Measuring the Seville agreement
by Ian Piper
Promising to transform the way the
Movement works together, how has the Seville agreement impacted
Red Cross and Red Crescent efforts to help the most vulnerable?
The Seville agreement adopted by the Council of Delegates
in 1997 was heralded at the time as a revolution in the way
the Red Cross and Red Crescent would work together during
international emergency operations. The preamble spoke of
a "profound change in attitude" and the "adoption
of a collaborative spirit", clear recognition that the
1989 agreement between the Federation and the ICRC had not
Five years have passed and the Seville agreement has been
tested in a series of high-pro?le, diverse and complex Movement
operations - the Balkans, India, Afghanistan, Turkey, west
Africa, Central America, the Russian Federation and the Middle
"Difficult and challenging circumstances", as a
report to the Council of Delegates put it indicating that
not everything had been smooth. But then who would have expected
them to be? To apply "profound change" in such circumstances
was bound to bring setbacks as well as successes.
Seville was an agreement by the whole Movement, not just
the Geneva institutions. The inclusion of National Red Cross
and Red Crescent Societies as full partners to the agreement
recognized their increasing interest in international operations
and their growing capacities.
A radical change
Among the most important clarifications in Seville were the
concepts of "lead agency" and "lead role".
In any operation one component would be the lead agency and
coordinate activities of the others. But lead roles would
also be recognized - the ICRC working on restoring family
links in the Federation-led operation in India, for example,
or Federation support for the institutional development of
the Palestine Red Crescent in an ICRC-led operation. This
approach was clearly in the interest of beneficiaries, recognizing
their right to expect a rapid and effective response to their
needs, but also reflected a growing demand for more accountability
The agreement should not be seen as a simple division of
labour. It represented a major shift towards working together
in a more integrated and structured way. It required a radical
change in both attitudes and practices.
Seville was also a credit to the Movement's leadership. While
there was no enormous pressure for change, there was a realization
that the fragmented approach to operations made the Red Cross
and Red Crescent vulnerable to criticism. Change was overdue.
It takes time to realize change
The Seville agreement provided a framework for better cooperation
but it could not guarantee it. Actual experience of its operation
has been mixed. In Sierra Leone there were "recurrent
dif?culties in ?nding an acceptable solution for the organization
of the international work of the Movement", as the 1999
report to the Council of Delegates put it.
Relations between the various parties were so bad, particularly
when it came to organizing relief and rehabilitation activities,
that senior management in Geneva had to set up a special working
group to resolve the issues.
By the end of 2001 the report to the Council of Delegates
was able to confirm that "a clear division of labour
had been established" and "cooperation and coordination
were substantially improved".
The crisis in Sierra Leone tested the agreement and the commitment
of the various Red Cross and Red Crescent parties involved.
It was an uncomfortable experience and threatened the credibility
of the operation. The losers would have been the victims of
the Sierra Leone conflict. But the solutions came and the
Seville agreement passed its first serious hurdle.
A different sort of challenge came in Russia. As the 2001
report put it, "the size of the Russian Federation and
the diversity of humanitarian needs in the country required
a tailor-made approach, departing from the strict application
of the agreement but respecting its main concepts and objectives."
The result was a Letter of Understanding between the Russian
Red Cross, the ICRC and the Federation.
This showed the Seville agreement to be flexible. A single
lead agency approach would have ignored the realities. Working
closely with the Russian Red Cross, both the Federation and
the ICRC remain operational in the country since the agreement
Lessons from the Balkans
If anything was going to test the Seville agreement it was
the Balkans, the largest integrated operation ever undertaken
by the Movement. A rigorous external evaluation recognized
that the decision to have a joint management structure to
deal with the regional dimension of the crisis, did improve
the response to humanitarian needs.
The main problems during the Balkans operation stemmed from
differences in interpretation of responsibilities and incompatible
systems in areas such as logistics, accounting and technical
The lessons learned reinforced the belief that Seville provided
a good framework to resolve such problems. Very tangible progress
has since been made in harmonization, especially in logistics,
but in areas such as information technology, the costs and
complexities mean that change will be slow. It may be that
in some fields harmonization is neither possible nor necessary.
New focus on the role of local National Societies
The ICRC and the Federation have always worked closely with
the National Society in any emergency. But Seville specifically
included the National Societies in an operational agreement
for the first time. Psychologically that was important since
it created a better balance between the various roles and
encouraged those involved to recognize the capacities of others.
In the view of some National Society leaders and the Federation's
president, there should be greater emphasis on the practical
inclusion of societies in operations conducted under the umbrella
of the Seville agreement.
In Russia and in the Federation-led operations in Turkey
and India, the importance of effective three-way cooperation
and support between the local National Society, the ICRC and
the Federation was clearly demonstrated.
Not all National Societies have been happy with the way Seville
has worked. But even where problems have arisen, Seville has
been seen as the framework within which to resolve them.
Five years of progress?
The overwhelming answer to this question is yes. There has
been a significant change in attitudes, reflecting the success
of training and information given to staff and delegates on
the implications of the new agreement.
The Balkans operation in particular showed that commitment
and motivation by staff from all parts of the Movement could
make the agreement work even if there were problems with systems,
working practices between the ICRC and the Federation, and
difficulties on some occasions in getting National Societies
to work within the Seville structure.
Participating National Societies still have to work out how
to integrate their activities more effectively within the
There is still more clarification needed on when, why and
how does one component hand over to another. And in some cases
the National Societies, such as in Sierra Leone or Colombia,
felt they had a more important role to play. Competition for
visibility and funds has also to be addressed in the interests
of global credibility.
Seville has also had a very positive impact on cooperation
not directly linked to a particular operation, the most obvious
examples being in the area of communication and in coordinated
positioning of the Movement in the United Nations and other
And the future?
There is little pressure in the Movement to update the Seville
agreement at present. It has proved flexible enough so far
to deal with most situations. The Movement also adopted a
global strategy in 2001 reinforcing the spirit of Seville.
The new culture of cooperation and mutual recognition and
respect has, for the most part, settled the operational and
organizational issues that dogged the Movement since the Tansley
report tried to tackle them over 25 years ago. Tansley's efforts
to define anew working relationship and clearer future for
the Movement led to no major overhaul of operations.
Seville was more modest in its aims and has not resolved
all the issues facing the Movement. Nevertheless there is
general recognition that the Seville agreement provides the
guidance necessary to deal with the future. The new spirit
of cooperation, which has also affected areas not covered
by the agreement, is eloquently expressed in the preamble.
It is worth reading and rereading. For a Movement somewhat
prone to mundane language it is inspirational stuff. Tansley
would certainly have been happy with it, and that, for many
in the Movement with long institutional memories, is praise
Ian Piper is former Federation dirctior of communicatins and
now works in the ICRC communications department
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