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Strategic partnership to improve the lives of vulnerable people


Reference Document – 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Geneva, 31 October to 6 November 1999

 Final Goal 3.1.   

 Improved health for vulnerable people based on strengthened co-operation between States and National Societies.  

 1.  Some 1.3 billion people currently live below the poverty line and more than 800 million suffer from chronic malnutrition.

Global economic constraints have forced many governments to reduce their investment in the health sector, while rapid technological developments have led to considerable increases in the cost of health services in many cases putting them out of the reach of the poor.

At the same time, however, the health of the population is increasingly acknowledged as being fundamental to national development and respect for human rights essential for development and economic prosperity. Health, including social well-being, is a right which is violated when people are deprived of the means and services necessary for the preservation of health.

In " Health for All in the 21st Century " , the World Health Organisation (WHO), referring to primary health care as outlined by the 1978 Alma Ata conference, writes:

" (It) stated that primary health care was the key to attaining Health for All as part of overall development. This call for [Health for All ] was, and remains fundamentally, a call for social justice " .

The International Federation and each individual National Society must advocate for improved health for al l, particularly the most vulnerable. For this advocacy to yield results, governments need to recognise the role and responsibility of National Societies and draw on their experience by involving them in national policy-making, planning and implementation bodies.

 2.  Governments have overall responsibility for health services in their countries, but a multitude of actors and partners, including the people themselves, contribute to and determine the health of the population. The goal of " Health for All " can only be achieved if all partners work together.

An invaluable asset for the International Federation and National Societies are the millions of volunteers who help people and communities at grassroots level, in both everyday and emergency situations. They represent an enormous resource which should be fully exploited to better assist the most vulnerable populations.

While National Society volunteers and staff are often an indispensable part of national health and social services, they cannot operate effectively without the technical, policy and financial support of governments and/or international organisations. National Societies need this support to extend their services to areas and communities - including deprived areas of major cities - that may otherwise have limited access to services.

 3.  Despite remarkable achievements in the health sector this century, new infectious diseases (HIV/AIDS and Ebola, for example) and re-emerging communicable diseases (such as tuberculosis (TB) and malaria) are gaining ground. Although the populations of industrialised countries are not immune, communicable disease affects to a far greater degree the poor and the disadvantaged. Illiteracy, poverty, malnutrition, poor living conditions, and inadequate or complete lack of health and hy giene facilities and infrastructure, coupled with a lack of information, are all factors increasing a population’s exposure to, and contamination by, infectious disease.

Given the necessary support and resources, the International Federation and National Societies, with their extensive national networks, can help combat disease through education and information programmes and by promoting healthy lifestyles. National Society youth sections are particularly effective in youth peer education to prevent HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. This approach is equally valid for TB, malaria and other diseases which are preventable by vaccination.

On many occasions, the International Federation and National Societies have proven their efficiency in controlling outbreaks of epidemics. They were active recently in Gabon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) when Ebola broke out, in the republics of the former Soviet Union to combat diphtheria, and in a number of countries around the world where populations were affected by epidemics of cholera, meningitis and Japanese encephalitis.

 4.  In most emergencies, the speed of initial response and assistance can make an enormous difference to whether victims live or die and in the magnitude of physical damage to the stricken area. In floods and earthquakes, assistance in the first 48 hours is generally given by members of the community itself or their neighbours. This period represents a window of opportunity when the victims’ survival rates are highest; after this time, chances of survival decrease rapidly as the days pass.

Prompt first aid also plays an important role in saving lives and reducing the risk of permanent and/or debilitating injury in accidents (whether in the home, the workplace or on the road), natural disasters or medical emergencies (e.g., heart attacks). In times of conflict, too, first aid is crucial to the well-being of victims.

First-aid training is an effective, low-cost method of alleviating day-to-day health hazards and accidents which affect the public at large, as well as constituting a timely response. While training can benefit everyone, some segments of the population in particular profit from first-aid instruction, such as motorists, schoolchildren and youth, workers in industry, community volunteers and the police.

National Societies have a long history as the sole or major provider of first-aid training in their countries. They will continue to offer this service, but their work would be greatly facilitated by increased government recognition and co-operation. If first-aid training was included in school curricula at all levels, National Societies would be able to extend their experience and expertise systematically to educational authorities throughout the country. Similarly, making first-aid training a compulsory requirement for obtaining a driver’s licence would ensure that first aid’s preventive lessons would reach a maximum number of people, for their own benefit and that of others in need of help.

 5.  The importance of first-aid training for drivers carries even more weight when one considers that WHO suggests that by 2020 road accidents will be the third-leading cause of mortality, exceeded only by cardiovascular diseases and depression. In addition, World Bank reports indicate that, in the developing world, the costs incurred as a result of loss of life and damage to property and health due to road accidents far outweigh the total amount of international grants and loans received by these countries.

