are in fashion. These days it is not unusual for hundreds
(sometimes even thousands) of people to travel from every
corner of the earth to a selected city to discuss issues of
common concern. This year, for instance, Copenhagen was the
venue for discussions on economic development, and in September
Beijing welcomed the world to a conference on women. Now,
in December, Geneva will host a conference devoted to all
things humanitarian — the 26th International Conference
of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.
But what do conferences actually achieve? After the resolutions
have been adopted, when the meeting halls have emptied, when
everyone goes back to their respective corners of the globe,
what happens? Undoubtedly, we are still left with a less-than-perfect
world and, no matter how successful a conference is, that
world won’t change overnight. Why then do we need conferences?
In the case of this International Conference, there are at
least three good reasons. In the first place, it symbolises
another step on the humanitarian “journey of a thousand
miles”, a journey on which we cannot afford to falter.
If we consider the number and ferocity of conflicts that rage
today, the scale of the problem of refugee and displaced populations,
or the prevalence of poverty, it is clear enough that promoting
human welfare is an enormous task. The Red Cross and Red Crescent
Movement does not pretend to be able to solve all the world’s
problems, but it is a humanitarian impetus, a nudge to the
Secondly, the ideas slated for discussion at the Conference
are by no means new, but the context in which they operate
is, so they need to be refitted into current real-ity. By
such tailoring, the impact and potential of these ideas will
be seen from a fresh perspective and they will become more
useful and more powerful.
Finally, the reason to have this Conference is that it does
have an enormous potential to turn words into action. The
Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is confident that its
members and governments can translate the ideas of the International
Conference into reality. That confidence is based on experience,
namely, on 25 previous International Conferences spanning
more than a hundred years.
Experience also tells us that the leap from words to action
requires two essential things. One is courage. Enforcing international
humanitarian law or developing strong, independent organisations
can be difficult and unpopular. It takes conviction and determination
to do it. The second is a comprehensive vision. This Conference
cannot be seen in isolation. The ideas and values it promotes
are far reaching and they must be carried into every aspect
of our lives and work. To what extent this Conference can
make a difference will depend very much on the courage and
vision of the participants and of those who are unable to
attend but who constantly strive to promote human welfare.
The International Conference has pinpointed a number of crucial
issues to tackle in the course of its four-day agenda. But
the overriding message goes beyond these specific items. In
choosing “Keeping hope alive!” as its slogan,
the Conference is saying to the world: in spite of the odds,
we can work for a better future.