Next week, representatives of nearly every government in the world, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, and partner organizations will gather in Geneva, Switzerland for the 32nd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.
While it might sound similar to a lot of big gatherings that regularly take place in Geneva, this one is quite unique in that it brings together the world's largest humanitarian network with almost every country on the planet to set a common humanitarian agenda for the next four years.
That's a pretty big deal (and a formidable undertaking) when one considers the immense needs, challenges, and suffering stemming from armed conflicts, disasters, and other crises around the globe.
It's been 148 years since the first International Conference took place, and one could safely argue that the need for unified commitment and consensus among diplomats, policy makers, and aid agencies to address today's humanitarian challenges is more pressing and important than ever.
Conflicts are becoming more asymmetric and protracted, while climate change is having an irreversible effect on environments and in many cases those same conflicts. Unprecedented numbers of men, women, and children are fleeing violence, traveling for hundreds of miles and risking their lives in search of safety. Humanitarians, health care workers, and volunteers also risk their lives daily in responding to these crises -- whether they're driving across front lines to bring help to communities cut off by fighting or responding to the outbreak of disease, such as the Ebola crisis earlier this year.
Sexual violence, human trafficking, extreme poverty, overcrowded prisons, natural disasters, urban violence, landmines and the explosive remnants of war... the list of issues that desperately need to be addressed goes on and on.
Government and non-government actors must continue working together to find innovative ways to respond to these challenges, while ensuring that the laws of war are not only kept up-to-date but are also followed and respected. That's why the 32nd International Conference is not only extremely relevant but essential in today's world.
Learn more below about the workings of the Conference and its history, as well as what's on the agenda for next week.
What is the International Conference & How Does it Work?
The International Conference is a global forum bringing together all States (countries) party to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols, and all components of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Through the Conference, States, as parties to the Geneva Conventions and partners in humanitarian action, undertake joint commitments with the Movement to advance humanitarian action.
The Conference meets every four years in order to take decisions in the form of resolutions. Each member has one independent vote (i.e., each State and each component of the Movement). In practice, resolutions are generally adopted by consensus. Ongoing dialogue and consultations with and among Conference members helps secure positive consensus outcomes to advance specific humanitarian objectives.
The Conference is conducted in accordance with the seven Fundamental Principles of the Movement –humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. All Conference participants must respect the Fundamental Principles; all documents presented must conform to the Principles; and all debates must be free from political, racial, religious or ideological controversies.
The Conference is preceded by the Council of Delegates, comprising all components of the Red Cross Movement, which adopts the provisional agenda of the Conference and proposes the Conference officers for election.
Who attends the Conference?
States Parties to the Geneva Conventions: All States party to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols are represented at the conference. Switzerland, as depository State of the Conventions, maintains the list of these States.
- The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement: The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is the largest humanitarian network in the world. Its mission is to alleviate human suffering, protect life and health, and uphold human dignity especially during armed conflicts and other emergencies. It is present in every country and supported by millions of volunteers. It has 3 componants:
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): Established in 1863, the ICRC is at the origin of the Geneva Conventions and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. It directs and coordinates the international activities conducted by the Movement in armed conflicts and other situations of violence.
189 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies: The 189 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are recognized and act as auxiliaries to their national authorities in the humanitarian field. They provide a range of services including disaster relief, health support and social programs. In wartime they assist the civilian population and support the medical services of the armed forces.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies: The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the coordinating body of the National Societies. Its general objectives are to inspire, encourage, facilitate and promote the humanitarian activities carried out by National Societies
Others: A range of other humanitarian and development actors also participate as observers, including regional and international organizations, the United Nations and several of its specialized agencies, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, and others.
What's on the agenda for this year's Conference?
The 32nd International Conference will mark the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the Fundamental Principles of the Movement: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality.
These seven principles define the identity and distinctiveness of the Movement and help safeguard our capacity to perform our humanitarian mission. The application of the Fundamental Principles in our daily work is instrumental to our privileged access to people in need – they allow us to reach those that others cannot, and the principles are fundamentally lifesaving.
2015 Conference topics:
1. Strengthening international humanitarian law protecting persons deprived of their liberty (i.e. detainees, POWs, etc.)
For more on the conference, visit the official website.