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Fighting stigma

Eighty-five National Societies from countries spanning Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas gathered in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for the 5th International Conference on Home and Community Care for People Living with HIV/AIDS, in December 2001. The biennial conference focused on the care and support needs of HIV/AIDS sufferers. Many of the 300 Red Cross and Red Crescent participants at the conference are both caregivers and HIV positive themselves and shared their experiences with some 3,000 fellow conference delegates.
For Alvaro Bermejo, head of the Federation's health and care department in Geneva, this conference was an opportunity for National Societies to hear from Red Cross and Red Crescent caregivers about their needs and the needs of their patients.

"Without care there can be no hope in the prevention of HIV/AIDS," he stated, stressing that the Red Cross Red Crescent "are good at managing effective HIV prevention programmes, but need to do more in terms of advocating against the discrimination that prevents people from coming out as HIV positive, and supporting Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers who care for positive people." Alvaro Bermejo singled out the National Societies of Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe as being role models for other National Societies to emulate in the care of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Spotlight on humanitarian law in Africa

The all-African course on international humanitarian law, organized jointly by the ICRC and the Centre for Human Rights in Pretoria in November 2001 brought together 35 students and young teachers from all over Africa (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe).

The course, based on a similar one held for the past 20 years in Warsaw for European participants, was a first for Africa and provided an overview of the main aspects of humanitarian law. The interactive format enabled participants to share individual experiences and to highlight problems specific to Africa. The course culminated in a round-table discussion on the dilemma posed by the choice between justice and reconciliation, using South Africa as a case study.

A child's vision

There is little doubt that the life of a refugee or asylum seeker is filled with fear, uncertainity and prejudice. In one reception centre in Greece, an American photographer has devoted herself to relieving some of the stress facing young refugees and asylum seekers as they and their family begin the process of searching for a new home. The reception centre, run by the Hellenic Red Cross in the town of Nea Makri in central Greece, offers housing to120 asylum seekers and exiles. The majority of residents are families coming from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria.

In 2001 Barbara Smith began the Refugee Children's Dreams arts programme. By using drawing and photography, she offers the children a structured play time in which they can express themselves, explore their imagination and enjoy being children. An important objective of the programme is to provide the children with the tools to help them articulate their feelings and emotions. As Smith explains, "Many times painful and sad emotions are released into the innocent spirit of playful creation. I can see the dramatic changes in socially isolated children as they slowly begin to release their troubled feelings."


Smoky days in Australia

"Bushfires are regular occurrences in Australia," says secretary general of the Australian Red Cross, Martine Letts. "Having said this, when we experience scorching temperatures and unpredictable fierce winds and the land is dry from lack of rain, the bushfire season can often get out of control and develop into a crisis situation." In December 2001, news came through that bushfires were raging out of control and spreading towards towns and villages leaving behind black trails of destruction. While some 20,000 firefighters fought the flames from the ground as well as the air with water bombing, Australian Red Cross volunteers were immediately deployed to work with other relief organizations and the state government in coordinating evacuation procedures for thousands of people in danger.

The anxious hours that followed turned into days as the fury of the fires intensified, destroying 1.2 million acres of land. While more residents were evacuated, the Australian Red Cross worked with the government's department of community services in providing welfare and community support to the victims. Over 70 Australian Red Cross volunteers staffed the State Enquiry Centre, a service which handles telephone enquiries from family and friends of victims of disasters. Some 2,000 formal enquiries from people around Australia and overseas were attended to.

Moot Court

Yet again Western Bellitia is rocked by war as the Parabulem army and rebel forces come to blows in a conflict fuelled by greed and ethnic hatred. Thousands of civilian victims are faced by humanitarian disaster - a challenge for the ICRC and the international community.

An all-too-realistic scenario, except that Parabulem and Bellitia do not exist; they are part of a conflict exercise the ICRC thought up for its first Moot Court competition for Kenyan and Tanzanian universities held last November in Arusha, Tanzania, the host city of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

The first part of the contest saw students from six universities act out the part of ICRC delegates trying to negotiate access to civilians threatened by war. Later, they had to explain accurately the conflict in legal terms in front of the 'world media' - in fact ICRC and ICTR staff. For the final, the competition moved to one of the courtrooms usually reserved for Rwandan genocide trials. Facing a high-calibre jury, led by the ICTR vice-president, Judge Erik Mose, the two best teams argued over how post-conflict Parabulem should deal with the legacy of the bloody war. Eventually, the top prize was awarded to Nairobi University.

Judge Mose had nothing but praise for the students: "I think you belong to the great human rights movement, the great international humanitarian law movement," he told the finalists. For the students the Moot Court was interesting but also hard work. "No disrespect to our lecturers," said one of them, "but this week we faced a lot more pressure than we usually do at university." Meanwhile, the future of Parabulem remains uncertain....

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