humanity’ was the slogan adopted for the 30th International
conference. In the event, it was an appropriate choice. Partnership
was the theme that ran throughout the whole event.
The mix of states and the Red Cross Red Crescent network,
the largest in the world, makes the event unique. But its
high profile inevitably means that political issues are not
far from the surface in many debates. This time, fears that
these issues would sour things proved groundless.
The conference chairman, Mandisa Kalako-Williams, president
of the South African Red Cross Society, reminded all delegates
to avoid political controversy when she opened the first session.
Delegates needed to make the relationship between governments
and the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement work for the benefit
of vulnerable people worldwide. The pressure on them was even
greater because of the global significance of many of the
issues on the agenda.
The conference focused on the humanitarian consequences of
four major challenges facing the world: environmental degradation
and climate change; international migration; violence, particularly
in urban settings; and emergent and recurrent diseases, and
other public health challenges.
The final declaration of the conference recognized that these
challenges required partnerships and a ‘collective response’
by the international community. Alone, neither states nor
individual organizations could deal with them.
The theme of partnership was already clear during the General
Assembly of the International Federation that preceded the
conference. Asha-Rose Migiro, United Nations (UN) deputy secretary-general,
gave a keynote address that highlighted UN–International
Federation partnerships in mobilizing volunteers, advancing
global public health and promoting disaster risk reduction.
‘Poorest of the poor’
The debate of the four challenges was wide-ranging in the
plenary session, the specialized commissions, workshops and
side events and in the crucial drafting committee chaired
by Ambassador Masood Khan of Pakistan.
The 30th conference was the first time there had been such
a detailed debate by the Red Cross Red Crescent on the humanitarian
consequences of environmental degradation and climate change.
Both contribute to poverty, migration, health risks and an
aggravated risk of violence and conflict. The poorest of the
poor are most affected. Conference participants committed
themselves to integrate environmental degradation and adaptation
to climate change in disaster risk reduction and disaster
The debates at the International Federation’s General
Assembly and at the conference on international migration
recognized the benefits of migration but also the humanitarian
consequences for people adversely affected. The role of governments
in combating exploitation and trafficking, and enforcing legal
protection was clearly identified, but the role of the Movement
was also emphasized. Examples of its action included assistance
with food, shelter, clothing, first aid and healthcare. Special
note was made of the vital role played by the Red Cross Red
Crescent in restoring family links and visiting migrants in
The conference recognized, in the words of the final declaration,
that “violence is a leading cause of preventable death,
injury and human suffering worldwide.” There was particular
concern about the impact of urban violence. Delegates acknowledged
that states had a responsibility to adopt policies and legal
frameworks to prevent and mitigate such violence, including
urban armed violence between organized groups.
The Red Cross Red Crescent has a long history of dealing
with public health challenges. The conference resolved to
ensure that public health was an integral part of disaster
management and to act to tackle emergent and recurrent diseases.
Delegates committed themselves to strengthen health systems,
mobilize volunteers and uphold the right of access to medical
services to any individual in need.
Respect for civilians
Civilians continue to suffer most in armed conflicts and
are the main victims of violations of international humanitarian
law (IHL). For this reason the conference adopted a strongly
worded resolution demanding respect for human life and dignity
in armed conflict. It specifically condemned attacks on civilian
objects and civilians not taking a direct part in hostilities,
including humanitarian relief personnel, journalists and other
Aware that the challenge is to ensure respect for the law,
the delegates included in the resolution a reaffirmation of
the fundamental guarantees established by IHL.
While reasserting the principles of distinction and proportionality
in the conduct of hostilities, the resolution specifically
called for international action to “address the humanitarian
impact of explosive remnants of war and cluster munitions”.
In the debate on the specific nature of the Red Cross Red
Crescent and the National Society role as auxiliaries to the
public authority, there was concern that the relationship
should be balanced and clear. The resolution adopted by the
conference clarified the mutual benefits of the partnership
for governments and National Societies. It also called on
states to refrain from asking National Societies to act outside
their mandate or to undertake tasks which would be inconsistent
with the Fundamental Principles of the Movement.
The conference asked the International Federation and the
ICRC to continue to develop legal advice, guidelines and best
practice to support National Society and public authority
One issue that could have caused difficulties at the 30th
International Conference was the report of the Red Cross Red
Crescent monitor on the implementation of the 2005 memorandum
of understanding between the Magen David Adom (MDA) in Israel
and the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS).
The monitor, Pär Stenbäck of Finland, commended
the efforts of both National Societies in his report to the
Council of Delegates, but said that full implementation remained
In particular he referred to the continued non-deployment
of five PRCS ambulances in East Jerusalem and the difficulties
PRCS ambulances face at checkpoints, which had led to some
“tragic cases including loss of life”. He urged
the Israeli government to act urgently on these issues.
A breakthrough then occurred, and by the time of the monitor’s
report to the International Conference, news had come of the
deployment of the five PRCS ambulances in East Jerusalem.
Despite well-known differences, discussions on a draft resolution
focused on the humanitarian facts on the ground and political
positions were put to one side. The resolution, adopted by
consensus, includes a strengthening of the monitoring and
Pledging to work together
It is now a well-established part of an International Conference
that participants make pledges, individually and jointly,
for the four years ahead. Pledging is a very visible expression
of partnership at work. In total 71 governments, 121 National
Societies, the International Federation, the ICRC and three
observers made pledges. ICRC president, Jakob Kellenberger,
and Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro, the International
Federation’s president, signed a joint pledge on the
new Movement strategy on restoring family links.
From words to action
In his address at the opening of the conference, the chairman
of the Standing Commission, Mohammed Al-Hadid, had said that
working together was the main challenge. In the event the
conference proved a real advance for the idea of humanitarian
partnerships. In the opinion of many delegates it was one
of the most workmanlike and focused conferences for many decades.
But what happens next is what counts.
In closing the conference, Mandisa Kalako-Williams called
on all participants to return home and make the commitments
of the conference a reality. “It does not end here,”
she said. Words, both written and spoken, are the natural
outcome of conferences, but now states and National Societies
had to leave Geneva with a determination to translate those
words into effective action to improve the lives of millions