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Overview of the workshops


Ms Marie Gervais-Vidricaire, Rapporteur of the Conference, - 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Geneva, 2 to 6 December 2003

 (Original French)  

Mr Chairman,

The workshops were first organized during the 27th International Conference, and they met with immediate and enormous success. This new form of dialogue at the International Conference served to create a space for debate in an informal framework and to discuss the Conference topics in greater depth.

It is in that context that the co-organizers of the 28th International Conference again invited the participants to set up a series of workshops. Of the many proposals made, the Standing Commission chose eleven.

Before presenting the specific content of the discussions, I should like to underscore that the level of participation in the workshops was exceptional and the interest aroused in the topics dealt with immense.

Although they are intended to supplement the official deliberations of the Conference, the workshops do not aim to reach a consensus or to produce a resolution. The brief report I will now make on the outcome of the workshops is therefore purely informative and reflects the main points raised during the debates.

This year, six workshops dealt with topics relating to armed conflicts and the implementation of international humanitarian law. The five other workshops discussed matters of internal interest to the Movement.

Workshop 1 dealt with international humanitarian law and the challenges of contemporary armed conflicts. The main points of discussion were the relevance of international humanitarian law in both internal and internationa l armed conflicts and its complementarity with other branches of the law protecting the human being, even in situations pertaining to the “war on terror”. It is now accepted that most of the rules relating to the conduct of hostilities are part of the international customary law applicable in non-international armed conflicts as well. The study prepared by the ICRC will help clarify the scope of these rules and furnish a reply to the questions being raised. Statements were also made concerning the search for mechanisms able to ensure enhanced respect for the rules applicable to armed groups. The inquiry and monitoring mechanisms provided for in existing instruments were reviewed, in particular the mandate of the International Fact-Finding Commission and the role it could play.

The workshop on children and armed conflict identified new challenges and opportunities relating to the protection and rehabilitation of children involved in armed conflicts, notably through a more streamlined and better coordinated effort by the humanitarian community. The achievements and limits of the efforts made to deal effectively with child protection issues were discussed, the participants pointing to the need on the one hand to train humanitarian personnel accordingly, and on the other to develop operational strategies incorporating criteria for staff selection and responsibility. It was acknowledged that humanitarian action and a rights-based approach were complementary. All the participants recognized that for rehabilitation programmes to be successful, the local communities had to be closely involved and technical assistance provided for programmes and for the development of national legislation. Lastly, the participants explored the reasons for which adolescents volunteered for armed groups, namely war, poverty, lack of education and jobs and household violence.

Biotechnology was discussed during a workshop the highlighted the risks and responsibilities linked to adva nces in the life sciences, and the relevant rules of international humanitarian law. The measures required to prevent the life sciences from being used for hostile purposes were identified. The participants applauded the initiative of the ICRC, which had suggested that a web of prevention be established to alert governments and make them aware of the risks, rules and responsibilities in this field, including by proposing the adoption of a ministerial declaration. The specific measures put forward include, in addition to those I have already mentioned, disease surveillance to facilitate prompt detection, the promotion and dissemination of the rules of humanitarian law within the life science community, and professional codes of conduct. The workshop participants were unanimous in recognizing that the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has a major role to play in this field. The workshop also discussed the need to review weapons in the light of international humanitarian law by putting in place effective review mechanisms and national implementing measures.

The workshop on small arms and human security covered three main topics: the role that the Movement and other humanitarian players can potentially play to limit the availability and misuse of small arms, the progress made in this respect and the possibilities for action in the coming years. The direct – the number of persons who died violent deaths, for example – and indirect – such as domestic violence – impact of small arms availability were also discussed. A series of very sophisticated studies have been conducted in this field and it is urgent to translate their conclusions into action, in particular by adopting legal norms, removing arms from circulation and controlling arms transfers. The impact of the availability of small arms on the security of humanitarian workers was discussed, and the agencies invited to support the work of organizations such as the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and the Small Arms Surve y. Tangible measures were proposed, and the discussion concluded with the crucial need for political will to act and for partnership between civil society and governments to address all dimensions of the problem. 

