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The Power of Humanity
                         
The 32nd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent took place on 8-10 December 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland under the central theme of Power of Humanity: the Fundamental Principles in action.  South Africa played a significant role in the deliberations at the International Conference. Ambassador NKM Seleka, Director of Humanitarian Affairs at DIRCO, chaired 2 Plenary Sessions of the Commission on Health Care in Danger: “Continuing to protect the delivery of health care together”.

H.E. Ambassador NKM Seleka, Director of Humanitarian Affairs for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of South Africa, (pictured centre) chaired the “Health Care in Danger: continuing to protect the delivery of health care together” Commission. Photo Credit: ICRC

In his comment about the importance of the 32nd International Conference, Ambassador Seleka reinforced the relevance and applicability of the Seven Fundamental Principles of the Movement in modern day situations of conflict and emergencies, namely humanity, impartiality, independence, neutrality, voluntary service, unity and universality. He further reiterated that the Conference stayed true and committed to the “power of humanity” and “voluntary service” which was the rallying cry for this milestone event. In this context, the Henry Dunant medal Humanitarian Awards granted for voluntary service to the volunteers who worked tirelessly to contribute to the healthcare needs of the Ebola patients and survivors was most humbling.

The International Conference since its inception has become a unique global and non-political forum which takes place every four years.  It brings together representatives from States which are party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions as well as the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (the Movement) to debate important humanitarian issues and to adopt resolutions that guide its participants in carrying out humanitarian action. Comprising a mix of thematic meetings, debates and exchange of best practices, the Conference also considered contemporary humanitarian problems such as migration, the safety of health care workers during armed conflict and the effects of climate change.  It was attended by representatives of 169 States, 185 of 190 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Federation and the ICRC, as well as 101 observers in an effort to find a common vision for future humanitarian action.

The International Conference is the supreme deliberative body for the Movement where States Parties to the Geneva Conventions exercise their responsibilities under the Conventions in support of the work of the Movement and its humanitarian action in support of the most vulnerable.  After much deliberations and discussions, which included following up on the implementation of resolutions adopted at the 31st International Conference in 2011, ten resolutions where adopted by consensus.  These resolutions will serve as a continuous guide to Governments in carrying out their humanitarian obligations:
•    Resolution 1: Strengthening international humanitarian law protecting persons deprived of their liberty.
•    Resolution 2: Strengthening compliance with international humanitarian law.
•    Resolution 3: Sexual and gender-based violence: Joint action on prevention and response.
•    Resolution 4: Health Care in Danger: Continuing to protect the delivery of health care together.
•    Resolution 5: The safety and security of humanitarian volunteers.
•    Resolution 6: Strengthening legal frameworks for disaster response, risk reduction and first aid.
•    Resolution 7: Strengthening the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement response to growing humanitarian needs.
•    Resolution 8: Implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding and Agreement on Operational Arrangements dated 28 November 2005 between the Palestine Red Crescent Society and Magen David Adom in Israel.
•    Resolution 9: Dissolution of the Augusta Fund and allocation of the capital to the Florence Nightingale Medal Fund. Revision of the Regulations for the Florence Nightingale Medal.
•    Resolution 10: Power of Humanity.

Key messages that emerged from the important Health Care in Danger Commissions were:  
•    Examples mentioned during the Commission prove that the protection of health care is possible when a number of prevention and mitigation measures are implemented by different actors at their level.
•    The protection of health care needs to be tackled from different perspectives, as violence against health care is a problem with compound roots.
•    Relevant actors should continue to exchange on their experiences and practices at the field level and learn from each other.
•    Concerted action of different actors at the national and international level can make the difference for the protection of health care.

The Commission emphasized that HCiD should be a concern of everybody whether affected or not, as IHL safeguard our humanity, and our collective commitment to this body of law should contribute in preserving the good of humanity. Notably, the intervention by Dr Otmar Kloiber, Secretary-General of World Medical Association (WMA) reiterated similar sentiments with his comments that “the WMA is part of the community of concern”.

In this regard, Ambassador Seleka said that it is absolutely important that from here the Red Cross/ Crescent Societies, National Governments and Regional Economic Communities should individually and collectively develop and submit pledges that rally and mobilise people to move away from being simply communities of concern, to the communities of action by creating a concerted awareness campaign as the HCiD is matter of life and death.

Members of the Conference further submitted pledges, which are voluntary commitments made by Governments, National Societies and observers to carry out measurable actions and activities in support of the Conference themes, as well as the implementation of the resolutions adopted during the Conferences.  A total of 137 pledges have been deposited to date and Conference participants may still register pledges until the end of March 2016.           

South Africa is an active player in the promotion and implementation of IHL.  This is evident through the ratification and domestication of numerous IHL treaties such as the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols which became a part of South African law through the 2012 Implementation of the Geneva Conventions Act.  In addition, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation of the Government of South Africa (DIRCO) co-hosts the Annual Regional Seminar on International Humanitarian Law with the ICRC. The Regional Seminar has been held for the past 15 years and is attended by more than 15 Governments in Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands, who come together to discuss the state of IHL compliance in their countries.

In light of its commitment to IHL, the South African Government deposited three pledges on disaster risk reduction and management as well as promoting compliance of IHL in the region at the 32nd International Conference.  For the first time a Regional Pledge on Strengthening IHL was lodged by SA based on the outcomes of the Regional Seminar, and it is expected that all 15 participating Governments will sign onto this. The South African Red Cross Society, which plays a key role in public health service provision and emergency response in cooperation with the Government, also submitted a pledge on engaging the community to take steps to strengthen their resilience and contribute towards sustainable development.   

In the next four years until the next Conference in 2019, delegations will now take measurable actions to implement resolutions taken at the 32nd International Conference and past Conferences.  

(Website of the 32nd International Conference:  http://rcrcconference.org/)

 

 

 

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