Red Cross fights 'new barbarism'
Sunday 03 December 1995
The end of the Cold War has posed huge challenges for those involved in humanitarian aid; ethnic conflicts have revealed the impotence of the United Nations in curbing atrocities; economic depression has put strains on donors and the uncontrolled spread of light weapons has intensified civil wars.
Challenges from new humanitarian organisations and from the UN threaten as never before the identity and stability of the 132-year-old movement. The Red Cross emblem itself is ceasing to be universally respected.
In the past few years, the Red Cross has had to address accusations of secrecy, arrogance and isolationism. Its various bodies have attempted to be more open during the tenure of Cornelio Sommaruga, an assertive former Swiss economics minister, as president of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The conference agenda is clear, coherent and urgent. Many discussions will concentrate on issues affecting civilians: rape, famine and the deliberate destruction of sources of water. The "humanitarian deficit" - the growing gap between needs and the means to satisfy them - will be debated, as will the diminishing respect for humanitarian law. Some governments will be asked to put their names to proposals critical of their own behaviour.
The Red Cross was born on the battlefield of Solferino in June 1859 when a young Swiss banker, Henri Dunant, wandered among the wounded and marvelled at the callousness of governments in doing so little for casualties. In August 1864, a first Geneva Convention laying down the rules for the care and protection of victims of war was signed by the big powers. These have been extended and strengthened from time to time.
Today the Red Cross is still a private, independent Swiss institute, relying on funding from governments, with its headquarters in Geneva, presided over by Swiss nationals. Neutrality and confidentiality are at the heart of its reputation. It has forged a unique role with prisoners- of-war, political prisoners and the monitoring of international humanitarian law.
Political difficulties, as ever, will arise. Will Islamic governments agree to sit down with the representatives of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia? Will the Palestinians find an acceptable place beside the US deputation?
Whatever the outcome of individual resolutions and disputes, anything other than an endorsement of the Red Cross movement is unthinkable. Without it the future for military and civilian casualties of conflicts looks grim.
- 1 Which country would be hardest to invade?
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 3 Royal baby girl born: Duchess of Cambridge's second child will be a princess thanks to Queen
- 5 Teen suffers embarrassing wardrobe malfunction in front of deputy PM
Which country would be hardest to invade?
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
UK weather: Severe weather warning for snow and torrential rain over bank holiday weekend
Royal baby girl born: Duchess of Cambridge's second child will be a princess thanks to Queen
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
Indonesia executions live: 'Hysterical' families heard prisoners being shot dead by firing squad
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...
£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...
£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...
£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...