Opening address

From: “Council of Delegates” November 26, 2011 Geneva – Distributed Version

On behalf of my colleagues, the members in the Standing Commission, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you, to this Council of Delegates, on the eve of the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. This is a meeting of the Movement. We come together here as a family, all around the same table – the ICRC the Federation, all National Societies. On Monday, we are joined by our perhaps most important partners, the governments at a Conference, which will stake out our path for action for years to come. As always, its agenda is comprehensive and topical, seeking to address issues that are truly of joint humanitarian concern. I would like to reflect a moment on the word Movement.

The Oxford dictionary gives interesting definitions: an act of moving but also general activity or bustle and – often with modifier – a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas and even as a campaign undertaken by a political, social, or artistic movement. Interesting words – working together to advance shared ideas. Our Red Cross/Red Crescent certainly fulfils these criteria of a Movement! The word implies action, something happening, moving. Again, I believe that’s what the RCRC is all about: helping, delivering, supporting, building, advocating.

Is Movement a synonym for an organization? Hardly; most would probably disagree. I do, however, firmly believe that the Movement can act as an organisation – at its best. That is, when we coordinate our cooperation in joint operations, when we act together to deliver emergency response, when we lobby for recognition of our role and mandate towards governments, when we advocate for human and humanitarian values. Then we are seen as one. Perception is also reality, as an old familiar saying goes. In our case, the perception is that the RCRC is one, it is the ‘common good’, one of the best known brands in the world, which is always there when needed, in disasters and conflicts but also in local and even individual situations of need.

We are proud of being part of a global Movement, which reaches widely and deeply. We are present all over; it is even a condition for recognition that we cover the entire territory of our home nation. How do we use this presence when facing an ever changing environment? Can we adapt to new developments and needs? Do we know what awaits us behind the bend? Traditional patterns are changing; we cannot solve tomorrow’s problems with answers from yesterday. ‘Every organization must be prepared to abandon everything it does to survive in the future’, said Peter Drucker already early in the previous century.

He is the man who has been credited with inventing management. In spite of the Council working only today, we have important items on the agenda: We are asked to define a Movement position on nuclear weapons and parameters for our cooperation with other, external humanitarian organisations; to adopt guidance for National Societies in armed conflict and other situations of violence and to consider the evaluation of the Strategy for the Movement and its recommendations for the incoming, new Standing Commission, which takes up its mandate at the end of the Conference next week. The implementation of the MoU between the MDA in Israel and the Palestine Red Crescent is also an issue on our agenda before continuing to the Conference floor.

We will hear from the Monitor, Pär Stenbäck, and his latest findings from a recent mission to the region to see developments before presenting his conclusions. We have all through had concerns regarding progress achieved towards full implementation of the MoU, partly also raised and shared by the government members of the Conference. I sincerely hope that Mr Stenbäck today can report such progress that we could erase this issue from the agendas of future statutory meetings, not least because of the enormous humanitarian needs the two Societies face in their immediate environment and because we, as a Movement, must be able to focus and concentrate on our main mission – to deliver effective humanitarian assistance to those in need, wherever that may be. Before moving on to the Conference, where we are expected to speak with one voice as a Movement, I would like to share a concern I feel has its impact on the Movement – or on the Movement I would like to see.

I’m at times asking myself, are we really working as a Movement, as one? Or do we prefer to work as independent actors, almost as independent NGOs, favouring our own agendas, which may be influenced by various national interests? A National Society can be strong internationally only if it is strong nationally. The national context is, and has to remain, the deciding reality upon which a National Society bases its work. When working internationally, we should, however, seek to work and deliver as one. It may at times mean difficult coordination issues, or difficult cooperation challenges. They should not be ignored; they are part of the reality in which we work. But I do feel sometimes that we need more effort to ensure that we analyse the situations jointly and deliver our response based on joint priorities and aims. That we work as a Movement. However, ‘never mistake a clear view for a short distance’ – as I recently read somewhere.

It requires a real effort to get there. I’m sure we all want to remain the major humanitarian force in the world and to continue to be perceived as such. To be successful in that, we have to re-invigorate our Fundamental Principles in addition to working better together and to deliver better services. Our principles are not for sale, not even to the highest bidder – not even to our governments. This we have to keep in mind also when we aim to be the main auxiliary to public authorities in the humanitarian field – national and international. We do share concerns about independent humanitarian action and access to all victims, which we will debate further at the Conference in the coming days. It is a joint responsibility of all components to ensure that in our work and performance we stay true to the principles – especially when it comes to independence, impartiality and neutrality – in the interest of independent humanitarian action, which is our most valued trade mark. (Segue alla pagina successsiva >>)