Standing Commission Newsletter

June 2003

Dear friends,

The Standing Commission met mid May. Naturally our agenda mainly focussed on the upcoming Council of Delegates and International Conference. We decided there and then to refer to the upcoming Conference as the 28th International Conference. Below I will give you an overview of the state of preparations. I do hope that you, National Societies, also are well into the preparations together with your respective governments.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with us regarding any of the matters.The easiest way to do so is by or by fax: +41 22 730 2027.

International Conference 2003
In the previous Newsletter, I referred to the much-appreciated feedback received from National Societies (NS) and governments on concept papers shared with you earlier. Work has since continued taking into account the received comments to further develop the substance issues, which we would like to focus on in December.

In the March Newsletter, I still referred to an ‘Implementation Plan’ as a major expected outcome of the Conference in addition to a ‘Declaration’. The Standing Commission (SC) decided to name this document the ‘Agenda for Humanitarian Action’. We wish to build on the Plan of Action (PoA) from 1999 and signal an action-oriented working document, for the coming 4-years. The previous Plan is certainly not ‘over and done with’. Many NS and governments continue to implement the many and broad actions from the 27th International Conference.
When busy implementing the PoA from 1999, please don’t forget to report to us your progress! This is important. To date only about 60 NS and governments have informed us of their actions undertaken and emerging results. For us to be credible when presenting a new ‘Agenda for Humanitarian Action’, we must be able to show that we have made progress with the previous plan. Please make sure that your report reaches us by the end of June in order to allow us to include your input in the overall report prepared for the 28th IC. The report-back form sent to you earlier may be of help to you, but please do not feel obliged to use this specific form.

In the other outcome document of the 28th International Conference, the Declaration, we wish to address more general, overriding concerns, which relate to our overall theme, ‘Protecting Human Dignity’. The Declaration will concentrate on topical and current issues regarding respect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and other major humanitarian concerns.

You should have received by now the official convocation of the 28th IC and its provisional draft agenda and programme.

In July, all members of the Conference will receive a draft Agenda for Humanitarian Action and a document with some elements foreseen to be included in the Declaration. The draft documents will incorporate the comments by our advisory Group of Ambassadors, whom we will meet on June 19.

Considering the great importance of these first draft documents for the Conference, I would most appreciate your valuable feedback. The Commission will next meet on September 9 and 10.

Please do make sure that your comments reach us before the meeting. We will certainly benefit from your feedback in finalising the documents and mailing them to the members of the Conference 45 days before the opening of the Conference.

How will the Conference work?

The SC has spent much time on this issue. We all agree that we want a Conference that offers ample opportunity for lively discussion and debate. This is a challenge considering the huge attendance: 181 delegations from the Movement and close to 200 government delegations.

The SC agreed on a structure, which combines plenary and commission sessions. In the plenary meetings, general debates on humanitarian challenges and on protecting human dignity will take place along with discussions on various reports.

In two parallel commissions, the two sub-themes of the Agenda for Humanitarian Action will be debated: ‘Enhancing respect for the law’ and ‘Reducing vulnerability to disaster and disease’. We will do our best to structure the debates in the commissions so that they address central issues of the sub-themes as concretely as possible. Conference members will receive agendas for the commission sessions in advance to be able to prepare their own interventions. We hope to ensure in this way the widest possible participation in the debates. General statements reflecting positions on the theme or on more general humanitarian concerns will be directed to the plenary meetings.

The Conference is our unique privileged forum, providing us an opportunity to agree on crucial actions with our valued and important partners – the governments. In all issues and questions debated, it is essential to address partnerships between NS and their governments. How can this link best be used to build the capacity of NS to effectively address today’s humanitarian concerns? The answer must be found at the Conference.
An open drafting committee will work all through the Conference. It will be linked to the debates in the commissions. The drafting committee will go about the final wording of the conference outcome documents. In the drafting committee the decisive issues and priorities are hence finalised. I certainly do hope that every NS takes the drafting committee into special consideration when dividing the tasks among the members of its delegation. Our Movement voice is very much needed in the drafting process – otherwise we risk that the governments’ representatives dominate the outcomes!

A total of 11 workshops offer additional opportunities to debate issues and concerns outside the formal conference agenda. Detailed information on them is included in the draft provisional agenda and programme. I want to thank all NS, who submitted workshop proposals. Unfortunately there were too many excellent proposals and we were not able to include them all in the programme. However, due to good cooperation among the organisers, we are happy to announce that most of the issues suggested will be tackled – independently or as part of a related theme.

A consolidated report from the workshops is foreseen for the final plenary meeting on the closing day, highlighting the outcomes of the discussions in them.

As in 1999, you can make a pledge to do something special in relation to the overall theme or the issues under debate at the Conference. You can do it as a NS, together with other NS or with your government. From this month on it will be possible to make pledges – you can follow the process either over the Movement website or by turning to the ICRC website

Officers of the Conference
The SC has invited Mr Jaime Ricardo Fernandez Urriola, Chairman of the Panama Red Cross Society to be the candidate for the Chairmanship of the 28th IC. I am very pleased that he has agreed to do so. We are currently in the process of contacting other Red Cross/Red Crescent and government representatives and personalities for the many and varied other officer functions at the Conference. I will revert to them in my next Newsletter.

