World's largest humanitarian meeting resolves to strengthen IHL and local humanitarian action


Geneva - The 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the world's largest humanitarian conference, took place in Geneva from 28 November to 1 December 2011.

This quadrennial event brings together the States party to the Geneva Conventions, the world's National Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In a unique forum for debate on humanitarian action, some 2,000 delegates adopted a series of resolutions on action to reinforce humanitarian response to natural disaster and armed conflict.

Strengthening legal protection for victims of armed conflict

The resolution "Strengthening legal protection for victims of armed conflict" provides a basis for strengthening international humanitarian law (IHL) in two areas where gaps have been identified: the protection of people deprived of their freedom, and mechanisms to ensure compliance with IHL. This resolution invites the ICRC to "identify and propose a range of options and its recommendations" regarding these two areas.

The "Four-Year Action Plan for the Implementation of International Humanitarian Law" sets out a series of measures whereby States can enhance the implementation of IHL:

  • access for civilians to humanitarian assistance in armed conflicts;
  • protection of women, children and people with disabilities;
  • protection of journalists;
  • criminalization and repression of serious violations of IHL;
  • arms transfers.

States and National Societies underlined the importance of strengthening IHL in 84 statements during a plenary session on the topic. Those participants saw IHL as a vital means of protecting and assisting people affected by armed conflict.

Reducing the dangers to health care

Another important resolution relates to protecting health care. Co-sponsored by 48 Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the "Health Care in Danger" resolution calls on the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to deepen its consultations with health-care experts from States and the health-care community, to formulate recommendations for making the delivery of health care safer in armed conflict and other emergencies. The initiative received overwhelming support in the form of around 30 statements at the commission debating the initiative.

Other important resolutions addressed:

Please visit our Resolutions page for the full texts of the resolutions.

Pledges to act

In addition to adopting resolutions, delegates submitted a record-breaking 377 pledges, providing a direct means for Conference delegations to help implement the Resolutions.

The Conference included:

  • five commissions on important humanitarian topics;
  • seven workshops;
  • 22 side events;
  • a busy Speaker's Corner;
  • numerous photo exhibits;
  • a humanitarian village highlighting the Health Care in Danger initiative, volunteerism and shelters in disaster, among other topics.

A noteworthy side event was a special TEDx, which included speakers such as Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Støre, and Alberto Cairo of the ICRC's Orthopaedic Centre in Afghanistan. Another remarkable event was a performance by the world-renowned Japanese Roppongi Choir at Geneva's Victoria Hall.

Council of Delegates

A one-day meeting of the Movement's Council of Delegates, on 26 November, preceded the International Conference. This event brought together all the components of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. One of the main highlights of the 2011 Council of Delegates was a Movement position on nuclear weapons.

Movement position on nuclear weapons

The Council discussed a series of resolutions, including a milestone resolution entitled "Working towards the elimination of nuclear weapons," which defines the position of the Movement regarding the use, production and elimination of nuclear weapons. The resolution appeals to States to ensure that nuclear weapons are never again used, and to pursue with urgency and determination negotiations to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons through a binding international agreement.

In addition, the Council adopted resolutions on:

  • National Societies preparing for and responding to armed conflict and other situations of violence;
  • preserving the historical and cultural heritage of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement;
  • Movement components' relations with external humanitarian actors;
  • the strategy for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement;
  • the revision of National Society Statutes and legal bases.

Please visit our Council resolutions page for the full texts of the resolutions.

The future work of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement

The 31st International Conference was a major multilateral meeting of the humanitarian world. It helped shape global debate on IHL and on strengthening humanitarian action, while demonstrating the crucial humanitarian role of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement worldwide.

A wealth of ideas and new thinking emerged from the debates in plenary, commissions, workshops and side events. The Conference also provided the opportunity for National Societies to meet, to debate and to strengthen their strategic support roles, reinforcing the unity of the Movement despite the complex political and economic dynamics currently shaping the global environment.

The resolutions relating to nuclear weapons, strengthening IHL, Health Care in Danger, and disaster laws are of particular significance because they will help set priorities and lay out the path ahead for the Movement. These resolutions will in turn continue to shape debate on current humanitarian needs.

More concretely, the 377 pledges made by delegates to implement the resolutions will strengthen protection for the victims of armed conflict and disaster. This record-setting number represents a substantial opportunity for future cooperation between States and the Movement. Many states, such as Switzerland, play a leading role in advancing and improving protection and assistance for those in need by co-sponsoring specific resolutions and pledges.

The next International Conference will take place in late 2015, and the next Council of Delegates meeting in 2013. Meanwhile, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement will continue its daily work of saving lives, and of protecting and assisting those in need around the world.