Improving road safety and reducing the number of accidents and their adverse imp act require commitment and decisions on the part of governments. National Societies are well placed to assist governments in formulating and developing policies, and to disseminate the relevant information to the public in general and, especially, all categories of road users.

In the developed world, the increase in the number of vehicles on the road refers generally to a rise in the number of safer cars. In developing countries, however, the increase points to an augmentation in the number of motorcycles and other two-wheeled vehicles which are significantly more dangerous. Poor road conditions, lack of necessary traffic laws, poor enforcement of the existing laws and lack of respect for traffic rules and regulations are major contributors to this situation.

National Societies are valuable partners for governments in disseminating information and education to road users, particularly children – an activity that can help reduce the number of road accidents significantly.

 6.  An essential part of health care is the transfusion of blood and blood products, an established way of treating patients who are deficient in one or more blood constituents.

In this respect, national health policies should include the organisation of blood transfusion services. Where health authorities do not undertake this task and do not delegate it to organisations such as the Red Cross or Red Crescent, commercial blood banks will be established on an ad hoc basis. This may lead to the exploitation of both donors and patients, and to increased risks of transferring diseases by blood transfusion.

Transfusions are an important part of modern health care; vital for the treatment of trauma, problems of childbirth and cancer, they also permit safe surgery. Blood programmes require a serious commitment in terms of financial and human resources. Blood is a resource to be shared with those whose health or life depends on its availability, safety and proper use. This calls for a national blood policy which, ideally, should be supported by government regulations, preferably by legislation governing a national blood programme.

The final responsibility for the blood programme rests with the government. Its support should be non-partisan and offer stability. The national health authority may delegate responsibility for some or all of the activities of the blood programme to one or more government agencies or non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Society, while at the same time respecting their autonomy. In addition, a broadly representative national blood commission is needed to monitor the blood policy.

A formal delegation of responsibilities and a cost-recovery formula should be outlined in a documented agreement or contract between the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the designated NGO.

The selected agency can only accept to be responsible and accountable for providing a blood service if the government allocates sufficient financial and material resources. The agency will also need to guarantee that adequate policies, procedures and personnel are made available to ensure success.

Although it may need substantial resource investment initially, in the long term a financially sustainable blood programme is in the interest of all. However, in some developing countries, the programme may require government subsidies for an indefinite period, putting a strain on national health budgets and difficult to justify in times of economic crisis. This may result in the closure of critical blood programme services.

A blood programme should aim to generate revenue on a cost-recovery basis so that it is self-supporting and financially independent. This will also give the programmes the flexibility necessary to respond rapidly to changing needs.

The aims of a blood transfusion programme should be to provide high quality and safe blood products whenever needed and to manage efficiently its resources and expertise. The vast, community-based network of the Red Cross/Red Crescent is well adapted to promote voluntary, non-remunerated blood donation, collection, processing and the distribution of blood products.

 Final Goal 3.2

 New initiatives to meet the needs of vulnerable people and to reduce discrimination and violence in the community  .  

 7.  The Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent are contained in the Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement adopted by the 25th International Conference in Geneva in 1986. The Fundamental Principles are an essential guide to the Movement in its work and a powerful unifying factor for the Movement.

States parties to the Geneva Conventions have also committed, in Article 2.4 of the Statutes of the Movement as follows:

" the States shall at all times respect the adherence by all components of the Movement to the Fundamental Principles. "  

Beyond the definitions of the relations between the Movement and States and the way the Movement operates, the Fundamental Principles, in particular humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence have a broader consequence for humanitarian action undertaken by other agencies.

The Plan of Action has three paragraphs which particularly address the work of the Movement, in co-operation with States, on the Fundamental Principles. These are discussed below:

 (a)  Emphasis is placed on internal communication of the principles, i.e., communication of the principles within the Movement itself, to Red Cross and Red Crescent leaders and volunteers. Without this understanding of the principles within the Movement, there can be no guarantee that it will act coherently in line with its own fundamental ideas. The principles represent the basis for decisions by Red Cross and Red Crescent staff and volunteers in their response to the needs of others. If the Movement and its members cannot live by their own principles, they should certainly not expect others to respect them or indeed the integrity of the Movement. This internal promotion is therefore the essential first step.

 (b)  External communication, and particularly that aimed at local authorities, is of great importance. The issue here is both communication of the principles and of an understanding of the nature and purpose of National Societies, the ICRC and the International Federation. The understanding by public authorities of the Fundamental Principles as the basis of Red Cross and Red Crescent action is important as it affects their readiness to facilitate the work of the Movement and its access to those in need. Similarly, understanding by authorities and others of the principles – in particular the ideas of impartiality and neutrality – is essential to ensure respect for the organisation and its emblem, as well as for its staff and volunteers in their work to assist the most vulnerable and the victims of conflict and other disasters.

