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7th European Regional Conference of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

20-05-2007 Statement

In this address made in Istanbul, 20 May 2007, Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), states that the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement needs to define clear responsibilities for each of its components to remain efficient, notably in the field of migration.

Mr. Deputy Prime Minister,

Mr. President of the Turkish Red Crescent Society,

Mr. President of the International Federation,

Mr. Chairman of the Standing Committee,

Dear Delegates,

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. It is a pleasure to be among so many esteemed colleagues and friends from the Movement.

First of all, I wish to express my gratitude to the Turkish Red Crescent Society for hosting this important conference in Istanbul. I am pleased to be in Turkey, a nation whose founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk once said: " All of humanity should be viewed as a body, and each nation as one of its organs. The pain felt in a single fingertip affects the whole body. "

Maybe we would add today " humanity should be viewed as a body and each culture and civilisation as one its organs " .




Many developments have taken place since the last Regional Conference was held in Berlin in 2002. The 28th International Conference adopted an ambitious Agenda for Humanitarian Action. And following the 29th International Conference, we have an additional emblem. Three new National Societies have been recognized by the ICRC as components of the International Movement: the Magen David Adom in Israel, the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the Timor-Leste Red Cross. In addition, the Red Cross of Montenegro and the Red Cross of Serbia are now National Societies in their own right.


The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is evolving. More and more National Societies are working abroad, especially in neighbouring countries. All the more we have to make sure that our efforts are coordinated and our resources wisely used. To meet these challenges, the 2005 Council of Delegates in Seoul adopted the Supplementary Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Seville Agreement; they are being implemented. The ICRC is fully committed to work according to these Supplementary Measures, with a strong operational focus on co-operating with the host National Society as its primary partner. Our senior staff has received special training intended to ensure that these measures are incorporated into the routine management of operations. Strengthening the ICRC's ability to engage in operational partnerships with host National Societies is an institutional priority for 2007-2010. Such partnerships must be of specific value for concerted humanitarian action in the field.

"Rapid deployment of our joint operational capacities is an additional – and crucial – factor in making a real difference in the lives of those affected by conflict." 

Identity matters, for humanitarian actors too. And it is not enough to be sure of your own identity. You have to project a clear identity as well. Why is this so important? Today a large variety of actors respond to humanitarian needs and the risk of confusion between them is high. The ICRC stands for independent and neutral humanitarian action. I am convinced that the credibility and predictability of these Principles contribute to the ability of the components of the Movement to help those most in need, especially in time of conflict. Last year in Lebanon, for example, the ICRC and the Lebanese Red Cross Society managed to function where other humanitarian actors faced great difficulties. They did so by adhering to an exclusively humanitarian agenda – and one that was perceived as such.

Rapid deployment of our joint operational capacities is an additional – and crucial – factor in making a real difference in the lives of those affected by conflict. To do the utmost in order to take into account the competences and contributions of participating National Societies is of particular importance to us in this delicate phase.

For some time now, we have been working intensely on various aspects of the relations between governments and the components of the Movement, in particular the auxiliary role of National Societies – an issue which will be high on the agenda of the 30th International Conference in November 2007. Clarification of this role, wherever it should not yet be clear, must be warmly welcomed.

At the 2003 International Conference, the member States of the European Union made the pledge to promote international cooperation of all political, military and humanitarian actors with the objective of ensuring respect for international humanitarian law. The European Union also declared its willingness to contribute to raising public awareness in relation to international humanitarian law. No doubt that other States and National Societies should join in similar commitments. The International Conference to be held in November will give them an opportunity to do so.

The Guidelines on Promoting Compliance with International Humanitarian Law adopted by the member States of the European Union in 2005, whose purpose is to set out operational means of action for the European Union to promote compliance - also by third parties - with international law, are very much in line with t his pledge.

The 30th International Conference will discuss migration as one of the four main humanitarian challenges of our time. While migration is certainly not a new phenomenon, it has grown in scope and its impact on today's world is tremendous. Many European National Societies are responding to needs, either by providing direct services for migrants or by providing general support for vulnerable groups. When reading the report on the recent Oslo Round Table on migration I noted with interest the fields of activities covered by National Societies, each one having its own objectives.

"The value added of partnerships within and outside the Movement will not least depend on a common understanding by what we mean by migrants when aiming at strengthening partnerships." 

As for the other challenges we will deal with at the International Conference, the Movement's challenge consists in demonstrating in a convincing way the value its own network can add in dealing with the humanitarian consequences of migration. The value added of partnerships within and outside the Movement will not least depend on a common understanding by what we mean by migrants when aiming at strengthening partnerships. Some participants said in Oslo, and rightly so, that there is a need of definition for predictability, to create common ground, and because different categories of people are protected by different legal instruments. The distinctions made by former resolutions of the Movement – for example, Resolution 10 of the 2003 Council of Delegates - between IDPs, refugees and migrants remain useful, also for protection purposes, in order to clearly establish respective responsibilities.

The components have various contributions to make in the field of migration, re-establishing contact between relatives separated by mig ration being one example. The Movement's global strategy for restoring family links will be proposed for adoption at the forthcoming Council of Delegates this November. The ICRC seeks to support National Societies from the region by mobilizing the specific expertise it has acquired through the work of the Central Tracing Agency and through its protection and detention activities around the world. To this end, it actively participates as an observer in the Platform for European Red Cross Cooperation on Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants. In addition, it has given technical support to National Societies involved in providing services to detained migrants. On the basis of this work, the ICRC Protection Division is currently drafting guidelines for National Society visits to detained migrants.

A new 10-year strategy for strengthening the Movement's worldwide tracing network will be submitted to the Council of Delegates for approval in November this year. The strategy is based on the work of regional preparatory conferences involving all National Societies and will propose enhanced methods, tools and resources for maintaining high-quality family-links and tracing services in situations of conflict, migration and natural or technological disaster.


Europe today is largely a peaceful continent. The conflicts that raged in the Balkans and the Caucasus during the 1990s have died down, even if tensions remain and important political issues have not yet been resolved. The ICRC maintains delegations in these regions, mainly to deal with issues relating to people detained or gone missing in connection with these conflicts. Helping to strengthen the National Societies of these countries is also an important task.

Before finishing my short intervention, I am eager to thank for the precious support the ICRC enjoys from many of the National Societies present here and the good cooperation wit h the International Federation.