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Australia: Military workshop on safer access to health care

12-12-2013 News Release

Sydney (ICRC) – Military experts from more than 20 countries came together in Sydney this week to discuss ways to better protect people providing or receiving health care in conflicts, as part of a three-day workshop hosted by the ICRC and the Australian government.

"The aim is to develop practical measures that will allow militaries to operate while avoiding or minimizing incidental damage to health-care services," said François Sénéchaud, head of the ICRC’s integration and promotion of the law division. "With the help of our expert participants, including medics, military lawyers and operational officers, we have identified practices that, when put in place, will help to improve the security of patients and health-care personnel in conflict situations and emergencies."

The workshop is part of a special ICRC-led project of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement on the dangers facing health-care services in conflict zones and elsewhere.

"How do you minimize delays for ambulances and private vehicles carrying wounded or sick patients?" asked Mr Sénéchaud. "One possibility is to set up clearly identified fast lanes at checkpoints for ambulances as well as other ways of giving priority to medical transports."

Ways to limit the negative impact of military search operations on hospitals were also discussed. "The military will normally have a legal right to carry out searches. However, there are a number of different ways of doing so," said workshop participant Colonel Roderick Heatlie, medical adviser at NATO’s Supreme Allied Command Transformation. "It's a very old adage that communication is everything. The ability to build better relationships can make life better for both the military and the health-care facility."

Prior to this week’s workshop, the ICRC carried out a series of confidential consultations with a number of armed forces as a way to understand the issues at hand and provide a basis for discussion. "The recommendations are expected to be an important and practical tool for guiding military forces in enhancing protection of access to and delivery of medical care in armed conflict and other situations of violence," said workshop co-chair Hugh Watson, from the International Legal Division of Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The findings of the Sydney workshop will be released publicly in 2014.

For further information, please contact:
Andrea Lunt, ICRC Canberra, tel: +61 2 6273 2968 or +61 418 485 120