The international community must redouble its efforts to tackle intolerance and discrimination at both global and local levels, the UN Human Rights Commission was told today by Juan Manuel Suarez del Toro Rivero, President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Suarez del Toro attacked the stigma and discrimination that so many people living with HIV/AIDS are forced to confront in their daily lives. He also defended the rights and needs of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants stating that "no matter what the cause, vulnerability calls for a sympathetic response. That is our basic stance."
He vowed to mobilise the combined strength of the Federation's 178 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies with 100 million volunteers and members to promote and protect the rights of the most vulnerable and to improve co-operation with international organizations such as the UN Human Rights Commission.
The Federation through its members is already promoting a global initiative for local action to promote tolerance, combat discrimination and achieve respect for cultural diversity. "We trust that the Commission, in this session, will consider it appropriate to encourage all governments to take the national debate outside their capitals, to the suburbs and to the countryside, where the problems are often more acute."
As evidence of the Federation's commitment to human rights protection he recalled the pioneering work of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, France, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Philippines, to promote peace and defuse ethnic tensions.
Linking fundamental human rights and dignity with socio-economic factors, Suarez del Toro also called for the fight against extreme poverty to be at the top of the international agenda. A major focus of the next International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, which includes all States party to the Geneva Conventions, will be the protection of human dignity, he said. The conference will take place in Geneva in December, 2003.
President Suarez del Toro also had discussions with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR), Mary Robinson. They discussed concrete measures for co-operation between the two organisations in particular in follow-up to last year's World Conference on Racism in Durban.
The Federation has agreed in principle to provide feedback to the UNCHR on draft guidelines on human rights and poverty. Robinson also requested practical examples from National Red Cross and Red Crescent societies of programmes which address discrimination at community level in order to connect with the work of the newly created Anti-Discrimination Unit at the UNCHR.
They also had a discussion on the situation in the Middle East and in particular the difficulties facing the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and Magen David Adom in carrying out their humanitarian mission in the present difficult climate.
The President also had a brief meeting with Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, at which they discussed Federation initiatives on tackling stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS. They agreed to meet again in Barcelona in July at the International AIDS Conference.