At the Council of Delegates, it is the task of the Council to propose the chair, vice chairs and other key officers for the Conference. At the first plenary meeting of the Conference, officers will formally be elected and the necessary conference bodies, such as the commissions and the drafting committee, will be established.

Council of Delegates
This brings me to the preparations of the Council. It opens in the evening of November 30 and will last 1,5 days. The Council will immediately be followed by the welcoming ceremony of the International Conference.

With a very short Council, much of its agenda will concentrate on preparations for the Conference. In addition to the above-mentioned officers, the Council also approves the agenda for the Conference.

You have just received this draft provisional agenda, which the Council has to finalise and submit to the Conference.

The Council has to discuss and agree upon some clear Movement positions on selected issues of special importance at the Conference. Such issues include the emblem and the “Auxiliary role of National Societies”. Reports on both issues will be presented to the plenary of the 28th IC. For the ensuing debate it is important for the Movement to speak with one voice on these critically important items.

However, the SC also wishes the Council to address another major Movement issue. For this purpose, the theme ‘Tolerance, respect for diversity and non-discrimination’ was chosen. It will be debated in three parallel commissions. Many NS welcomed this proposal in their feedback. It is seen as something most NS are concerned with in today’s complex world, especially after the events of September 11th, 2001. Discrimination is an issue in many countries and affects NS in how we work with the most vulnerable, with minorities and migrants, and how we prevent stigma causing additional vulnerability. Sometimes discriminatory practises bar those in need from essential services and assistance.

The aim of the debate in the Council is to elaborate on concrete guidelines and approaches for NS and other components of the Movement, in order to increase tolerance and acceptance of diversity and to be better able to fight discrimination in all its forms, based on our Fundamental Principles. Should the Council so decide, it can send its message on this issue to the Conference.

Reports at the Council
The Council has on its agenda follow-up of resolutions from the previous Council, two years ago. They will be introduced at the end of the Council, under its final agenda item. The Commission decided to have only two introductions – on the report on the Seville Agreement and on the implementation of the Strategy for the Movement. All other reports will be open for NS comments and questions based on written reports you will receive well in advance.

The Strategy report will build on an external review of its implementation as well as on feedback from NS, the International Federation and the ICRC. The aim is to keep the Strategy high on the Movement’s agenda rather than to address any substantive revisions of it after only two years of implementation.

When discussing the Seville Agreement and its application, there will be the chance to analyse experiences of all components of the Movement. As I have already received some initiatives regarding a need for evaluating our experiences in working with this basic and important agreement, I expect a good discussion to ensue. I am looking forward to learn from your experiences with the Seville Agreement in preparing for the debate in the Council.

The Working Group on Resolution 6 from the 2001 Council of Delegates submitted its report to the SC in May. Building on that report, the SC will present its report to the Council.

The Commission agreed with the WG’s recommendation that the draft third protocol to the Geneva Conventions remains the basis on which to resolve this longstanding issue. The Commission will certainly make a strong appeal in its report to governments to do more to reach a solution and thus to dramatically strengthen the protective value of the emblems. Such an action would pave the way for true universality in our Movement.

As part of the report, the Commission noted with great satisfaction that operational cooperation has grown with NS concerned with the emblem issue as well as more generally with NS awaiting recognition and admission. With this latter group of NS, the Commission strongly recommends operational cooperation with sister Societies in preparing for full membership.

On your draft provisional agenda for the IC, you will find an item suggesting a possible change of Movement statutes. This item is there to secure the possibility to make needed consequential changes to our statutes, should a diplomatic conference be convened before December 2003 and a third additional protocol be agreed upon.

In the present situation it is unfortunately hard to be optimistic about such an achievement. However, we must be prepared for sudden windows of opportunity. The proposed amendments are the same as those submitted in May 2000, when the SC convened an extraordinary International Conference – then called the 28th IC – for adopting the changes to the statutes following the adoption of a third protocol. We all know now that unforeseen circumstances did not allow this to happen.

Thank you for your Support!
Last but certainly not least I wish to warmly thank NS for their substantial financial support. The ICRC and the International Federation share the core costs of the Commission. They also contribute with considerable amounts of staff-hours towards its work, e.g., in the Commission’s working groups. However, without NS voluntary contributions we could not have the valuable participation of NS in the workings groups to advise us in our work or to enable us to be present at various NS and Movement meetings, seminars and conferences.

So far this year we have received a total of CHF 78 968 from 22 NS. Many of the NS are new contributors and my very special appreciation and thank you go to them.

We are still short of our target for this year, which is CHF 200 000. I trust the steady flow of contributions will continue and we will eventually reach our goal.

In conclusion…
I repeat that the Standing Commission will meet again on September 9 and 10. Well in advance of that meeting, preferably by the end of August, I would appreciate hearing from you regarding the draft conference documents you will receive in July. Your comments on the draft Agenda for Humanitarian Action as well as on the suggested elements for a Declaration will be most welcome.

In the meantime, I wish all NS an active preparatory working period before our important statutory meetings and look forward to hearing from you.

With my very best wishes,

Princess Margriet

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