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Protecting human dignity: a simple aim but a huge challenge

02-12-2003 News Release 03/01

Geneva, 02.12.03 - The international community urgently needs to act to stop the erosion of human dignity across the world in armed conflicts, natural disasters and communicable diseases. This is the theme of the 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent that opened in Geneva today.

The conference brings together delegates from 181 national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies and representative of those states that are signatories to the Geneva Conventions, now 191.

The conference opened with speeches from HRH Princess Margriet of the Netherlands and the Federal Councillor Micheline Calmy-Rey, head of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

Princess Margriet has chaired the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement's Standing Commission for eight years. " This Conference can send a strong message to the world on the protection of human dignity " , she reminded the participants. " Together we can make a difference to the lives of persons affected by armed conflicts, disasters and diseases. We owe this to the victims. "

Debate at the conference will focus on improving the protection of people in armed conflicts and reducing the risks and vulnerabilities to disasters and disease through a renewed partnership between states and the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. The Red Cross and Red Crescent believes there needs to be greater responsibility among states to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law. Safe access for those providing emergency aid and protection to people affected by armed violence and disaster must be a matter of priority. The world community needs to mobilize to reduce violence, discrimination and vulnerability.

The discussion on improving protection in armed conflict, particularly for civilians, will centre on the special problems of missing people and their families, and the human cost of the use of certain weapons. Debates on reducing the risks from disasters and disease and particularly their impact on vulnerable people, will include international disaster response law, and reducing the stigma and discrimination that affects people living with HIV/AIDS.

The conference aims to agree a declaration that will encourage individual and collective commitment to an " Agenda for Humanitarian Action " – a series of concrete goals the participants commit themselves to achieve over the next four years. 

 For further information, please contact:  

 Jemini Pandya, International Federation, Geneva, tel. ++41 79 217 33 74  

 Ian Piper, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++41 22 730 20 63, ++41 79 217 32 16, or ++41 79 203 43 38  

 Antonella Notari, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++41 22 730 22 82, or ++41 79 217 32 80