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The ICRC in Australia

21-10-2013 Overview

The ICRC Australia Mission works to foster support for the ICRC's global operations and to promote international humanitarian law (IHL) and universal humanitarian principles. The ICRC’s presence in Australia allows the organization to bring the reality of humanitarian challenges in 21st century conflict zones to debates and decision-making at a local level.

Through public presentations, events, training and regular dialogue with government, the military and civil society, the Mission shares the ICRC’s extensive expertise in areas such as protection of civilians and civil-military relations. It also contributes to debate around the contemporary challenges for IHL, from new technologies to the participation of non-State entities in hostilities, and other topics such as the importance of neutral and independent humanitarian action. In its representations, the Mission mobilizes support for the ICRC’s worldwide campaigns including initiatives to safeguard health care in conflict zones and to improve the regulation of the global arms trade.

Neutral and independent, the ICRC is part of the world's largest humanitarian movement, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, delivering assistance to those in need, regardless of race, religion or politics. The ICRC's Australia Mission forms part of the ICRC’s Regional Delegation in the Pacific, based in Suva, Fiji.

Promoting IHL in Australia

In line with its global mandate, the ICRC promotes the principles of IHL in Australia. Also known as the law of war, IHL is a set of rules that limits the methods and means of warfare and prevents human suffering in times of armed conflict. Although IHL applies during war and armed violence, the ICRC works to promote this body of law in peacetime, so that the rules are understood and observed in  situations of conflict, wherever they may occur.

Ratification

Universal ratification and implementation of IHL is an important goal for the ICRC in Australia. The ICRC’s regional legal adviser, based in the Australia Mission, works with the Australian government to encourage and assist with the ratification of key IHL treaties and their implementation into domestic law. Among IHL’s main instruments are the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 and 2005 Additional Protocols; the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention; and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to prosecute war criminals.

With whom do we work in Australia?

Parliamentarians and government officials
The ICRC talks directly with members of parliament and government officials to increase knowledge of the ICRC’s global operations and mandate. In its interactions the ICRC also raises issues of humanitarian concern and subjects relating to IHL and civil-military affairs.

The military
The Australia Mission, along with the ICRC’s regional delegate to the armed forces based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, builds awareness among the armed forces of the ICRC's humanitarian activities, such as visiting detainees, protecting civilians, and facilitating the repatriation of prisoners of war. The Mission participates in a number of Australian Defence Force (ADF) military exercises and provides briefings to units of the ADF deploying to priority contexts and United Nations military observer missions. The interactions with the military in Australia play an important role in promoting respect for IHL and increasing awareness of ICRC humanitarian action in conflict zones around the world.

Universities
To reach tomorrow’s decision-makers and opinion-leaders, the Australia Mission engages universities, promoting IHL, humanitarian action and the ICRC's global work through presentations and participation in courses. In conjunction with the Australian Red Cross, the Mission supports the running of moot court competitions for law students.

Media
The Australia Mission promotes a wider coverage of humanitarian issues of concern through information exchange, interviews and briefings with the media – online, radio, print and TV – in Australia.

Civil society
The Australia Mission works to raise awareness of its mandate and activities among non-governmental organizations, think-tanks and community leaders in Australia. By participating in panel discussions and training, the ICRC contributes its expertise in neutral and impartial humanitarian action, policy and law to discussions around contemporary challenges for IHL and the changing needs of those affected by armed conflict in the 21st century.

The ICRC and the Australian Red Cross

The ICRC and the Australian Red Cross work together on events, competitions, presentations and training to promote IHL, and the principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in Australia. Cooperation also focuses on other programs in areas of specific ICRC expertise, including international emergency response and coordination, protection of civilians, civil-military relations and the restoration of family links. The ICRC also participates in the training of Australian Red Cross staff for international deployment with missions of the International Movement.

In 2013, the Australia Mission has worked closely with the Australian Red Cross on activities to mobilize support for movement-wide campaigns, most notably the Health Care in Danger initiative aimed at improving safeguards for health care in conflict zones. The ICRC has also teamed with the Australian Red Cross on a long-term project to develop IHL handbooks for parliamentarians in the Pacific region.

History of the ICRC in Australia

The ICRC has been present in Australia since 1995. Originally opening as a media liaison service in Sydney, the organization has expanded its presence in Australia by strengthening engagement with government departments, the military, civil society and the Australian Red Cross to promote IHL and humanitarian issues.

Occasionally, events in the Pacific have required the Australia office to play an operational support role. In 1999, the ICRC’s Australia representative relocated to Darwin to manage logistics in response to the violence in Timor-Leste. The following year, the office provided logistical support during a coup in Fiji and an eruption of ethnic violence in the Solomon Islands.

In late 2012, the ICRC in Australia upgraded its presence to a mission and relocated to Canberra. It is now staffed by a head of mission, regional legal adviser, policy and political affairs officer, communications officer and administrator.

In 2013, the Australian government passed legislation that confirms the ICRC's special status in the country, thereby granting the organization privileges and immunities similar to those of diplomatic missions.


Photos

ICRC’s regional legal adviser for the Pacific delivers a presentation on child soldiers at a joint event with the Australian Red Cross. 

Canberra
ICRC’s regional legal adviser for the Pacific delivers a presentation on child soldiers at a joint event with the Australian Red Cross.
© ICRC

ICRC’s regional delegate to the armed and security forces takes part in exercises at the Australian Command and Staff College at Weston Creek. 

ICRC’s regional delegate to the armed and security forces takes part in exercises at the Australian Command and Staff College at Weston Creek.
© ICRC

Guests at the ICRC Mission in Australia's “150 years of humanitarian action: ICRC from 1863 to 2013” photographic exhibition launch at the High Court in June. 

Guests at the ICRC Mission in Australia's “150 years of humanitarian action: ICRC from 1863 to 2013” photographic exhibition launch at the High Court in June.
© ICRC