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Jakob Kellenberger, ICRC president
©Thierry Gassmann / ICRC


Juan manuel Suárez del Toro, International Federation president
©Christopher Black / International Federation

Jakob Kellenberger, president of the ICRC, and Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro, president of the International Federation, respond to questions about the International Conference and the challenges facing it.

What are your main expectations for the 28th International Conference?

Jakob Kellenberger: The Conference brings together states and National Societies from every corner of the globe. I see it as an opportunity to raise awareness of the meaning of p rotecting human dignity and to make better known the specific contribution of the different components of the Movement — in particular that of the ICRC — to this vast undertaking which is far too great for the Movement alone. This endeavour is basically the struggle to end the humiliation of human beings in all its forms. In short, the Conference can engender recognition of the relevance of, and broader support — including political — for, the topics under discussion.

Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro: One of the first expectations is that we engage in a productive dialogue with states on what we consider the most pressing humanitarian challenges and concerns facing the world today. Secondly, we hope to adopt a Declaration reaffirming the commitment of states and the Movement to uphold and promote respect for and compliance with international humanitarian law, as well as a commitment to work at addressing some of the main threats to human dignity, such as disasters, disease, conflict and acts of violence, and intolerance and discrimination. Thirdly, we hope to build on the positive experiences of the last International Conference in 1999, to jointly adopt an Agenda for Humanitarian Action, with specific, measurable, and achievable actions that will contribute to protecting human dignity.



Increasing insecurity for humanitarian workers is a growing problem, as the most recent deaths of Movement personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq highlight. Is there not a risk that these developments will undermine the mission of the Movement, and how do you plan to counter this trend?

Jakob Kellenberger: Access to the victims and the safety of our staff are at the heart of the issue. One of the main goals of the ICRC is to be close to the victims. At the same time, staff security is my primary responsibility. While the recent incidents were obviously tragic, I see no reason to abandon our goal of being close to the victims.

It is true that the risks have increased. What is new is that we are now dealing with contexts in which the very fact of being a humanitarian actor makes us a target: therein lies a huge challenge which affects both security management and humanitarian diplomacy. We are well aware of it and must do everything possible to ensure we are well established and accepted in every environment and in all cultures.

Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro: I think the whole world shares our sense of alarm about the growing number of attacks on humanitarian workers. In particular, we are extremely concerned about attacks against volunteers at the local level, who are often the first to respond to situations that threaten the lives and dignity of vulnerable people. When humanitarian staff and volunteers cannot operate in safety and security, or worse, are deliberately targeted by acts of violence and terror, our ability to reach those in need is severely compromised.

During the International Conference, we will be renewing our call to world leaders reminding them of their obligation to respect the emblem, to respect the humanitarian imperative to provide assistance, and to ensure the safety of all humanitarian workers. But beyond this, it is clear we need to work even harder to raise awareness at all levels, from the diplomatic circles to the household level, about our mission and our humanitarian principles and values.

The humanitarian agenda proposed for the Conference comprises four themes: missing persons, weapons, reducing the impact of disasters, and non-discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS. What tangible measures do you consider to be agreed upon with regard to these themes?

Jakob Kellenberger: By adopting this agenda, the Conference is drawing attention to the importance of these topics rather than taking immediate decisions. Take, for example, the appeal we have launched on biotechnology, weapons and humanity: it is hoped that support for this project will manifest itself within the framework of the Conference, which will facilitate its implementation. The same goes for the missing persons initiative. Whatever the case, the fact that the Conference is dealing with these issues paves the way for stronger political support for them. As for the other items on the agenda, they seem to me to be very relevant.

Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro: From the perspective of the International Federation, our main concerns are to reduce the risk and the effects of disasters and diseases on vulnerable populations. Specifically, we are calling on states to incorporate disaster risk reduction into all of their planning. Similarly, in cases of a disaster, we need to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches those affected in a timely and effective manner. That is why we are calling on states to support continued research on international disaster response laws (IDRL), with a view to identifying and eliminating legal, policy and operational barriers that impede disaster response.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is without a doubt one of the greatest humanitarian crises facing the world today. Among the actions proposed are specific measures for states to incorporate proven and effective harm reduction measures into their response to HIV/AIDS. Also, we are calling for the elimination of legal and policy barriers that discriminate against vulnerable and marginalized groups, such as migrants, prisoners and detainees, and to provide access to prevention, treatment and care programmes. Finally, the International Federation will renew its commitment to our global campaign against HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination, "The truth about AIDS…Pass it on".


In your view, how serious are the divisions within the Movement on such issues as the suspension by the American Red Cross of its contribution to the International Federation and increasing unilateralism, and how do you think they can be tackled?

Jakob Kellenberger: The Movement is not a single organization nor a legal entity. Each one of the organizations which make up the Movement has its tasks and responsibilities. Although problems sometimes arise, I wouldn't make a drama of them. Our principles remain the unifying factor, and we must take them seriously. Of course, the credibility of the Movement as a network relies to a great extent on the effectiveness and integrity of each of its components, on coordination between them and on respect for the rules which they have set down for themselves. The fastest way to lose credibility is to disregard those rules. One should not forget, however, that in the majority of contexts coordination works well. The trust and cooperation between the International Federation and the ICRC are very real, based on mutual recognition of our respective competencies and complementary roles. I should also note that cooperation between the ICRC and the National Societies has been strengthened to varying degrees, depending on the nature of the cooperation.

Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro: I believe that there is a strong sense of unity within the Movement, as seen in our commitment to our humanitarian mission, to our Fundamental Principles, and in the shared desire of all components to constantly search for more effective ways to collectively respond to existing and future humanitarian challenges. It is completely normal in such a large and complex organization as the Movement to find different opinions, perspectives and approaches to the humanitarian challenges we face.

As for the issue of the American Red Cross’ non-payment of its statutory contributions to the International Federation, this is of course an ongoing concern. The Governing Board of the International Federation has stated on a number of occasions that it welcomes the positive contributions of the American Red Cross to the International Federation, and its support to sister National Societies. However, the Board has also made it clear that payment of the contributions is a formal, statutory obligation, and the non-payment is seriously affecting the ability of the International Federation to carry out its work on behalf of vulnerable people. We have engaged in a constructive dialogue with the leadership of the American Red Cross on this issue, and we are confident that we can resolve it in the spirit of cooperation and unity that characterizes our Movement.

If any component does not respect the rules governing the coordination and internal functioning of the Movement, is there a way of remedying the situation?

Jakob Kellenberger: I don't know if everything can be remedied, but I am convinced that you cannot just put up with it! My first reaction is to have faith in dialogue. Therefore, we have to keep the lines of communication open, which was what we did in Iraq in the face of the unilateralism of certain National Societies and the frustrations of many National Societies with regard to the ICRC's attitude towards the application of the Seville Agreement. I am well known for being a stickler for the rules. When views differ on the application of the rules in a specific context, I would rather that everyone gives their point of view and makes an effort to understand the other's and then we can see the extent to which these can be taken on board, without making false compromises nor infringing the rules we have set for ourselves.

Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro: Strategy 2010 and the Movement Strategy both emphasize the need for all components of the Movement to work together effectively and in a coordinated manner. It's a goal that I think everyone in the Movement agrees with, and we all strive to achieve effective cooperation and coordination at all times. However, with such diversity, what cooperation and coordination means in practical terms is subject to a certain degree of interpretation. Certainly, it has proven difficult to find a clear understanding of the concept, and to develop effective guidelines to facilitate cooperation, including mechanisms for monitoring and follow-up when we don't coordinate well. The International Federation is currently discussing a new policy on cooperation that attempts to respond to some of these concerns. We are also engaged in a long-term process of reflection on identifying the internal and external trends that affect our work, in order to define how the International Federation needs to adapt and evolve to be ready to face the future. The issue of cooperation and coordination will undoubtedly be discussed as part of this process. In the meantime, it is essential to maintain an open dialogue based on mutual respect in order to resolve these types of problems.


Jean-François Berger et Jean Milligan

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