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The four-yearly International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent


Extract from XXVI International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent

 The Conference: its role and purpose  

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement's mission is to mobilise the resources of civil society to come to the assistance of victims of war and to provide humanitarian assistance to vulnerable people worldwide. At the same time, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies must maintain close relations with their governments, in particular with the military, in order to ensure that their services are accepted. Furthermore, in order for Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers to be respected and protected on the battlefield, their activities have to be recognised and endorsed by international treaty.

Hence the dual character of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement: it is an institution born of a private initiative, but which maintains close working relations with governments.

This also explains the dual role of the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. It is the only event that brings together delegations both from all of the Red Cross and Red Crescent institutions (the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the National Societies) and from the States party to the Geneva Conventions. At the same time it provides a non-political forum for dialogue on issues of common interest.

What are these issues?

One of the main points of common interest is the development of humanitarian law. Historically, all proposals for the revision of the Geneva Conventions, as well as drafts of new humanitarian treaties, have been submitted to the International Conference, which has endorsed them before forwarding them, with its recommendations, to a diplomatic conference empowered to adopt them.

There is no doubt that the International Conference has been able to give decisive impetus to this process. Humanitarian law would not be what it is today without the contribution of the International Conference.

Yet there is no point in adopting humanitarian law treaties if they are not put into practice. The International Conference is therefore also a forum for dialogue on implementation of and respect for humanitarian law. Through its resolutions, the Conference has often been able to exert effective pressure in order to restore respect for humanitarian law and put an end to violations it has denounced.

Another purpose of the discussions at the International Conference is to strengthen cooperation between the Red Cross and Red Crescent institutions and the States, by specifying not only the services that States are entitled to expect from these institutions in their capacity as auxiliaries to the public authorities in the humanitarian field, but also the support that the institutions can expect from the governments.

Relief operations in the event of disaster or armed conflict, assistance to refugees and displaced people, public health and disease prevention, blood donation, social welfare activities, respect for the independence and integrity of National Societies, financing of humanitarian institutions, cooperation with the United Nations and its specialised agencies - all these are areas on which the International Conference has had an imp act.

Finally, in its capacity as " supreme deliberative authority " , only the International Conference has the power to adopt or modify the rules that govern the Movement. With the proclamation of the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 1965 and the new Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in 1986, the Conference has bestowed on the Movement a structure which has enabled it to turn resolutely towards the future.

International Conferences have sometimes been beset by political wrangling which has poisoned the atmosphere and paralysed their work. This can only be deplored.

The incidents - which have attracted much publicity - should not obscure the considerable achievements of these Conferences. Humanitarian law and social welfare activities would not be what hey are today without the impetus given by the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, which remains the international forum for humanitarian issues.

Humanity owes it a great debt.

 Important Conferences of the past  

 1867, Paris: The first-ever International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent was held barely four years after the founding of the ICRC and the first National Societies. It brought together the ICRC, 16 National Societies and representatives of nine European States.

 1887, Karlsruhe: The IVth International Conference was mainly concerned with the need to make the Geneva Conventions known to members of the armed forces and to ensure respect for the red cross and red crescent emblems (the latter having been used s ince 1876 by the Ottoman Society for Relief to Military Wounded and Sick). The Conference strengthened the ICRC's mandate and set out the conditions for the recognition of new National Societies.

 1912, Washington: In a resolution that foreshadowed the forthcoming era, the IXth International Conference established the respective wartime responsibilities of the National Societies and the ICRC in providing protection and assistance not only for the wounded and sick but also for prisoners of war.

 1921, Geneva: The Xth International Conference gave a mandate to the National Societies and to the ICRC to assist victims of civil war and internal disturbances.

 1928, The Hague: The XIIIth International Conference adopted the " Statutes of the International Red Cross " , thus providing the Movement with a structural, operational and legal framework.