 (c)  The Fundamental Principles, notably the Principles of Humanity and Impartiality, not only provide guidan ce to the Movement in its action, but also provide the basis for the Movement's efforts to inform and influence behaviour in the community, to protect life and health and ensure respect for the human being. Since the last International Conference, the International Federation, together with the ICRC and National Societies, has developed and implemented a " Principles to Action " training programme exploring the understanding and application of the Fundamental Principles in peace time as well as in conflict. National Societies actively promoting the Principles in the community can build bridges between different elements of the community, providing the operational principles and the " space " within which National Societies volunteers and the community can assess needs and define programmes to respond. The value of this work lies not only in the resultant programmes but also in the process through which the community itself learns to assess divergent perspectives and create solutions to the issues it faces.

 8.  States can help the Movement in its communication and dissemination efforts in several ways. They can, in particular, facilitate access to schools and universities to enable National Societies, the International Federation or the ICRC to communicate and disseminate the Fundamental Principles. Here the intent is not simply to develop an awareness of the organisation (what it is and what it does,) but also to expose students to the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent as a basis for discussion of how individuals may act in relation to others in their community. The ideal of respect for the human being and that of not discriminating against others on the basis of nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinion are central to this aspect of dissemination.

Although the focus is on schools and universities, the promotion of the Fundamental P rinciples outside the formal education system is similarly a vital task for the Movement. The use of appropriate technology and outreach to youth and community groups are also important issues for the future work of the Movement.

 9.  The services provided by National Societies in the fields of health and social programmes are a major and well established part of the Movement's contribution. Indeed, in financial terms, the global value and cost of these programmes far exceed that of disaster and conflict programmes. However needs and priorities for such day-to-day services change and it is essential that National Societies review their activities to ensure their continuing relevance in the light of the Fundamental Principles.

In doing this, important and sometimes difficult questions need to be addressed. Do programmes truly bring assistance without discrimination? Do they address issues of prevention as well as alleviation? Are there specific efforts to ensure respect for the human being and to promote mutual understanding, friendship, co-operation and lasting peace among all peoples? The Movement at large and National Societies individually may sometimes take it for granted that all they do is worthwhile as in one way or another all service programmes assist somebody. But the challenge of the principles is more difficult and includes the need to constantly review programmes to assess their relevance to priority needs.

The significance of ensuring that programmes represent the Principles in Action lies not only in the day-to-day context but also in ensuring that the National Society has the credibility and relevance on which to base its action in case of disaster or conflict.

 10.  Most countries are today affected by the tragedy of street children although there are differences in the scale of the problem. It is mainly an urban phenomenon. As experts indicate that the urban population will account for almost 56 per cent of the world's population by the year 2015 (compared to 45 per cent in 1994), an increase in the number of street children can also be expected.

Street children were to be found mainly in South America and Asia, but the phenomenon has now spread to Africa and eastern Europe. Western countries are also affected, although they are more likely to understate the situation.

While initially it was thought that poverty alone forced children to live on the street, the reality is much more complex. Although poverty is an underlying element, it is more often a convergence of a variety of factors, such as family dislocation, domestic violence, breakdown of welfare services, failure at school or sporadic events such as natural disasters or armed conflicts. A child, therefore, rarely moves suddenly to the street but does so gradually. Street children are still too often the victims of ignorance and disinformation, which contributes to the violation of their rights.

The phenomenon of street children affects almost all countries. The children are deprived of many of their rights and hence their future is placed in great jeopardy. They must be helped not only to avoid sliding into delinquency but also to retain their dignity, a basic right to which every human being is entitled. On the basis of the rights of the child, a growing number of National Societies and the International Federation have set up programmes for street children. This action responds to one of the Fundamental Principles of the Movement, namely, the principle of humanity: " to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being. "

To increase the effectiveness of these programmes many National Societies work in co-ordination with other organisations. They al so need the support of governments whose responsibility it is to ensure that all children grow up in suitable conditions. In the case of street children, governments should improve their situation by meeting their special needs and by supporting National Societies and the International Federation to develop their activities and advocacy. National Society action takes several forms. Activities are carried out both in rural and urban areas, particularly in districts where the most deprived families live. Not only the children but the community as a whole are targeted, and action relates to various spheres, such as:

  • health: prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, improvement of hygiene, family care, campaigns to address alcohol and drug abuse;

  • education: parental education, especially for single women with children, literacy campaigns;

  • recreational activities: organisation of cultural or sports events for children at risk;

  • social services: establishment of crèches or nurseries and centres for children at risk; and

  • improvement of public awareness of the plight of street children.

