The 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent

02-12-2011 Overview

Convening under the banner of "Our World. Your Move – For Humanity," the 31st International Conference met in November 2011 in Geneva with the overall objective of strengthening international humanitarian law and humanitarian action. It focused specifically on strengthening legal protection for victims of armed conflicts, strengthening disaster law, reinforcing local humanitarian action and addressing barriers to health care.


The draft agenda builds on the achievements and follow up of the 30th International Conference declaration ‘Together for Humanity’ and other resolutions adopted in 2007. The Conference will be called upon to examine challenges and trends revealed in the follow-up made by States and Movement components on resolutions and pledges made at the 2007 Conference.

Convening under the banner of "Our World. Your Move – For Humanity", the 31st Conference recognises evolving contemporary humanitarian challenges and the responsibility of all Conference members to address these. The overall objective of the 31st Conference is to strengthen international humanitarian law (IHL) and humanitarian action by focussing on four areas:

  • Strengthening legal protection for victims of armed conflicts- IHL;
  • Strengthening Disaster Law;
  • Strengthening local humanitarian action;
  • Addressing barriers to health care.

Prior to the International Conference, the Movement components will also meet at the Council of Delegates (26th November). This is responsible for proposing candidates to chair the Conference and also adopts its provisional agenda.

See also:

Background document

1. Strengthening legal protection for victims of armed conflicts

The 31st International Conference will present an opportunity for States party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Movement to exchange views on the need to strengthen IHL. Two reports will form the basis for the debates: "Strengthening Legal Protection for Victims of Armed Conflicts" and "IHL and the Challenges of Contemporary Armed Conflicts".

The first report summarizes the main conclusions of an ICRC internal study aimed at 1), identifying and understanding more precisely the humanitarian problems arising from armed conflict, and 2), determining whether the existing legal framework offers adequate answers to the humanitarian problems or whether strengthening IHL is required.

The study outcomes show that IHL offers, on the whole, an appropriate framework for regulating the behaviour of parties to armed conflicts. However, the study also showed that better protection for persons affected by armed conflict requires addressing gaps and weaknesses in the law through further normative strengthening in four specific areas, namely:

  • protection of persons deprived of liberty;
  • the implementation of IHL and reparations for victims of violations;
  • the protection of the natural environment;
  • the protection of internally displaced persons.

This report will also present the results of bilateral consultations conducted with a number of States on the conclusions of the study and possible follow-up to it. These States indicated that priorities must be established and that further dialogue on strengthening IHL should focus on the protection for persons deprived of liberty and implementation of IHL. This will form the basis for the ICRC's action in the framework of the 31st International Conference..

The second report will present 1), an overview of some of the main current challenges to IHL (non-international armed conflict, multinational operations, law of occupation, new technologies, terrorism, etc.), 2), the ICRC's legal reading on some of these issues and 3), current or future ICRC activities aimed at clarifying or improving the implementation of IHL.

Lastly, a four-year action plan for IHL for the period 2011-2015 will be submitted to the Conference. This action plan will be structured around different topics with the overall aim of improving respect for IHL.


Useful documents:

IHL and the Challenges of Contemporary Armed Conflicts - 2003

IHL and the Challenges of Contemporary Armed Conflicts - 2007

Strengthening legal protection for victims of armed conflicts: the ICRC study on the current state of IHL

Strengthening legal protection for victims of armed conflicts: states' consultations and way forward

2. Strengthening disaster law

The Conference will seek to further strengthen the implementation of the "International Disaster Response Law (IDRL) Guidelines” and other measures with a view to diminishing the human impact of disasters and improving the efficiency of relief operations to help those affected.

Participants will be invited to debate three related topics at a plenary session: 1), implementing the IDRL Guidelines (Guidelines for the domestic facilitation and regulation of international disaster relief and initial recovery assistance); 2), strengthening domestic legislation for disaster risk reduction at the community level, and 3), addressing regulatory barriers related to meeting the emergency and transitional shelter needs of people affected by disasters.

The International Federation will present reports on the use of Guidelines; on some best practices in developing effective laws on disaster risk reduction, with a particular focus on the role of communities and impact at the community; and finally, on issues and emerging best practices in addressing the regulatory barriers to meeting emergency and transitional shelter needs. It is expected that International Conference participants will share their own experience and develop strategies for collaboration in the future to find creative solutions.

Useful document:

Guidelines for the domestic facilitation and regulation of international disaster relief and initial recovery assistance

3. Strengthening local humanitarian action

At the 30th International Conference, Movement members, in particular the National Societies with their volunteers, were widely recognized as valued partners of the States, through their response to the major contemporary humanitarian challenges identified in the declaration "Together for Humanity".

The 31st Conference coincides with the tenth anniversary of the first “International Year of Volunteers” and the Conference will focus on the conditions in which volunteering takes place, considering that Red Cross/Red Crescent volunteers are on the front lines, providing help in times of need - often at personal risk.

During the Conference, States and National Societies - which are auxiliaries to their governments – will be encouraged to continue their dialogue so as to better define this relationship and to clarify and consolidate the areas in which they cooperate.

The debate will also aim at developing concerted strategies or partnerships aimed at building a culture of non-violence and peace; it will highlight the role of National Societies as local humanitarian actors playing a key role in this field at community level, including in education.

Participants will be invited to take all remaining legal and procedural steps necessary to ensure that their National Societies have the necessary access to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants. They will also be invited to explore opportunities to address xenophobia and the stigmatization of migrants in public opinion, as well as to alleviate and prevent suffering among vulnerable migrants.

4. Addressing barriers to health care

Respecting and Protecting Health in Armed Conflict and Other situation of violence - Health Care in Danger

Insecurity of health care in armed conflict and other situations of violence is one of the biggest and yet under-recognized humanitarian issue today. Attacks on health-care facilities and personnel, delays of ambulances at checkpoints or looting of clinics are often perceived by the media and therefore the public as inevitable armed conflict war casualties.

The real and long term impact of such violent events on health care personnel or infrastructures is also largely ignored by the media. One act of violence that kills a health-care worker or damages a hospital has a knock-on effect on many more people who would normally have been treated by this person or in this hospital; this usually goes unreported. The Movement is well placed to urge all those concerned – States, health-care communities, weapon-bearers and members of civil society – to better protect access to health care in armed conflicts and other situations of violence.

The International Conference is also expected to serve as a milestone in a 4-year process towards the development of practical solutions to the problem of insecurity of health care in armed conflict and other situations of violence.

Inequitable access to health: Example of maternal, newborn and child health

Another issue identified by the Movement concerns inequalities in maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) as one of the most important barriers to health care, requiring urgent action. The Conference will provide a unique opportunity for States and the Movement to debate how these two main issues significantly limit the ability of individuals and communities to lead healthy lives, be protected from disease and receive life-saving medical care.