey a message of hope, celebrating humanity and challenging us all to work for a better future."

Razia Essack-Kauaria Secretary General
Namibian Red Cross

The themes and declaration of the 27th International Conference are vitally relevant to our daily work here. However, our developing-country status as well as our limited expertise and experience made us marginal players, where major governments and powerful G24 National Societies dominated the decision-making.
In the Red Cross, Red Crescent world, assisting the most vulnerable should be our first priority. But during the conference, it appeared that geopolitical interests were first on the agenda followed by humanitarian commitment.

I was particularly concerned by the election of the members of the Standing Commission. I would like to urge better advance preparations by African National Societies. We must improve the quality of our participation and recognize that unity could have meant an African member for the Standing Commission. It is true that financial resources and government support are necessary to secure a seat, but if we organize ourselves there is no doubt we can mount an effective campaign despite our poverty.
We can always do some things better but overall the conference was a success.

Why was the conference successful? Partly because it involved a more innovative process than before. The move to a Declaration and Plan of Action was good, the concept of pledging added a further degree of commitment and the workshops gave the possibility to explore in more depth some of the underlying issues.
Was the outcome sufficient for all the work that went into it? By and large, yes. Some parts of the Plan of Action were modified in the drafting committee. That is what a drafting committee is for - to build consensus. The Movement has to recognize that governments can legitimately argue that they would rather adopt a Plan of Action that is realistic, that they can commit to, than adopt a Plan of Action for the sake of it without the intent to implement.

So all now depends on what we make of the outcome. How far the Movement and governments act on the basis of the Plan of Action to change the future of humanitarian action.

In that sense of course, the question "Was the conference a success?" can only be answered in four years time, at the 28th Conference.

Steve Davey 
Under-Secretary General for Communications and Policy International Federation

Phan Wannamethee Secretary-General
Thai Red Cross

On the eve of the new millennium it was appropriate that the Red Cross, with over a century of history of humanitarian activities both in times of war and peace, paused to reflect on the future and define new plans of action and strategies.

We feel that the conference was both significant and successful. The preparations for it gave National Societies the opportunity to initiate their own process of self-evaluation and planning. The system of pledges for three years was an important contribution, as it mobilizes all participants to formulate concrete strategies and establish norms of evaluation of action.

Two of the four core areas outlined at the conference have always been concerns of the Red Cross: disaster response and disaster preparedness. The area of promotion of the Movement's Fundamental Principles and humanitarian values assumes a special significance as the UN begins to place stronger emphasis on human rights concerns. The other core area of health and care in the community will continue to challenge the Red Cross, particularly the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The slogan "Power of Humanity" reflects well the ideals of Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies to build a more humane society.

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