It is once again an honour for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to be able to address the Inter-Parliamentary Union's Assembly.
The relationship established at this international level benefits both Parliaments and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world.
One of the main reasons for this mutual benefit is clear from your decision to debate the importance of the interplay between Parliaments and civil society. National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are not, strictly speaking, civil society institutions. This is because they are established by you - by Parliaments - as a consequence of the obligations accepted by governments when becoming party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
But, although they are not civil society institutions they share many of the attributes of those institutions. They are independent of government, and they are based in the communities they serve.
They are also auxiliary to the public authorities of their countries, and as such maintain a dialogue with governments based on the acknowledgement by governments of this status. Their interplay with parliaments has the same kind of base, but it is potentially much more far-reaching. The community base of National Societies is reflected in the fact that the International Federation brings together the world's largest humanitarian network and the world's largest network of volunteers.
We count about 97 million volunteers within the network. They bring their talent and their time to the direct service of the most vulnerable people in their countries, and also work in partnership with other organisations and governments whenever crisis or emergency strikes. They also fill an essential gap to provide service to disadvantaged people everywhere.
This is one of the main reasons why the International Federation joined forces with you and the IPU and with UN Volunteers to launch a joint booklet providing an information note for parliaments on Volunteerism.
This booklet, launched in 2003, stands as a strong signal of the way parliaments can work for the benefit of civil society and other organisations working at the community level in their countries.
We have worked with your Secretariat to distribute it worldwide, and it is our hope that parliaments as well as National Societies will soon be reporting on the value it provides to the work we both do in support of the vulnerable.
The booklet envisages that there will be occasions when parliaments will seek the advice and testimony of National Societies or the International Federation as they do their work. We will support that whenever the occasion arises, but I will now turn to one recent example of such action which links directly to the dramatic emergencies which have challenged our planet this year.
It concerns the request of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the United States Senate that the International Federation testify at a hearing it conducted on Hurricane Katrina.
This was done with the support of our Permanent Observer Mission to the UN in New York, and it provided an occasion for the International Federation to bring some vital aspects of community level disaster response and recovery action to the attention of the Senate.
The International Federation and its member National Societies around the world is working closely with the international community and the affected countries to help address the calamities which have recently struck the United States, Guatemala and Central America and Pakistan, India and South Asia. This is in the same year as a tremendous effort to address the impact of the Asian earthquakes and tsunamis which struck on 26 December 2004.
We are ready, if requested, to bring our knowledge and experience to the benefit of parliaments in the affected countries, and of course to support the work of the IPU as it supports your work. This is in line with the comments made earlier in this debate by the Greek Parliament on the work of civil society and volunteers in disaster situations.
This, in our view, will complement well other initiatives aimed at better linking parliaments to civil society, everywhere in the world.