Ibrahim Shafeeg, president of the newly-recognized Maldivian Red Crescent.
Words of change
Movement gathers for 2011
Statutory Meetings in Geneva
WHEN THE MOVEMENT’S 2011 Statutory Meetings kicked
off in Geneva in November, it took more than eight minutes
to complete the roll call of attendees — as representatives
from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe declared their presence at the
IFRC General Assembly.
Volunteers and staff from 131 National Societies had come
from around the world to take part in the Statutory Meetings,
held in a conference centre in the heart of the same city
where Dunant and Moynier founded what is now the International
Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
“We feel great, like we finally made it,” said
Ibrahim Shafeeg, attending his first assembly as president
of the newly-recognized Maldivian Red Crescent, which had
just officially become the 187th member of the IFRC. “We
will go forward faster and full of confidence. We are very
proud to be a part of the family.”
By the time the final meeting, the International Conference,
had begun five days later, more than 2,000 people had assembled
at what has become the largest humanitarian gathering in
the world. They were there to do what Movement delegates
have done for more than a century: shape the course of humanitarian
action and strengthen the policies and legal protections
that make the work of saving lives and protecting vulnerable
Many of the attendees were old hands, having been to the
Nairobi General Assembly and Council of Delegates in 2009
or to prior statutory meetings. For newcomers, the formal
manner of address, the many speeches and the at-times obtuse
legal language of the resolutions — recognizing this
and taking note of that — seemed somewhat abstract
compared to the day-to-day reality back at home or in the
But there was also palpable excitement as delegates met
with colleagues, lobbied for their causes, attended workshops
relevant to their work or voiced support or objection to
matters before the assembly, the conference or the Council
Words to inspire
As delegates listened through their headsets to translations
of the hundreds of speeches and ‘interventions’ — comments
from National Societies and states on the resolutions and
reports up for consideration — drafting committees
in other rooms were working feverishly to craft resolutions
in a language that all parties could agree on.
Some of the more memorable moments came when speakers made
impassioned pleas on issues where there was not agreement
or when they brought a fresh perspective that challenged
and inspired the humanitarians assembled in Geneva to do
“As volunteers, we are like warriors,” said
General Assembly keynote speaker João Brites, a Portuguese
hip-hop dancer from Lisbon who uses his talents to lead inner-city
youth away from violence and crime. “We fight criminality,
we fight social exclusion, we fight drug addiction, we fight
discrimination. We fight so many things and yet we hold no
Brites challenged Movement leaders to see youth differently,
suggesting that many humanitarian organizations shy away
from youth due to negative, generational stereotypes. Pulling
the hood of his sweatshirt — his ‘hoody’ — over
his head, he asked if this simple change to his appearance
would prejudice those in the room against him.
“With the hat on — do you see a change-maker
or a troublemaker?” he asked. “My question for
you is: how many of you in your National Society are running
away from the solutions, thinking that people are a part
of the problem when, in fact, they are part of the solution?
Emam of the Egyptian Red Crescent Society makes a point
during a session of the General Assembly. Photo: ©IFRC
The promise of youth
RECENT WORLD EVENTS give powerful evidence of the power
of youth to effect social change. But are we as a Movement
doing enough to give young people not just a voice, but also
a role in making decisions and determining the course of
their National Societies?
The answer from some young people attending the conference
was: “No, not enough.” National Societies and
the IFRC have done a lot to encourage youth leadership and
foster regional youth networks since young volunteers signed
the Solferino Youth Declaration three years ago.
But more must be done, said Ashanta Osborne-Moses, chair
of the IFRC’s Youth Commission and manager of the Guyana
Red Cross’s HIV/AIDS programme.
Among other things, the Youth Commission has been busy building
regional youth networks and developing an IFRC-wide youth
policy, which was approved at the General Assembly in November.
