By Giovanni Zambello in Saint Petersburg, Russia
The auxiliary role is one of the defining characteristics of the Red Cross Red Crescent’s relationship with governments. It is also, arguably, one of the least well understood aspects of the Movement. On 17 May, 2012, Bekele Geleta, the Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), was in Saint Petersburg, Russia, to sign an agreement with the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Member Nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States which will strengthen the ability of national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies to fulfil their mandate in the humanitarian field. The agreement gives the IFRC a voice in the development of legislation covering disaster law, migration and the laws which govern the protection of Red Cross Red Crescent emblems and the status of the society within a country.
Mr Geleta said in an interview that it was vital that participants in the Assembly understood the importance of the auxiliary role to National Societies. “In every country, governments create the Red Cross Red Crescent by an act of parliament or governmental decree, and each society should be seen as the result of a partnership between a small volunteer group and its respective government,” he said. “It is a civil society organisation created by law as auxiliary to its respective public authorities.”
This special status means that a National Society can become a permanent fixture within the civic life of a country, and can work within all parts of the society to address the needs of the vulnerable. “We can organize our volunteers and engage younger generations, but we can also work to influence decision-makers and opinion-shapers, and set the agenda for business leaders and academics,” Geleta said. “We are a unique organization that is known across the world; in every country, in every city, in every village. The Movement is respected, accepted and recognised for its work supporting vulnerable people.” This, he said, is the privilege that the auxiliary role confers, but it must work within the frame of the Movement’s Fundamental Principles. “We have grown through our Principles: we set humanitarian values, humanitarian standards and, together with governments, the ‘rules of war’.
Of course, the world is constantly changing. It is here, Geleta said, that the auxiliary role really comes into its own, but it too must evolve to suit the situation. “There is a need for adjustment – adaptation – not just for us, but for the whole world. But in conflicts and emergencies, we are on the front line and all parties recognize the mission of National Societies to bring humanitarian help to all vulnerable people.”
There are massive challenges ahead, not least the rapid evolution of technology which connects people more efficiently than ever before. This, though, also raises opportunities to engage with the next generation of humanitarians, so long as the free flow of information is guaranteed. “Younger generations are much more active, learn faster and communicate differently, and we have to be able to link them to the mission of the Red Cross Red Crescent,” Geleta said. “Imagine the value that they bring to National Societies: they can be fast-thinking and engaged in finding a future for themselves around a reliable and credible cause.”
For those nations that have yet to enact Red Cross Red Crescent laws, there is a stark warning: “We can say that the National Societies of the countries where there is no Red Cross Red Crescent law are National Societies at risk. There is no legal base, and no legal presence to legitimize their work,” Geleta said. However, he said strong laws in this area also benefit governments, who gain access to a treasure trove of talent, dedication and potential. “If triggered, the capacity of all these volunteers can contribute to changing the economy and strengthening social cohesion, in the interests of the country, of the community, of younger generations and finally in the interest of the Red Cross Red Crescent itself.”
There are already changes afoot in the region. “If we look at the scenario of the nine CIS member states, we see that Tajikistan already has a Red Crescent law,” Geleta said. “Let us just imagine the potential multiplier effect that one successful example can bring on other eight countries, including Russia. And let us just imagine the tremendous humanitarian advancement that their respective National Societies could benefit from if their auxiliary status was formalized.”