 1938, London: On the eve of the Second World War, the XVIth International Conference requested - in vain - the convening of a Diplomatic Conference to draw up a new Geneva Convention affording better protection to civilian victims of war.

 1948, Stockholm: At this the Movement's first meeting in the aftermath of the war, the representatives of 50 governments, 52 National Societies and the then League endorsed the ICRC's proposals for the revision of the three existing Geneva Conventions and the adoption of a fourth Convention, the last for the protection of civilians in wartime. These four Conventions were adopted by the governments the following year at a Diplomatic Con ference in Geneva.

 1952, Toronto: The XVIIIth International Conference revised the " Statutes of the International Red Cross " .

 1965, Vienna: The XXth International Conference solemnly proclaimed the seven " Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross " that guide its work in all circumstances (humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity, universality).

 1969, Istanbul : The Conference adopted the " Principles and Rules for Red Cross Disaster Relief " . It also gave the ICRC a mandate to begin drafting new instruments to adapt humanitarian law to new forms of armed conflict.

 1973, Teheran: Two draft Protocols additional to the Geneva Conventions were presented by the ICRC to the XXIInd International Conference, the year before the beginning of the 1974-1977 Diplomatic Conference.

 1977, Bucharest: The two main themes of the XXIIIrd International Conference were the reappraisal of the role of the Red Cross, and the Red Cross as a factor of peace. The Conference adopted measures to expedite international relief, which were proposed by the then League in conjunction with the United Nations Disaster Relief Office (UNDRO).

 1986, Geneva: " Humanitarian mobilisation " was the main theme of the XXVth International Conference, in view of the deteriorating socio-political situation in the world. The Conference also adopted the revised " Statutes of the International Red Cross " , which thus became the Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

 The Participants  

The International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent is the supreme deliberative body for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. It generally meets every four years.


The members of the International Conference participate in its deliberations. They are the:

 International Committee of the Red Cross

 International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

 more than 160 recognised Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

 more than 180 States party to the Geneva Conventions

Each of these members has one vote.





Observers may attend the International Conference but are not entitled to vote. They represent over 60 governmental, non-governmental, regional and international organisations that have working relations with the Movement or that have a specific interest in humanitarian concerns or humanitarian issues. Societies not yet recognised are also invited to be observers.

 The proceedings  

After an opening ceremony, the International Conference meets in a plenary session to elect its Chairman, Vice-Chairmen, Secretary General and two assistants to the Secretary General. Following the plenary session, delegates separate into two Commissions.

Each Commission may propose resolutions for the Conference as a whole to adopt. These resolutions determine the States'and the Movement's approach to the global humanitarian issues of the day.

 Who's who  

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which gave rise to the Movement, is an independent humanit arian institution. As a neutral intermediary in the event of armed conflict or unrest, it endeavours, on its own initiative or on the basis of the Geneva Conventions, to bring protection and assistance to the victims of international and non-international armed conflict and internal disturbances and tension.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (International Federation, formerly the League) promotes the humanitarian activities of the National Societies among vulnerable people. By coordinating international disaster relief and encouraging development support, it seeks to prevent and alleviate human suffering.

The National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies embody the work and principles of the Movement in more than 160 countries. They act as auxiliaries to the public authorities in their own countries by providing a range of services from disaster relief to social assistance and first-aid courses.

The Standing Commission of the Red Cross and Red Crescent comprises nine members: two from the ICRC, two from the International Federation and five from National Societies elected by the International Conference. The Commission meets at least twice yearly. Its main task is to prepare the International Conference.

The Council of Delegate constitutes the assembly of the representatives from the ICRC, the International Federation and the National Societies. It meets every two years and is often asked to give an opinion on policy and subjects of common interest to all components of the Movement. It also prepares procedures for the International Conference and proposes candidates for a number of Conference posts (Chairman, Vice-Chairmen, Secretary General, Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen of the Comm issions and their rapporteurs to the plenary sessions).