The domestic implementation of the Statute of the International Criminal Court was discussed during a workshop that examined the obligations arising from the Statute that had to be incorporated into the internal legal order. The experiences of a number of countries were presented, in particular the Netherlands, Canada, Germany and Slovenia. Representatives of the Prosecutor provided an update on the establishment of the office and underscored the importance of the principle of complementarity with national jurisdictions. The ICRC reminded the participants of the technical assistance it provides to encourage the national implementation and promotion of the Statute. Another point discussed was the immunity of humanitarian workers. Lastly, it was observed that the Statute’s implementation was complex but achievable and that a wide range of possibilities existed in terms of technical assistance and the exchange of information.

 (Original English)  

The workshop on the operational challenges in carrying out humanitarian activities in a changing environment pointed out that independent humanitarian space has been reduced as State actors take advantage of political and military crises to position themselves while delivering humanitarian assistance. The independence of the Movement is being challenged. Radical non-State actors are rejecting humanitarian assistance and taking humanitarian organizations as soft and visible targets. The Movement needs to give a coherent and coordinated response to these challenges. It also needs to uphold the independence of its humanitarian action. Nati onal Societies should operate within the Fundamental Principles both in the national and international context. Furthermore, the Movement must improve its communication and develop a better dialogue with the players in conflict and disaster situations.

The workshop on National Societies in civil-military cooperation focused on assistance for and protection of the victims of armed conflicts, internal violence and disasters. The current state of discussions on this topic was reviewed in the light of case studies, which revealed that the key players involved had different ways of approaching and understanding this issue. The participants identified the need for training and clarity on the respective roles and interrelations of civil-military cooperation. The possible effects of the changing environment on the auxiliary status of National Societies were also discussed. Furthermore, the workshop revealed that the Movement’s operational priorities were not the same as those of military players. During the plenary discussion, the participants emphasized the importance for the Movement to act in a coordinated way. They also pointed out the need to provide training for both military and Red Cross and Red Crescent personnel in order to guarantee mutual understanding and respect for their respective mandates and functions. The discussion showed that there is room for improvement in civil-military cooperation, by means of dialogue and the exchange of information.


The workshop on HIV/AIDS identified four key issues:

- the need to build on the strong progress made in the past two years and for HIV work to become part of the Movement's core business;

- the Movement’s need for long-term donor commitment if it was to get involve d in treatment delivery and support (thanks to its grassroots presence the Movement can ensure that the marginalized are not left out);

- the need to match prevention to the type of epidemic occurring within a country. People living with HIV/AIDS should be included in this process. This means, for example, that a harm reduction approach for work with injecting drug users is required in many countries;

- the need for National Societies to explain their humanitarian work to the general public and to fight their own stigmatization as a result of their involvement.

The workshop on the role of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in disaster risk reduction provided a key opportunity to share views and experiences on the importance of disaster risk reduction and of the relevant links with governments in the work of the Movement’s components. Case studies were presented to illustrate the experiences of, opportunities for and obstacles to more effective risk reduction. During the workshop, the participants reached a consensus on key issues of disaster reduction and the generation of greater commitment at the local, national, regional and international levels. A number of recommendations came out of the workshop.

The workshop entitled, “Where disasters meet: similarities and distinct factors involved in National Society preparedness to respond in contexts affected by both conflict and natural disasters " , reviewed the challenges and opportunities faced by National Societies. Using case studies and examples from participants, the workshop identified priority areas for helping National Societies to face the challenges of meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in these situations. The priorities identified were:

- a harmonized preparedness strategy to equip National Societies most effectively;

- clarity and openness in addressing the need to maintain b oth independence and the role of the National Society as an auxiliary to the public authorities in their humanitarian services;

- the need for a flexible response from donors and from the Movement’s components to ensure an effective and harmonized response.

Finally, the workshop on civil society participation in international public/private health partnerships discussed partnerships and how to reduce vulnerability to disease and disasters. The participants stressed the importance of involving all stakeholders in the development of a common strategy. The Movement can be a leader in public health and the International Federation can serve as a channel between the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations and NGOs in countries where country coordination mechanisms are not in place.

 (Original French)  


Mr Chairman, I would like to conclude by thanking and congratulating the organizers of the eleven workshops, both the governments and the National Societies and observers, for the topics they proposed and the outstanding work accomplished. ]