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Red Cross and Red Crescent meet States to strengthen humanitarian action

21-11-2011 News Release

Geneva (ICRC/IFRC) – Humanitarian challenges in contemporary armed conflicts and natural disasters will be among the themes discussed at the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva next week.

The conference starting on 28 November brings together representatives of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement – the world's largest humanitarian network – and of the States party to the Geneva Conventions. Over 2,000 people are expected to attend the event.

One of the objectives of the conference is to push for improved security so that health care can be delivered unimpeded in armed conflicts and other situations of violence. "People die in large numbers because armed conflict or other violence hinders their access to health care or because doctors, hospitals or ambulances are directly attacked," said Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). "Over the next four years, we will gather legal experts, health-care personnel, policy makers and representatives of armed forces to work out practical remedies to what has grown to be one of the largest yet least recognized humanitarian disasters of today."

Conference participants are expected to adopt a resolution that will endorse a four-year initiative to tackle this global emergency. A recent study by the ICRC of over 650 incidents in 16 countries and a follow-up report about the consequences for medical staff and patients are the basis of this initiative. The findings revealed that obstacles to providing and obtaining health care are widespread and affect millions of people around the world in countries such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Colombia and Libya.

Another key objective of the conference is to strengthen the legal protection of victims of armed conflict. While the existing international humanitarian law remains suitable on the whole, improvement is still necessary in specific areas. In particular, there is a need for better protection for detainees in non-international armed conflict, and for more effective international mechanisms to monitor compliance with international humanitarian law.

Also under scrutiny during the International Conference will be the issue of the protection of volunteers in emergencies. Nearly one billion people around the world serve as volunteers. More than 13 million of these join the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, helping people with no expectation of financial gain. The nature of emergency response work means that many volunteers risk their safety and often their lives. In 2011, a number of Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers in countries such as Libya, Sudan and Pakistan sustained injuries or in some cases were killed while helping others.

In light of these and other tragedies, strengthening legal protection for volunteers and creating an environment which can better protect, promote and recognize the benefits of volunteers, will be a key objective of the conference. According to research by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) undertaken in line with the International Labour Organization's Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work, the services of volunteers around the world in emergency and development activities carried out by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement were worth close to six billion US dollars in 2009 – or close to 90 US cents for every person on earth.

"The decisions we make at the International Conference, the resolutions we create, the policies we adopt, only make sense once volunteers are in place to translate our words into concrete action," said Bekele Geleta, secretary-general of the IFRC. "Volunteers selflessly help others and at times fall in harm’s way. It's time the welfare, recognition and protection of volunteers is seriously reviewed and measures put in place to ensure they can do their work without fear of intimidation or harm."

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is made up of the ICRC, the IFRC and 187 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The International Conference, its highest deliberative body, meets every four years.

For further information, or to set up interviews, please contact:

Carla Haddad Mardini, Spokesperson, ICRC Tel: + 41 22 730 2405 / +41 79 217 3226
Nicole Engelbrecht, Public Relations Officer, ICRC Tel: + 41 22 730 2271 / +41 79 217 32 17
Pierre Kremer, Spokesman, IFRC Tel: +41 22 730 4914 / +41 79 226 4832
Jessica Sallabank, Media Relations Officer, IFRC Tel: 41 22 730 4620 / +41 79 948 1148
Jason Smith, Manager Corporate Communications, IFRC Tel: + 41 22 730 4454 / +41 79 249 3380