It is a great honour for me to take the floor for the first time in this Commission since the accreditation of a Permanent Observer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to the United Nations Offices in Vienna. It is also particularly valuable that this first occasion should be to address an item of such core importance to the International Federation and its member National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in virtually every country in the world.
The International Federation was accorded Observer status at the United Nations General Assembly by resolution 49/2 in 1994, and since then has had the capacity to take part in any meeting held within the United Nations system. This capacity seats us as an "Other Entity" with approximately the same rights and responsibilities as specialised agencies and intergovernmental organisations. It also recognises, as was explicit in the General Assembly resolution, that our member National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies function in their own countries as auxiliaries to the public authorities in the humanitarian field, with special dialogue and access opportunities, and a special relationship to their governments. They discharge this, of course, within the framework of the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and safeguard their independence, neutrality and impartiality while doing so. Within that they are motivated by the Fundamental Principle of Humanity, and its overarching priority for work for the most vulnerable.
The International Federation itself is well-known for its work in most major UN centres. The priorities are set forth in the main strategic documents of the organisation, but it is worth noting briefly that they include, at the top, health and care, with a special concentration on HIV/AIDS. It is from this starting point that we speak to this item today.
The International Federation has studied carefully the main background document for this item [E/CN.7/2004/3], and considers that it has many valuable points which deserve to be taken further both by the Commission and by member States. We believe that it demonstrates well the scale of the catastrophe which the world faces because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the impact of the associated diseases. We also consider that it illustrates well the nature of the threat posed in many parts of the world by transmission modes of relevance to this Commission. The estimate that there were an estimated 12.6 million injecting drug users in the world at the end of 2003, and that 10% of people living with AIDS are injecting drug users speak for themselves.
This means, as the International Federation has said at a number of other meetings in different parts of the world, and in technical and community-level fora, that Aids must be addressed as an issue of relevance for all communities, and all countries, everywhere. It is not a problem with an impact only for one region, although there are some lessons which can be taken from region to region in the hope that they can provide answers.
The International Federation has also provided expertise to a number of other international and national agencies which, until recently, have not fully appreciated the nature of the threat the pandemic poses for them. It is now pleasing to note that in the almost 3 years since the United Nations Security Council first identified HIV/AIDS as a topic of concern to it, more and more agencies are taking their responsibilities seriously.
One such, of relevance to this debate because of the largest injecting drug use concentrations, is the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. The International Federation spoke for the first time to that Commission this year, in recognition of the threat the spread of the pandemic poses to the economies of many European countries and their region. The statement was delivered by the President of the Swedish Red Cross, who is also the President of the European Red Cross and Red Crescent Network on Aids and TB (ERNA).
It may interest members of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs to note that ERNA [http://www.ifrccee.org/ERNA/erna.html] is headquartered in Bratislava, and it is our intention to develop a working relationship between ERNA and UNODC. This would, in our view, help ODC obtain the community-level expertise it values while at the same time forging a better link between UN programs managed by ODC with the training and other programs supported by ERNA. Indeed, if it were to interest members of delegations to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the International Federation would be pleased to facilitate a visit to activities which take place in association with ERNA.
The International Federation sees ERNA and regional activities elsewhere in the world as having a primary role in spreading messages about preventive action and community involvement in programs with the groups most at risk. Our experience is growing, and we are now in a position to share it with other interested partners. One such partner, with which we have a collaborative relationship, is UNAIDS. UNODC is also a collaborative partner with UNAIDS, and we see scope for developing our own working relationship from that base.
In developing that relationship, we are anxious to ensure that our partners have access to the value of the work of our member National Societies. There are many examples, and we will not describe them all, but some of special note are worth bringing forward because they disclose the nature of the work we do, and the way Governments support that work - some to the point that they acknowledge that the work cannot be done without the involvement of the resources of the Red Cross Red Crescent network.
The Croatian Red Cross is an excellent example. Its Harm Reduction program was started in 1998 at the request of the Ministry of Health, and sits within the National strategy for drug problems. Its main features are needle exchange programs, and the distribution of needles and syringes for active IDUs, the distribution of condoms and the provision of specific information to target groups. The program is managed with the support of trained volunteers drawn from those sectors of the population able to win the trust of the target groups. It is matched by dissemination programs to the wider community but targeted to specific groups including police, medical professionals, politicians, educators, parents and the army. It is, among other things, about the demystification of street drugs and drug-related problems.
From another angle, we should mention the work done by the Italian Red Cross to provide support and assistance to persons dependent on drugs. The main vehicle for this effort is managed through the Villa Maraini Foundation, established in 1976 by Dr Massimo Barra. Its activities cover many points of potential interest to the Commission, UNODC and others, but because of the breadth of the work of UNODC we will make a special reference today to its Prison Project, through which prisoners are visited upon their request, and then provided with information, legal aid and psychological support. We would be happy to provide further information on the work of the Foundation and the Prison Project, if this would be of value.
Although the problem of injecting drug use is more often debated in Europe than elsewhere in the world, it is the major source of infection in all regions beyond Africa. It is one of the reasons why the problem is so acute among young people - most IDUs are aged between 15 and 24. This is why, for example, the Pakistan Red Crescent Society has developed an energetic program at the community level on the subject. Red Cross Societies in other Asia-Pacific countries are also actively engaged, and the International Federation intends to make this a substantial focus for its interventions at the 60th Session of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, in Shanghai.
The cases just noted stand as good examples of best practice in terms of cooperation between governments and their Red Cross Societies. They also show that, because of the outreach possible through the Society such projects can make a major contribution to the reduction of the threat posed by the associated problems, everywhere in the world, of stigma and discrimination.
Stigma is an issue which we were glad to see highlighted by the Executive Director of UNODC in the background document. In our view he is entirely right to describe HIV/AIDS as a human rights crisis, and we fully share his view that it is necessary "speak up ... and tear down the walls of silence, stigma and discrimination".
The International Federation has a profound concern with the issues surrounding stigma and discrimination, and we work with a number of international and national partners on the subject. It is one we also tackle regionally working with the cultures and behaviour patterns which are often best understood through approaches which come as close to the communities involved as is possible. In Vienna, we are now working to develop a closer relationship with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in recognition of the work that it does on the subject, especially through its Warsaw Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. We see some special opportunities for collaboration with ODIHR on the issue of Aids stigma and discrimination.
The work of the International Federation and its National Red Cross and Red Crescent Society members is amply described in our website, and I will not go further on the issues now, except to commend to all Commission members and observers the manual on Harm Reduction which has been prepared by the International Federation and used by National Societies and their partners (including Governments) around the world [http://www.ifrc.org/what/health/tools/harm_reduction.asp].
If there is a principal message we would like to send at this Session of the Commission it is that governments - as is clear - cannot defeat HIV/AIDS without the active involvement in the planning and delivery of programs of their National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society and wider civil society. What we bring to the table, and to the commitment we share to fulfil the Millennium Development Goals, is a worldwide National Society network and almost 100 million volunteers dedicated to our Movement's Fundamental Principles. What you bring is the power and resources of government.
In December 2003, at the 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva, governments and National Societies together dedicated themselves to the joint pursuit of all available means to address and defeat the Aids pandemic. We look forward to the challenge of joining forces with UNODC and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs to making a specialised and critical input from Vienna, and we trust you will share this enthusiasm for what is a very difficult but necessary job.