In conflict and post-conflict areas, demobilised child soldiers and displaced or unaccompanied children are often potential street children. National Society and International Federation preventive work includes the psychosocial rehabilitation of children affected by armed conflicts and the reunification of families. Similarly, the creation of adequate socio-economic conditions would prevent street children from becoming child soldiers.

 11.  The work of National Societies in addressing issues of discr imination and violence in the community is of central and growing importance in today's world. Issues here may include the possibility of discrimination against refugees and asylum seekers, of people with illnesses or disabilities, of marginalised or minority communities. A number of National Societies have also begun new programmes to address the issue of violence in the community in co-operation with their government, other community organisations and the media. This represents an increased awareness that violence is an issue on a day-to-day basis in many communities. The implication of this part of the programme is not only about increased individual commitment by the National Societies to efforts in their own communities. It is also about more powerful co-operation within the Movement to share ideas and experience in tackling issues of discrimination and violence in the community. It is thus related to developing the knowledge and skills of the Movement as a whole in how best to respond to increasing challenges of violence and discrimination existing across the world.

 Final Goal 3.3

 Increased National Society capacities and effective partnership with States.  

 12.  Resolution 5 of the 26th International Conference called upon States and the Movement to reinforce their co-operation in a number of ways, specifically in order to increase National Society capacities to provide for the humanitarian needs of vulnerable people.

 (a)  One important aspect of this relates to the development of National Society capacity. For example in health activities, some recent initiatives in Europe and Africa illustrate the benefits of exploring new types of partnerships between National Societ ies and national health authorities. The feature that characterises these new health initiatives is the   strengthening of partnership structures between the National Societies and health ministries through medium- to long-term commitments. These partnerships outline the functions and responsibilities the National Societies agree to undertake, sometimes with the support of the International Federation and/or other co-operating partners. They also aim to more fully integrate the National Society in the national policy dialogue on specific   health   issues.

One example has been the development of a major programme that started in March 1999 to combat the dramatic increase of tuberculosis and associated HIV/AIDS, as well as sexually transmitted diseases in Russia, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine, using the Red Cross visiting nurses in each country as the main implementing structure. This programme has a long-term perspective of 10 to 15 years, with an initial phase of 3 years. Following an extensive period of planning and consultations with national and international agencies, the programme focuses on public awareness raising, care and prevention activities, social support and support to diagnostic facilities. Critical to the success of this venture will be the involvement of individuals and community groups which can be mobilised through and alongside the National Societies, working in close co-ordination with, and guided by the national policy context of, the ministries of health and specialist national and international organisations such as WHO and UNICEF.

The International Federation has also recently launched a new initiative to promote a closer collaboration between National Societies and their governments in Africa in order to address the   priority health problems in the continent. Known as the African Red Cross and Red Crescent Health Initiative 2010 (ARCHI 2010), the intention is to develop a flexible health strategy over the period from 2000 to 2010 to allow ministries of health and the respective National Society to design and implement priority health interventions adapted to the specific needs and capacities in each country. This initiative will be formally adopted at the Pan-African 2000 Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference to be held in Burkina Faso in October 2000. The initiative is already well advanced with National Societies engaging in dialogue and assessments with the International Federation and ministries of health to review current activities and identify future priority interventions in health. 


 (b)  Voluntary service is one of the seven Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. It requires that the Movement does not act in any manner by desire for gain. At an individual level, this spirit of voluntary service is manifested by the enormous amount of work and time that people give in the service of vulnerable people, as Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers. People who volunteer give their time freely, and work without being motivated by personal financial gain. They can work either in a formally organised programme, or by giving help and support informally to relatives, neighbours and other community members.

Volunteering is a valuable activity for all countries and communities for at least four reasons. First, volunteering can be considered as unpaid work, the economic value of which is frequently underestimated or ignored in national accounts. Second, people who volunteer are playing an important role in strengthening the resources and capacities of their communities, by increasing participation and mutual support. Third, formal volunteering carries with it demands for organising and making decisions about work. Participation in the decision-making processes of organised volunteering encourages participation in local democratic structures, and helps to strengthen civil society. Finally, volunteering is itself a socialising activity which helps to integrate and involve volunteers in their communities. This is particularly valuable for volunteers who may themselves be marginalised, excluded or have recently arrived as migrants, refugees or asylum seekers.

Volunteering has, in recent years, been significantly affected by social and political upheavals in the world. Changes to social structures in the North have resulted in people having less spare time, so volunteering is in competition with leisure activities for the remaining free time. In the South, there is an increasing need for people to work voluntarily to support relatives, friends, and community members as a result of natural disasters, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and changes in the provision of health and social services. In eastern Europe and the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) volunteering is no longer a state-sponsored activity, and so people face confusion about the meaning and the nature of voluntary work.

