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Ibrahim Shafeeg, president of the newly-recognized Maldivian Red Crescent. Photo: ©IFRC

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 people possible.

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 field.

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 of Delegates.

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 better.

“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 guns.”

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?

Amal 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 the report.

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 up.

“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 Principles.
Photo: ©IFRC

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 response.

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 response.

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 new laws.”

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 obligations”.

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.”

Reaching migrants
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 laws.

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”.

Quotes of note
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 during conflict


“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.

Words to action

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:

Words to action

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