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Daily bulletin of the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, issue 1

01-11-1999

Conference of humanity opens, Show of strength, First government pledges

 Conference of humanity opens  

The 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent opened on Sunday with music, videos and speeches urging the participants to celebrate the power of humanity and reminding them that the conference is all about people's lives, not paper.

" The international conferences are a time-tested means to renew our global will to act, to build our collective future and to create the tools we need to ease the burdens of men, women and children in our communities who have been struck by life's adversities, " said Princess Margriet, chairman of the Standing Commission, in her opening speech.

She thanked the Swiss authorities for their support in making the conference a reality, and welcomed all delegates, saying the high number of participants showed the importance of the conference as one " which will enable us to build a strategy and objective for our commitment to the next century " .

Cornelio Sommaruga, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said: " There are few opportunities for humanitarian organizations and States to come together under the same roof to look together at the major humanitarian questions of our day, but this is exactly what is going to happen this week.”

“As our catastrophic century draws to a close, when most of our benchmarks are vague, it is necessary to reaffirm the importance of the human being and their dignity. We humanitarians do this on a daily basis, alongside the victims and the most vulnerabl e, but we must also be able to do this with the representation of States,” he added.

Federation President Dr Astrid Heiberg thanked governments for their participation in preparing the conference and expressed hope for a common, humanitarian commitment to meet the realities of today’s world and diminish the death and suffering caused by bitter conflicts, huge refugee movements and natural superdisasters. “We build on the most powerful of realities: the spirit of humanity in each and every one of us,” she said.

Dr Bertrand Piccard, who as the first man to circumnavigate the world in a hot air balloon has had a unique perspective on the world, read the fundamental principles out to the packed room. " Maybe the worst problem in the world is not that people don't all love each other, but that they do not understand how magical it is to have life on this planet, how much it is a miracle to be alive, " he said. " May the Movement continue to reach out to the whole world, I feel that it is much needed, " he added.

Pierre Muller, Mayor of Geneva, welcomed delegates to the city, home to many humanitarian organizations of which the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation are the cornerstone. Parties to conflict tend to wage war without witnesses, said Mr Muller, adding that he hoped the International Conference would reinforce actions to uphold the Geneva conventions and international humanitarian law. 

Martine Brunschwig Graf, president of the council of state of Geneva, spoke of the need to develop civil commitment and voluntary work, which are vital to support humanitarian work. Urging people to teach their children about differences of opinion and that violence can never be justified, she said: " We must never break the chain of solidarity. "

Ruth Dreifuss, President of the Swiss Confederation, said the “t he power of humanity” was a slogan of hope; hope for a better future that we must bring about, and hope for action that must be guided by respect for human dignity and compassion. She urged people not to give up or despair in the face of human suffering, but to overcome divisions, weaknesses and special interests.

Two videos shown during the opening – " The power of humanity " and " Voices of war, voices of hope " – sent powerful messages to the audience about some of the realities that the Movement is dealing with, voiced by those affected by war and disaster, and showing the Red Cross Red Crescent workers helping them.

Up with people, an American-based group of young people, took to the stage and the floor to sing " Life Power " , the winning song written by a Philippines Red Cross volunteer for a competition organized by the National Society.

 Show of strength  

It was all about power. The power of dance, the power of music, the power of the elements, the power of water, earth, wind and fire. The power of humanity, of emotion, of gesture. Your power. Mine. Ours. United. In harmony.

Each element was teased out in its positive and negative aspects: the hope and dangers posed by the lack, surfeit or sufficiency of water; the warmth and the horror of fir; clean air and pollution; bounty and environmental damage.

Every act of the conference’s opening show at Geneva’s Arena stadium was a tour de force, from the awesome power of youth expressed by Riverdance and Up With People to the storming violin of the equally youthful Vanessa Mae. Strength, flexibility, virility and femininity were expressed in a striking way by contort ionists Valentin and Katya and Manu Di Bango demonstrated how he has been building bridges between continents with his African Jazz.

Staying in Africa, the Circus Ethiopia children dazzled and shone with a unique demonstration of the power of the simple message. Jimmy Cliff took to the stage to show how reggae can truly become a hymn for the oppressed.

A change of mood saw Europeans back to the fore - Thijs Van Leer and his magical flute, followed by Dick Bakker, proving he is more than his winning " Ding a Dong " song. From North Africa, with Algerian Idir, icon of a whole population, singer of cultural richness took the stage.

