International March against Stigma, Discrimination and Homophobia

Published: 2 August 2008

Speech by Dr Raymond Forde, Vice President of the IFRC, at the First International March against Stigma, Discrimination and Homophobia, in Mexico City

I am proud to represent the worldwide membership of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies at this first International March against Stigma, Discrimination and Homophobia.

The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has been standing up for human dignity for almost 150 years, since our founder Henry Dunant mobilised volunteer assistance for the wounded on the Solferino battlefield in northern Italy.

He and those heroic volunteers brought assistance and support to the needy, regardless of the uniforms the injured soldiers were wearing.

Today the Red Cross / Red Crescent still stands for human dignity by promoting humanitarian values without any form of discrimination.

The promotion of humanitarian values is core business of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and their tens of millions of volunteers worldwide.

We stand with you today against stigma, discrimination and homophobia giving dynamic expression to the Fundamental Principles of the world’s largest humanitarian network.

You see us on television almost every day responding in emergencies and disasters, and you most likely also see us mobilising health programmes at community and household level where you live.

We stand for inclusion and respect, and though National Societies vary enormously around the world according to national and local circumstances, we all respond according to need in cases like these, without discrimination.

In relation to ending homophobia I can share with you that the Inter-American Conference of the Red Cross in 2007 resolved to respect sexual diversity.

I am proud that my region took this proactive step as a way to make it clear that the Red Cross and Red Crescent truly open to all.

We can all only benefit from such diversity and social inclusion, and we should all encourage similar proactive action elsewhere.

Today the Red Cross / Red Crescent still stands for human dignity by partnering with PLHIV. At the time of the Barcelona AIDS Conference in 2002, the President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Mr. Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro Rivero wrote to all Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies, saying ‘the HIV crisis is a profound opportunity to define much of the Red Cross Red Crescent mission for the current age.

Associating with PLHIV and other vulnerable groups may mean we attract stigma to ourselves, but we have to be strong and live up to our humanitarian values in response.

Our willingness to stand together with the vulnerable will do much to reverse the tide of ignorance, fear and inhumanity.

That position is just as relevant today. It is a position we take to all governments and all international organisations.

It is a position which National Societies use in their work with governments, using their status as auxiliaries to the public authorities in their countries to impress the message on all their governmental counterparts.

The IFRC obtained the status of a UNAIDS Collaborating Centre against stigma after our President’s message in 2002.

This has brought into our campaigns some of the world’s most distinguished personalities, each with a personal magnetism capable of reaching out to people vulnerable to HIV and its consequences.

The partnering has an enduring quality, transcending generations and social groups: football fans around the world still see our ‘Stamps’ anti-stigma campaign featured on the famous footballer Michael Ballack’s website.

This is just one big example of work which must be carried out at the local level if it is to succeed.

Many of you will have seen examples of this success from the way our colourful ‘Come Closer’ materials have been adapted for country level campaigning with local PLHIV organisations.

“Come Closer” carries several messages. Simple common sense, scientifically proven facts, and the importance of understanding the many ways in which vulnerability to HIV needs to be addressed.

Today the Red Cross / Red Crescent’s dedication to human dignity includes insistence on a humane response to those addicted to drugs.

Imprisonment and inhumane treatment of injecting drug users help no one.

These people are in need of care and compassion, and real alternatives. Instead, they routinely face harassment, stigmatization, violence and social exclusion.

Forcing people who use drugs further underground and into situations where transmission of HIV is more likely, and denying them access to life-saving treatment and prevention services is magnifying a public health disaster.

This happens even though the evidence from scientific and medical research on best practices and cost benefit analyses is overwhelmingly in favour of harm reduction programming.

This is programming, as we are saying in all relevant international and national institutions, which must empower communities of the most vulnerable people themselves.

The message is clear.

It is time to be guided by the light of science, not by the prejudice of ignorance and fear.

Today protecting human dignity means treating drug users, sexual minorities and PLHIV with respect, and including them as participants in the design, implementation and monitoring of programs to meet their needs.

This is our way of working, and today the Red Cross / Red Crescent stands with you in celebration of our common humanity as we collaborate to change attitudes, develop inclusion and advocate WITH communities, to avoid marginalization.