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Henry Dunant medals awarded for outstanding humanitarian service

17-11-2013 News Release 13/199

Sydney/Geneva (ICRC/International Federation) – Four members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement today received the prestigious Henry Dunant Medal, the Movement's highest award, which recognizes outstanding humanitarian commitment by its members.

“By awarding each one of these the Henry Dunant Medal we honour four outstanding individuals and humanitarians”, says Greg Vickery, Chair of the Standing Commission of the Red Cross and Red Crescent that nominates the awardees. “It is also the ideals we share and the goals we all strive to reach: to bring relief to those in pain, to reduce vulnerabilities, and to build strong national societies.”

The recipients are:

  • Tom Buruku was appointed secretary-general of the Uganda Red Cross Society in 1981, oversaw relief operations during a civil war that forced 400,000 people to flee their homes. He used strong communication and diplomatic skills to enhance the safety of Red Cross staff and secure the release of abducted staff members.
  • Alberto Cairo, a law graduate who later became a physiotherapist, joined the ICRC in 1990 and was assigned to its Surgical Hospital for War Wounded in Kabul. Alberto Cairo is the head of the ICRC's orthopedic program in Afghanistan.
  • Doña Meneca de Mencía spent most of her life in Honduras, where she has given more than 50 years of uninterrupted voluntary service to the Honduran Red Cross, including more than 30 as its president.
  • Barges Hamoud Al-Barges is a founding member of the Kuwait Red Crescent Society, has served as the Society's president since 1994. He served as its secretary-general between 1975 and 1994.

The awards were conferred during the Council of Delegates in Sydney, where the 189 National Societies, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have gathered to discuss the most pressing humanitarian and development challenges of the day, as well as future priorities.

The Henry Dunant Medal award was created by the Council of Delegates in 1963, on the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Movement. The first medals were bestowed in 1969 at the Istanbul International Conference.

Profiles of the recipients:

Tom Buruku, was appointed secretary-general of the Uganda Red Cross Society in 1981, and oversaw relief operations during a civil war that forced 400,000 people to flee their homes. He used strong communication and diplomatic skills to enhance the safety of Red Cross staff and secure the release of abducted staff members. He was subsequently appointed director for Africa at the International Federation. He coordinated relief operations during the Ethiopian famine and the Sahel drought. In 1990, as head of the International Federation's delegation in South Africa, he helped overcome divisions within the country’s National Society, which mirrored the apartheid system. He also served as head of delegation in Sierra Leone during that country's civil war. In 1998, Mr Buruku returned to the Uganda Red Cross as chairman. In that capacity, he played a crucial role in founding the New Partnership for African Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, a network of African National Societies which he continues to serve as chairman. Mr Buruku is highly esteemed within the Movement for his vision, tenacity and ability to bring people together to serve the humanitarian cause.

Alberto Cairo is responsible for the seven ICRC prosthetic/orthotic centres in the country, which provide disabled people with physical rehabilitation and help them regain their place in society. The first centre was opened in 1988 but closed shortly thereafter, as prosthetics and physiotherapy were not considered priorities amid the mounting tensions in the country. The sight of hundreds of amputated and otherwise disabled people in the streets, and awareness of how prosthetics could improve their quality of life, led Mr Cairo and his team to reopen the centre, which has remained active ever since. Over 7,000 people are treated there every year. The dignity of the people he helps has always been one of Mr Cairo’s primary concerns. The ICRC has adopted a positive discrimination policy in its prosthetic/orthotic centres in Afghanistan, where it employs only disabled people formerly treated in the centres in order to demonstrate that full reintegration in society after physical rehabilitation is possible.

Doña Meneca de Mencía’s work has won increasing respect among the National Societies in the Americas and beyond. She has taken part in many Movement-wide projects. She chaired the Inter-American Regional Committee, served as vice-president of the International Federation from 1993 to 1997, and was a member of its governing board from 2001 to 2005.
Over the course of these many years, Doña de Mencía founded the National Society’s blood-donation programme, its technical training unit, and the Honduran Child Alive programme. She places great emphasis on the Movement’s Fundamental Principles and on promoting them throughout the country, and has personally directed many relief and other aid operations. The National Society’s programme to prevent youth violence and promote volunteerism have also been close to her heart. Doña de Mencía’s strong personality, her dedication to the Movement’s principles, and her commitment to addressing the needs and aspirations of the most vulnerable people in Honduras have made her an effective leader of her own National Society and a catalyst for cooperation among National Societies.

Barges Hamoud Al-Barges has developed the Kuwait Red Crescent Society’s volunteer programmes and promoted them among the public to raise awareness of and rally support for humanitarian endeavour. The Kuwait Red Crescent has been active in international relief work both in the region and across the world, aiding countries suffering the effects of natural disaster or conflict. Mr Al-Barges is highly esteemed within the Movement for his tireless efforts to improve the lives of vulnerable people and his ability to effectively translate ideas into humanitarian action. He is being awarded the Henry Dunant Medal for his strong personal commitment and contributions to promoting the Movement’s Fundamental Principles and ideals across the world.

For further information, please contact:
Ewan Watson, ICRC Geneva (currently in Sydney), +41 79 2446470
Reeni Aminchua, International Federation Geneva (currently in Sydney), Tel: +41 79 7086273/
+61 481013955