A breathtaking closure when the technical effects and all the stars combined to electrify the arena, filling the night with music, words, symbols, filling Geneva, and reaching out to the world through their power, our power, the power of humanity.

 Proceeds from ticket sales will go to water-related development programmes. “Water is a vital resource, but it is difficult to generate new funding for water-based development projects. Given the show’s theme, we thought this was a perfect choice,” said Joanna Maclean, the show’s organizer  

 

 

 First government pledges  

The first government pledges have been submitted to the International Conference. Among others, Ukraine pledged to establish a national commission on implementing international humanitarian law, Uganda pledged to recognize the Ugandan Red Cross in its national disaster preparedness and management policy an d Sweden pledged jointly with the Swedish Red Cross to promote non-participation and non-recruitment of children under 18 years in armed conflicts.

The government pledges submitted so far all support and add to the pledges from National Societies. So far 125 pledges have been submitted (see lists). Pledges can be viewed in the Honour Books at the pledge stand in the main foyer.

The following have already made pledges:
 

 Red Cross Red Crescent Movement: Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, China, Colombia, Congo (Democratic Republic of), Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, ICRC, International Federation, Iran, Iraq, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Korea (Democratic Peoples’ Republic of), Korea (Republic of), Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Lithuania, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Samoa, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tanzania, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Venezuela, Youth Power, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

 Governments: Iceland, Sweden, Uganda, Ukraine

 Observers: Cook Islands Red Cross, Magen David Adom, Palestine Red Crescent, Institut International de Droit Humanitaire.

 Come to the workshops  

A series of 14 workshops will take place during the International Conference to enable participants to explore conference-related topics in greater depth. The workshops offer a chance to share experiences, exchange ideas and find new strategies for moving forward - they will not be the object of official resolutions. All conference members and observers are invited to take part.

The workshops – some held simultaneously – will take place from today until Thursday from 5.00 pm to 7.00 pm and on Friday from 2 p.m. They will be held in room A of the AELE/EFTA building (leave the CICG by the post office exit and it is the building opposite) and rooms B1 and B2 of the ITU building (leave the CICG by the main entrance and follow the pavement to a red door opposite).

Following each session, a brief report will be distributed to all conference members, and a summary will be presented at the closing session of the conference on Saturday.
 
This evening’s sessions:

 Volunteering 2000 - a challenge for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in strengthening civil society.  To be held in room B1, ITU building from 5.00 pm in English and French.  
What are the economic, demographic and political factors influencing civil society and what is the Red Cross and Red Crescent position vis-à-vis governments, NGOs and the commercial sector? How will the Movement adjust its strategy for institutional and human resource development in view of the decreasing number of volunteers?

 People on war: results of the worldwide consultation.  To be held in room B, ITU building from 5.00 pm in English and French.  
An analysis of the results of the People on war survey will be presented by opinion-research firm Greenberg Quinlan Research Inc. and opened for discussion. The survey was conducted by the ICRC to mark the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, visiting countries affected by war and those now at peace, asking people about their experiences of war, their opinions on the rules limiting violence in armed conflict and their expectations of the future.

 Widowhood and armed conflict: challenges faced and strategies forward.  To be held in room A, EFTA building, from 5.00 pm in English. Large numbers of women have been widowed through military and civilian casualties of armed conflicts in many countries. Many have shown remarkable courage and resourcefulness in carrying on with their lives and the purpose of this workshop is to gain a better understanding of the problems they face during armed conflict and its aftermath.

 Other workshops later in the week will cover the following subjects:  

Working in partnership with governments
The humanitarian challenge of small arms proliferation
Fight against AIDS in developing countries
Ensuring respect for international humanitarian law
The SIrUS project
Use and development of Sphere standards
Assisting children affected by armed conflict
Effects of climate change on disaster response
Humanitarian action and business: common interests?
Implementation of the statute of the International Criminal Court

 Videos to watch  

ICRC and International Federation videos will be screened every lunchtime during the conference on level D (where the partnership cafes were held). The videos, lasting around 5-10 minutes each, will cover such subjects as tracing, floods, Hurricane Mitch and more. A rolling show will begin at 12.30 pm and carry on through the lunch hour, with soundtracks in English, French and Spanish.

 This bulletin is for information purposes only. It does not constitute an official record.