It is estimated that 105 millions people volunteer for Red Cross and Red Crescent societies world-wide. The Movement supports volunteering, is dependent on volunteers, and is shaped by volunteers. Red Cross and Red Crescent societies provide community and health services that are delivered, supported, and, in many cases, managed by volunteers. The Movement provides support to informal volunteering through developing the skills and capacities of volunteers and beneficiaries. An example is the provision of community first-aid training. This increases knowledge and skills within a community, and enables people to support each other outside the formal framework of organised programmes and services. Finally, Red Cross and Red Crescent societies are largely governed by volunteers drawn from local communities. In this way, the National Societies seek to be representative of, and act on behalf of, the communities with which they are working.

Governments can support volunteering by providing an enabling legislative framework in which volunteer-supported organisations can operate, and in which people can volunteer freely. Governments stand to gain most by working with volunteer organisations in a spirit of partnership. Legislation to support volunteering should:

  • allow people the freedom to associate and to form volunteering organisations;

  • offer an appropriate balance between legislation that encourages registration and reporting to guard against corruption and abuse of status and that, at the same time, enables volunteer organisations to form, grow, develop and network; and

  • offer appropriate incentives for legitimate volunteering activities, such as tax concessions or academic credit, in recognition of the value that volunteering contributes to society as a whole;

Some legislation often unintentionally inhibits volunteering. Examples include:

  • legislation that restricts both paid and unpaid work of people claiming state benefits for unemployment; and

  • unnecessarily complex registration, governance or reporting requirements for small volunteer-based organisations with limited resources.

It is in the interests of States, therefore, to seek to promote volunteering activities through an enabling legislative framework.

 (c)  No discussion on the relationship bet ween States and National Societies is complete without looking at financial and funding issues. National Societies are voluntary organisations that have to raise funds from a variety of sources to sustain their activities. In most countries, there is frequently competition for resources between a variety of organisations operating in the voluntary sector. It should nevertheless be recalled that the Statutes of the Movement call upon States in Article 2 paragraph 2 to " promote the establishment on its territory of a National Society and encourage its development " . 

States can, in fact, support the work of the National Society in their countries in a variety of ways. One means quite often used is to provide an annual grant in aid or block grant to the central funds of the society. Another method is to provide more tied funding for specific activities or programmes, sometimes based on specific agreements for certain services carried out. Another approach can be to provide a special fiscal status to National Societies (exemptions, incentives to donors, etc.). A study of such fiscal and other benefits provided to National Societies was published by the International Federation in 1997. The principle of independence indicates that excessive dependence of the National Society on government funding is to be avoided. Nevertheless, a reasonable level of financial support can reflect the value that the government places on the work and services carried out by the society, and serve as evidence of its commitment to fulfil the undertakings contained in the Statutes of the Movement.

Similarly, submitting National Societies to free competition rules may create serious difficulties for them, as it increases their financial burden and limits their ability to undertake their mission. For instance, the submission to the common tax regime or the restrictions imposed internationally on the grant of fiscal incentives may have negative consequences for the possibil ity of a National Society to finance activities for which funding is sometimes difficult to obtain.

It is also important to consider the international dimension of government support to the International Federation's network of National Societies. It will be recalled that Resolution 5 of the 1995 International Conference called upon States to support the development of National Societies as a means to strengthening national capacity to provide humanitarian and development assistance and protection to the most vulnerable. It is noticeable that many of the themes contained in this resolution were to be repeated the next year by development ministers and aid agency officials of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In their 1996 report entitled Shaping the 21st Century: The Contribution of Development Co-operation, these OECD/DAC governments reflected on the lessons of development co-operation over a period of 50 years. A key objective of the review was to help develop new strategies for the 21st century. Reaffirming their commitment to development co-operation for reasons of both moral imperative and self-interest, the governments called for a common commitment to achieve an economic goal of reducing the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by half by the year 2015; and a series of social goals focusing on primary education, gender disparity, infant and maternal mortality, and access to reproductive health services. To reach these objectives, the member countries recognised that a change in approach to development co-operation would be needed. Key elements would include the requirement that development strategies must be genuinely locally owned, that civil society must participate more fully in the development process, and that increased priority should be given to strengthening human and institutional capacities.

Given its mandate to pr omote the development of National Societies, the International Federation invited representatives from donor country government aid agencies and their respective National Societies to an informal meeting in June 1997 to explore possibilities for closer collaboration in the area of the capacity building of National Societies. Twelve National Societies and governments attended this first meeting, with participants generally welcoming the initiative and agreeing to pursue the dialogue, which has come to be known as the " Tripartite process " .

At subsequent meetings in 1998 and 1999, it was agreed that governments and the International Federation shared much in terms of development goals and that it was appropriate to explore more predictable and adequate resources for the International Federation's capacity building activities. As a first step, three National Societies and governments have participated in the joint funding of a pilot project with three National Societies in Africa and Latin America to test this new approach to working together.