The commission also presented a report to the assembly that
called for a greater leadership role for young humanitarians. “Particular
challenges seem to be in the fields of youth leadership and
the involvement of youth in decision-making; too often, youth
are given promises but not the real power to influence,” noted
Osborne-Moses encouraged more National Societies to sign
the pledge committing to greater inclusion and involvement
of youth, and urged those who have signed the pledge to follow
“The primary role of National Societies is now to
follow through on whatever commitments or pledges or whatever
agreements we make,” she said.
In the Middle East and North Africa, where the power of
youth has been on full display during the past year, Amal
Emam, a medical doctor and young volunteer with the Egyptian
Red Crescent, said her National Society includes a youth
member on the governing board.
“And in every branch of our National Society, we have a youth representative
who has the same rights in voting, decision- making and in expressing the ideas
and visions of youth,” she said.
“Yet, as youth, we never say, ‘this is enough’,” she
continued. “As we demand more, we have a big responsibility
to prove we deserve this role. We must be able to take a
step backwards at the right time, and let other youth leaders
take a step forward so we can empower each other.”
Art in action: Young dancers from the worldrenowned
Rudra Béjart School opened the 31st International
Conference with an interpretation of the seven Fundamental
A good act to follow
WHETHER MOBILIZING an international emergency response — the
2010 earthquake in Haiti, the massive floods in Pakistan — or
responding to smaller domestic crises, the laws and regulations
that govern imports, health care and land ownership can either
hinder or assist disaster response and recovery.
The global effort to improve these systems took a major
step forward at the 31st International Conference when delegates
adopted a resolution that calls on states to strengthen the
legal preparedness for international and domestic disaster
National Societies and states eager to put this resolution
into action now have a new tool at their disposal: a ‘model
act’ that can help them use the IFRC’s International
Disaster Law Guidelines in crafting or improving domestic
disaster legislation before any potential international disaster
The model act was unveiled by the IFRC, the United Nations
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the
Inter-Parliamentary Union, after some two years of consultations
with legal and disaster management experts.
“We are well aware that no one model can fit all needs,” noted
David Fisher, coordinator of the IFRC’s Disaster Law
Programme. “But this can serve as a convenient starting
point as governments begin the complicated task of developing
Inside the Health Care in Danger tent at the 31st International
Conference. Photo: ©ICRC
Making care safe for all
IN PASSING THE RESOLUTION ‘Health Care in Danger: Respecting
and Protecting Health Care’, the International Red Cross
and Red Crescent Movement set the stage for addressing what
some have called “one of the biggest and yet most overlooked
humanitarian problems today” — the ongoing threat
to health-care workers and those seeking medical attention
during times of conflict.
The resolution calls on parties to conflict to live up to
their “obligations to respect and protect the wounded
and sick, as well as health-care personnel and facilities and
medical vehicles, and to take all reasonable measures to ensure
safe and prompt access for the wounded and sick to health care,
in times of armed conflict or other emergencies”.
Attention now turns to the hard work of engaging with governments
and armed groups to be sure these fundamental concepts are
respected. Much of that follow-up is described in the resolution
itself, which serves as an action plan of sorts, advising states
to intensity their efforts to “adopt the required domestic
implementation measures based on relevant international legal
The resolution also calls on them to ensure respect for the
red cross and red crescent emblems by adopting, where appropriate, “the
legal measures, including enforcement measures, pertinent to
the use and the protection of the distinctive emblems recognized
by the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols”.
Investigate and prosecute
The resolution also calls on states to “ensure effective
investigations and prosecution of crimes committed against
health-care personnel… and to cooperate to this end,
in conformity with their international obligations, at inter-state
level and with international criminal tribunals and courts”.
The Movement also has responsibilities under the resolution.
National Societies, the ICRC and the IFRC must continue “supporting
and strengthening the capacity of local health-care facilities
and personnel around the world and to continue providing training
and instruction for health-care staff and volunteers”.
Support for the resolution was strong, with numerous delegates
making passionate testimony about the grave threats to health
care in their countries. Still, there was considerable debate
as some states expressed concern about aspects of the resolution
during the drafting process.
