Opening address

From: “First meeting of the Group of Ambassadors 31st International RCRC Conference” April 4, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear friends,

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to this first meeting in a process, which we hope will lead to regular consultation in preparing for the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, scheduled for the end of November here in Geneva.

I am grateful that so many distinguished representatives are present today. Your presence demonstrates interest and commitment to help shape the Conference towards success.

We will discuss the aims and objectives of the Conference, the proposed themes and issues for the agenda, the structure and your role in the preparations in the next 8 months. My colleagues from the Standing Commission, Philip Spoerri and Bekele Geleta, whom you already heard will introduce the debate and they will alternate in hosting and chairing the next meetings.

Let me also introduce to you Ambassador Jean-François Paroz, the Commissioner for the Conference. I wish to express our gratitude and appreciation to the Swiss Government for seconding Ambassador Paroz to us and also for their significant financial contribution towards the Conference. Also with me here are Ms Helena Korhonen, the Head of the Standing Commission secretariat, and Frank Mohrhauer from the Federation and Bruce Biber from the ICRC.

I believe for most of you, participation in this group is a new experience. Let me start with a short introduction on what the Standing Commission is and of the history of the International Conference. Our Movement is not the easiest to understand!

The Standing Commission of the Red Cross and Red Crescent is a 9-member body, in which all components are represented. It is “the trustee of the International Conference between two Conferences”, to use the wording in the Movement’s Statutes and it is entrusted with the mandate to prepare and promote the International Conference, its agenda and programme.

Five of the nine members are elected ‘ad personam’ by the International Conference from among the 186 National Societies. We will talk about this election later on. The ICRC and the International Federation each have two ex officio members in the Commission; in addition to Philip Spoerri and Bekele Geleta, President Jakob Kellenberger of the ICRC and President Tadateru Konoe of the Federation are members.

We have had 30 International Conferences since 1863, on the average once every four years. They have played a decisively important role in development of international humanitarian law. In fact, the first conference in 1863 adopted the first Geneva Convention.

Why are states participating in a RCRC conference?
Our Movement was born in 1863, after Henry Dunant’s well-known initiatives during the battle of Solferino 150 years ago. Governments soon realised that there was room for improvement in managing the human consequences of war. What began as a pragmatic meeting of needs and services for humanity, developed over time into a strong symbiotic relationship. After 1863, national humanitarian groups emerged, from which grew the National Societies, whose work government leaders encouraged on the basis of internationally agreed norms. It was agreed that regular meetings should be held to further develop and adapt humanitarian action to the realities in the field. A dynamic cycle of action, discussion and commitment was born. We are here today to continue this dynamic process.

The Standing Commission values highly your involvement in the conference preparations, because we see this cooperation as a privileged and a unique relationship and partnership. The Conference was for a long period the only humanitarian forum of significance in the world. While this is no longer the case, it is still the only one in which state and non-state actors meet on an equal footing to discuss a wide spectrum of humanitarian issues. Conference debates have grown from real problems in the field. Agreements reached have often meant groundbreaking progress in the protection of war victims and in the ethics of humanitarian action.

Of course, not every Conference has been involved in developing international treaties, although Humanitarian Law has been one of the major preoccupations. They have also contributed to the internationally recognised ethical code, under which humanitarian work is carried out. Impartiality, neutrality and independence are repeated today almost as a revered mantra in most humanitarian contexts. Those three words, along with humanity, voluntary service, unity and universality, were defined and accepted as our Movement’s seven basic, fundamental principles, adopted by the 20th Conference in Vienna in 1965.

Other important principles and codes have since followed, for example the Principles and Rules for Disaster Relief in 1969, modified in 1999, and a Code of Conduct for all humanitarian agencies active in disaster relief in 1995.

The most recent ones were adopted in 2007 on International Disaster Response and on the Auxiliary Role of the National Societies, which acknowledges the unique task and relationship between the National Society and its government. (Segue alla pagina successiva >>)