The " Tripartite Process " has shown that governments and the International Federation can mutually benefit from enhanced co-operation in development assistance. Government aid agencies support activities that seek to address the full range of economic and social development needs through a variety of bilateral and multilateral channels. National Societies offer a channel of particular value for helping to build a stronger civil society and to enhance the capacity of the most vulnerable in disaster preparedness, health and social sectors. The local knowledge, skills and contacts of the National Society, combined with the support received from the entire Movement, all based upon the world's most universally shared group of humanitarian principles, create considerable potential for the International Federation to play a greater role in international efforts to enhance the development process w orld-wide.

 13.  In common with many other established international organisations, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is concerned with the representation of groups from all sectors of society, in particular women, young people and ethnic minority groups in its governing and operating structures. In particular, it seeks to involve its major stakeholder groups in decision-making, as well as to redress a certain imbalance between men dominating governing structures, while young people and women are often more prevalent in operating structures.

 (a)  Stakeholder participation in decision-making can occur at many levels within a National Society and its programmes. Three are highlighted here.

First, governance, which seeks both to represent major stakeholders and to make strategic decisions in the latters'interests. Members of governing bodies are elected by a broad membership comprising interested people and volunteers. These governors or trustees are expected to make decisions in the interests of at least three stakeholder groups: the most vulnerable people who may be beneficiaries of Red Cross or Red Crescent programmes, the volunteers and staff of the National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society. Effective and accountable governing bodies will be able to better uphold a National Society's legitimacy in the eyes of a country's population and its government.

The second level concerns the management and delivery of programmes. Here stakeholders can be involved in taking and influencing decisions relating to programme design and delivery, and in carrying out the actual tasks required. Programmes will therefore have beneficiaries’ interests as the primary aim, and not just the interests of the most powerful stakeholders. Programme delivery should also be carried out with th e participation of people who are the most appropriate and acceptable to the beneficiaries.

The third level concerns community development programmes. Here it is important that a balance is made between respecting traditional and legitimate forums and procedures for decision-making and, at the same time, seeking to ensure that the views of all sections of a community are represented and involved.

Against this background, National Societies need to assess the extent to which they have fully representative decision-making structures. In particular, women, young people and ethnic minorities are too often under-represented.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement seeks to ensure greater participation and involvement in decision-making at all levels of operations. Two broad strategies can be used to achieve this aim. The first attempts to remove barriers to participation for under-represented groups. The second seeks to actively promote participation of under-represented groups, and ensure that decision-making bodies have an equitable representation of key stakeholder groups. These two strategies are not mutually incompatible. They will, however, have organisational implications for the National Societies that adopt them.

Governments can support greater involvement and participation of young people, women and ethnic groups by:

  • initiatives to promote volunteering as discussed in section 12 above;

  • providing the legislative framework to combat discrimination;

  • increasing support, through the responsible ministries, to formal; and

  • non-formal education of young people in particular; and

  • increasing support to the creation of facilities such as kindergartens and child care systems which would enable women to have the time for participating in different ways in Red Cross and Red Crescent work.

 (b)  Since the last International Conference, the International Federation has begun looking afresh at the subject of National Societies'statutes. With the involvement of volunteers and staff of selected National Societies from all regions, and in co-operation with the ICRC, the International Federation co-ordinated the drafting of guidelines for the review of National Society statutes. These guidelines contain minimum standards as well as sample clauses on the most essential parts of National Society statutes, thereby encouraging the societies to move the agenda to become a modern and well-functioning Society.

Similarly, as requested by the 26th International Conference, in 1995, the International Federation co-ordinated the drafting of a model law on Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies for presentation to the 1999 Conference.

The purpose of presenting a “model law” on Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is to encourage governments and National Societies to give due consideration to the legal aspects of supporting and protecting the functions of the National Societies and, at the same time, provide sample clauses covering the main areas of concern for the Movement and from which to draw inspiration for legislative work.

National Societies have a unique mandate defined by States in the Geneva Conventions and the Statutes of the Movement and other resolutions of the International Conference. In their respective countries, National Societies carry out on behalf of the authorities public functions in the humanitarian field. It is in the general interest of States to effectively protect these functions in order to guarantee that their National Societies remain capable of executing them under the conditions created by those States and laid down in international treaties and the International Conference resolution s, including the Fundamental Principles.

In order to assist National Societies to abide by the Fundamental Principles, a commitment from the public authorities granted under the form of law is essential to ensure e.g. that there is only one Red Cross or Red Crescent Society per country, that it is open to all members of society and has their confidence, that there are no barriers such as taxation to receiving financial support from the public at large, that its name and emblem are not abused, that leading religious, financial or political forces do not influence the Society to favour particular interests instead of the general interest of the most vulnerable, etc.