National Societies wanted to make it clear that they have
a role to play in other situations of violence and there was
also a small group of countries that felt the Movement needed
to be more precise about what was meant by ‘other situations
of violence’, a term used when referring to situations
such as intense urban or communal violence, or other hostilities
that don’t meet the definition of armed conflict covered
under international humanitarian law (IHL).
A few countries also felt that the Movement might be on some
type of ‘mission creep’ or trying to extend the
field of applicability of IHL to situations outside armed conflict.
But that is not the intention, said ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger.
“It is not in our humanitarian interests,” he
noted. “In fact, for us, it’s perfect if international
human rights law is applicable, as well as national law, because
international human rights law often protects people better
than international humanitarian law.”
on the margin
AS THE NUMBER of people on the move in today’s world
continues to rise, the humanitarian challenge of accessing
and assisting those migrants is also expanding.
Legal, social and cultural barriers add to the challenge
of accessing and assisting these highly marginalized individuals,
who often enjoy little access to health care, education and
employment. Often, those who assist them run afoul of immigration
At the 31st International Conference, states and National
Societies agreed to improve humanitarian access to these
communities and acknowledged “the importance of respect
for the human dignity and protection of all migrants”.
National Societies, based on the principles of humanity
and impartiality, have a role to play “in consultation
with the public authorities, in providing humanitarian assistance
to vulnerable migrants irrespective of their legal status”.
from the 2011 Statutory Meetings
“We have spent more time focusing
on why we should not talk to others, than finding out how
we talk to others. But now, as we prepare to talk, we understand
how little we know.”
Jonas Gahr Støre, Norwegian foreign
minister (also a former Norwegian Red Cross secretary general)
speaking at the TEDxRC2event on
why nations need to initiate dialogue with their adversaries
“Physical rehabilitation is
a priority. Dignity cannot wait for better times.”
Alberto Cairo, head of ICRC’s orthopaedic
department in Afghanistan, speaking at the TEDxRC2 event.
“The transformation of our society
poses many challenges, but with support from the Movement,
we will meet those challenges.”
Mark Akio, interim chairman of the South
Sudan Red Cross
“What amazes me about the Movement
is that you can be a big National Society or you can be
a small one, but you have the same rights and responsibilities
to take part in decisions and to assist the vulnerable.”
Niki Rattle, volunteer nurse and secretary
general of the Cook Islands Red Cross, who served as chair
of the 31st International Conference.
Equity equals better health
POVERTY, POWER IMBALANCES between men and women, and discrimination
are just a few factors that can prevent people from getting
the care they need.
More must be done by states, National Societies and other
actors to break down these barriers, according to key resolution
adopted during the International Conference.
The resolution strongly encourages states and National Societies
to work together in providing health-care services, promoting
health knowledge and ensuring gender equality and non-discrimination
in terms of access to those services.
Volunteering in emergencies
“VOLUNTEERING IS NOT just a question of money, competence
or expertise,” said Olivier Haringanji, a volunteer
and national youth coordinator for the Burundi Red Cross. “It
is also a question of belief and a spirit of humanity.”
Nonetheless, during his address as a keynote speaker who
opened the 31st International Conference, Haringanji echoed
the call for better protection, support and development for
volunteers, many of whom risk their lives daily to help others.
That call was embodied in a resolution adopted by the conference
in which National Societies and governments were asked to
strengthen humanitarian action through volunteer development,
improved legal protection and by ensuring safe access for
Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers to all vulnerable groups.
“This recognition by government is the key to making
the passion of volunteers contagious and making the society
better prepared for emergencies,” said Haringanji.
What is your plan for putting the pledges and resolutions
of the 2011 Statutory Meetings into action? What are
the biggest obstacles? We’d like to know for
our future articles. Send to: email@example.com
For more about the resolutions passed and the next
steps, visit our website at www.redcross.int