That has been a sufficient reason for many States to enact special legislation or otherwise accord a legal status to their Red Cross or Red Crescent Society which is distinct from the ordinary legal status of non-governmental organisations.

Such special legislation defines the legal capacity of the Society, its mandate and the principles guiding its activity as laid down in the international instruments referred to above, financial and other support from the State such as tax exemptions on the Societies’ assets and income and fiscal incentives to stimulate donations from the public, etc.

In addition, in order to be recognised by the ICRC in accordance with the Statutes of the Movement, and admitted as a member of the International Federation, it is required that the government recognises its Red Cross or Red Crescent Society as an auxiliary of the public authorities in the humanitarian field so that it is allowed to perform the functions defined for National Societies in the Geneva Conventions. Such recognition should be adopted by the highest possible authority of the government (either legislative or executive branch).

In many countries, the act of government recognition has either been adopted through a law approved by the legislative branch of the government, or is subsequently followed by such a law. It depends, however, on the constitution of each country whether, and in which form, such law may come into being.

This draft model law, based on analysis of existing legislation in force in over twenty countries from all regions in the world, has been established by the International Federation and the ICRC in the framework of their Joint Commission for National Society Statutes. It has been discussed with members from governance and management, and lawyers, from the National Societies of Ghana, Uganda, Surinam, United States, China, Germany, Denmark, United Kingdom, Austria, Sweden, Bulgaria, Russian Federation and Belarus.

It is the intention of the International Federation and the ICRC to further refine this model law, after the 27th International Conference, in conjunction with experts from interested governments and National Societies. Firstly, it will be appropriate to review the draft model law in the light of the assessment of the Societies'legal base as part of the in-depth study about the contemporary relationship between States and National Societies requested from the International Federation and the ICRC in the draft Plan of Action; secondly, the model law is in the first place intended as a tool for use by governments. As a consequence, it would be appropriate to consult with experts from interested governments in order to take into account “user feedback” as well as the diversity of legal systems.

The International Federation will take the lead in this regard in co-operation with the ICRC and interested National Societies and with the latter’s support in the framework of the institutional development component of its Strategic Plan 2000-2010.

A review of the evolving relationship between States and National Societies should not be limited to legal aspects concerning the stat us of National Societies. Attention should also be given to the raison d'être of National Societies, i.e., their programmes and activities when they are undertaken in conjunction with the public authorities at the national or local level. It should be recalled that Article 2, paragraph 3 of the Statues of the Movement call on States to " (...) support, whenever possible, the work of the components of the Movement. The same components, in their turn and in accordance with their respective statutes, support as far as possible the humanitarian activities of the States. "

 14.  Section 12 (b) above discussed the significance of volunteering and the importance of States providing support to enable the development of volunteering.

 (a)  Faced with the significant social and political changes, Red Cross and Red Crescent societies need to understand better the challenges they face with regard to volunteering. There are, broadly, two sets of challenges. The first is in relation to the nature and purpose of volunteering work: why it is useful and appropriate in different economic, social and political structures, and how it fits in with the strategic goals of the Movement. The second set of challenges is in relation to the management of volunteer-involving programmes: given the social and political changes, how can volunteers be better recruited and supported?

In this context, research and policy development is required so that the International Federation and National Societies develop a better analytical understanding of the challenges they face, and of the strategies, skills, structures, activities and organisation cultures they must foster to meet the challenges of modern volunteering.


 (b)  The nature of the relationship between States and National Societies, which was reviewed at the last International Conference in 1995, is unique and offers many benefits to both parties. Over the years, National Societies'auxiliary but independent status has allowed them to play a significant role in supporting the priority humanitarian needs of their country's citizens in times of peace and war. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the new millennium, it is important to re-examine this relationship between the State and National Societies in order to adapt to the changing needs and realities of the world.

The concept of National Societies as " auxiliary to public authorities in the humanitarian field " , as defined in the Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, has a very clear and specific historical origin. Originally, it was in the narrow domain of relief to wounded and sick soldiers in the field that this concept was used. This was the very idea of Henry Dunant – to have relief societies assist the medical services of armed forces. There was no question of letting such private associations operate on the battlefield without the control of the military authorities, for security reasons and to avoid abuses by third parties and the enemy.

Over time, the functions of National Societies have evolved. Very soon after 1863, the date of the creation of the first Red Cross Societies, they ceased to be limited to relief to wounded and sick soldiers, and even primarily to war-related tasks. Today, most activities undertaken by National Societies relate to social and health programmes and to relief tasks which are not directly linked to conflicts. However, today, at the end of the 20th century, the concept of " auxiliary " still remains valid for the activities of National Societies, as many elements clearly i ndicate.

The concept of " auxiliary " is enshrined in the Statutes of the Movement, in particular the definition of National Societies and the conditions for their recognition by the ICRC, and their subsequent admission as members of the International Federation. These texts establish the requirement for a legal act adopted by the State and recognising the National Society, as well as other fiscal provisions or elements linked with the formal relations between States and their National Society. Moreover, this " auxiliary role " is also reflected in the special relationship between States and National Societies'programmes, which often benefit from the support of the public authorities. On occasions, certain major functions have been delegated to National Societies by the State, on the basis of a special agreement. Examples include blood transfusion, ambulance services and nurse training.

The Movement has long seen the possible difficulties which could derive from this auxiliary role. In particular, soon after the Second World War, several International Conferences put emphasis on the need for National Societies'independence vis-à-vis their own government. This need for independence has been reaffirmed by many resolutions of the International Conferences. It has also been recalled by the Fundamental Principle of independence, enshrined in the Statutes of the Movement. These Statutes stipulate that any State party to the Geneva Conventions has, by adopting the Statutes of the Movement, committed itself to respect at all times the adherence of the components of the Movement to the Fundamental Principles.

This balance between the need for close relations between a State and the National Society of its country, on the one hand, and the need for independence of the National Society (in particular for choosing programmes and beneficiaries), on the other hand, has to be maintained. Unfortunately, the crite ria for assessing whether this independence is fully respected are not always clear. Though certain aspects may vary according to the socio-economic and cultural situation of the country, there are certainly some elements which can be clarified, in particular those dealing with the legal base of National Societies.

 (c)  The International Federation’s General Assembly took the decision, in 1997, to start the process of developing a new strategic plan and appointed a Strategic Planning Advisory Commission that was given a dual mandate:

to involve National Societies throughout the International Federation in an evaluation of the evolution of the International Federation during the 1990s and how useful the Strategic Work Plan for the Nineties was in that evolution, and

to prepare a new Strategic Plan which adopts a larger concept, covering all Red Cross and Red Crescent work, and not just re-wording of existing objectives and activities.

Participation and dialogue have characterised the process of building " Strategy 2010 " , that will be presented to the forthcoming General Assembly. The dialogue has involved International Federation governance, leaders from all National Societies, Secretariat and ICRC staff, both in Geneva and the field, and leaders from over 30 peer organisations, all of which contributed their view through interviews, surveys and discussion groups. An Independent Reference Group with evaluation and strategic planning specialists from World Bank, United Nations agencies, DAC-OECD and academic institutions provided advice and monitored the rigour of the process.


" Strategy 2010 " , to be adopted at the General Assembly in October 1999, focuses on improving the lives of vulnerable people: " Strategy 2010 " aims to make Red Cross and Red Crescent programmes more responsive to local vulnerability. Recognising the risk of spreading capacity too broadly and thinly, " Strategy 2010 " proposes to focus on programmes where the Red Cross/Red Crescent can add greatest value. Four " core areas " for programme development, closely related to the main themes of their Programme of Action, are identified to ensure unity of action. These " core areas " are " the Promotion of the Movement's Fundamental Principles and humanitarian values " , " disaster response " , " disaster preparedness " , and " health and care at the community level " . Focusing will result in better quality services, sharper identity and clearer advocacy positions, through which the International Federation will contribute to a safer world with greater respect for the human being, reducing and alleviating suffering and improving health and care in the community. To achieve this, " Strategy 2010 " addresses the need to build stronger National Societies and to develop co-operation within the International Federation network and with external partners.



1. Even before 1868, a prohibition of poison weapons had been part of ancient laws of war in India, Greece, Rome, and the Middle East based on their excessive effects. The 1863'Lieber Instructions'to Federal forces in the US civil war also " wholly excluded " this means of warfare on the same basis.

2. Declaration Renouncing the Use, in Time of War, of Explosive Projectiles Under 400 Grammes Weight, St. Petersburg, Russia.

3. 1977 Protocol I Additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, Article 35(2).

4. Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons , Advisory Opinion, International Court of Justice, The Hague, 8 July 1996, No. 95, para. 79.

5. Both terms are translations from the single French concept of maux superflus contained in the 1899 and 1907 Hague Regulations (art. 23e). The French term contains both elements of the English terms.

6. This term is translated from the original French propres à causer which is the sole authentic version of the 1899 and 1907 Hague Regulations (art. 23e). The term was incorrectly translated into the English " calculated to cause " in the 1907 Hague Regulations (IV) which introduced a subjective element of the weapon designer's intention. This error was corrected when the original " of a nature to cause " was restated in 1977 Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions, Article 35.2.

7. 1977 Protocol I Additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, Article 36.

8. As indicated in section C of this paper