Humanitarian Diplomacy - Relief to Sustainable Development for All

Published: 13 June 2012

Key Note Address by Mr Siddharth Chatterjee, Chief Diplomat and Head of Strategic Partnerships and International Relations at the IFRC, in the International Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy, in Geneva

Chair, ladies and gentlemen,

I represent the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and I thank the Academy for Cultural Diplomacy for the invitation.  We are pleased for the opportunity to exchange Red Cross and Red Crescent experiences and thoughts with you in furthering sustainable development through humanitarian diplomacy.

First of all, allow me to provide a background of humanitarian diplomacy in the context of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies at international and local levels.  At the international level, the IFRC, together with its member National Societies in 187 countries and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) form the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.  It is neutral and impartial.  It is made up of nearly 100 million members, volunteers and supporters and is regarded as  largest network providing humanitarian assistance support to people and communities in need.

At a legal basis, the IFRC is an organisation with widely recognised international legal personality.  It is headquartered in Geneva and has concluded a headquarters agreement with the Swiss Government, similar to those concluded with the intergovernmental organisations. It enjoys diplomatic privileges and immunities in over 70 countries.

In 1994, the IFRC has been accepted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in its resolutions 49/2 as an observer.  In this sense, it is treated alongside the specialised agencies of the UN and other international organisations with the status of an international/intergovernmental organisation.  For example, between 2000 and today, no less than 40 partnership agreements with international and regional organisations were concluded with this status.

Meanwhile, at national level, its member Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are formed within their countries by legislation, and function as the auxiliaries to the public authorities in the humanitarian field.  They are required to be independent of government, and – like the IFRC – work in association when required with the international and NGO community at country level.

All the above-mentioned recognitions provide the three components of the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, access to policy and decision-making processes from international to the  local level, including UN General Assembly and meetings arranged under its authority, international and regional conferences and parliamentary hearings, just to name a few.

Humanitarian Diplomacy

Having set the ground, I shall provide a short description of how we at IFRC have seen humanitarian diplomacy.  In fact humanitarian diplomacy including advocacy and communications has been a Red Cross Red Crescent strategy since its beginning with Henry Dunant.  I trust that you all know about the history of the birth of the Red Cross. 

The IFRC Strategy 2020 adopted by its General Assembly in 2009 for this decade defines humanitarian diplomacy as an enabling action for the achievement of IFRC goals.   

Humanitarian diplomacy’s definition, as set down in IFRC policy is:

“Humanitarian diplomacy is persuading decision makers and opinion leaders to act, at all times, in the interests of vulnerable people, and with full respect for fundamental humanitarian principles.”

It calls on us to do more, better and reach further by using humanitarian diplomacy as an enabling action to:

  • Highlight the needs and rights of vulnerable people, whilst striving to give them a strong voice in all negotiation processes;
  • Prevent and reduce vulnerability by using appropriately the auxiliary role of NS to bring greater support to people in need, and by drawing attention to the causes and potential consequences of emerging or re-emerging vulnerability; and
  • Promote the image and visibility of the Movement through its worldwide network of informed representatives who can project its work more widely, and by strong external partnerships and a diversified and expanded resource base.

All these action points are essential for the promotion of sustainable development.

Sustainable development in the context of Red Cross and Red Crescent

Sustainable development defined by Brundtland’s report “Our Common Future” in 1987 remains valid today: “Development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.  In line with this report, the international community gathered in Rio,  20 years ago and adopted, inter alia, Agenda 21 and Rio Declaration, and again in 2002 the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. 

The international community’s commitment in sustainable development is crucial and remains indispensable for all.  This commitment, however, without local actions, cannot be transformed into reality, which is particularly needed by the most vulnerable.  For the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Human and community resilience notion, in addition to environment, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development as stated in the report, must be regarded as the foundation for inclusive and responsible sustainable development.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The challenges brought by the globalisation, climate change, poverty, financial and economic stress, communicable and non communicable diseases, conflicts, disasters etc are widening the gap between the Have and Have-not and enlarging the marginalisation.  The world that people live today is more complex than when it was two decades ago. New patterns of vulnerability are emerging at the local and regional level.  How can we tackle the issues and their root causes and have the world “on track” for sustainable development for current and future generations? 

There are a few areas that from the Red Cross and Red Crescents points of view we consider as priorities for humanitarian diplomacy, which includes advocacy, communications and partnerships.  Effectively implemented, humanitarian diplomacy can persuade governments, organisations, business groups, community leadership and public to act differently and to change in some way its policy or approach to further sustainable development agenda.

1. Health for all is fundamental for human resilience and starting point for sustainable development

Health is the fundamental asset for sustainable development for each individual.  More than three decades after the groundbreaking Alma Ata Health for All declaration, we testify to the efforts and achievement in improving the public health of many countries around the world.  However, in spite of the progress made health inequities across and within countries continue to be high. 

This reflects that for achieving sustainable development, we still have much to do to address social determinants of health, improve access to health messages, commodities, tools and infrastructure and reduce risk to ill-health (including environment health hazards).  Human resilience through good health must be included in the promotion of sustainable development at the community level and through policy at central government level.

Let me take “Club 25” as an example.  It is worth noting that in this so-called Club 25 Programmes initiated from Zimbabwe, young people play a vital role in securing a safe and adequate blood supply with their regular blood donations.  But blood donation is only the beginning.  In a club-like atmosphere, they unite in a wide-range of health related activities, from visiting people living with HIV and AIDS, teaching healthy lifestyles among their peers, learning about nutrition, the importance of exercise, attaining life skills to avoid drug abuse.

Resulting from humanitarian diplomacy through awareness-raising, the increase of self-esteem, a sense of belonging, and the leadership of young people in maintaining communal solidarity and social cohesion are just some of the by-products of this movement for change and good health, which contribute to sustainable development.

2. Environment: appropriate disaster preparedness and education for risk reduced environment

Although joint efforts in the aftermath of disaster or emergencies can reduce the direct effect of disease, famine and malnutrition, the experience shows – and IFRC is committed in this direction – that preparing for disasters contribute to the safeguarding of life and livelihoods of the urban and rural poor who tend to be prone to disasters.  Disaster risk reduction which requires long-term thinking and programming can also contribute to mitigation and adaptation of climate change. 

In addition, emphasis should be made on education (formal and informal) for a change of mind-set to prevent further environmental degradation brought on by unsustainable consumption, the use of non-renewable fuels, generation of solid wastes causing trans-boundary pollution, toxic waste problems, and global environmental change.  Community’s engagement is critical.

Let me add here a joint humanitarian diplomacy effort as an example.  The outcome of the 4th High-level Forum on Aid Effectiveness which took place last November in Busan in the Republic of Korea includes in its paragraph 27 the concerns on disaster.  As it is a new element comparing to what had been included in the outcomes of Paris in 2005 and Accra in 2008, the inclusion was not a simple task.  It was a joint effort through lobbying by interested parties, such as Canadian and Korean Government, UNISDR and of course IFRC. 

The mentioning of “Investing in resilience and risk reduction increases the value and sustainability of our development efforts” provides a space for the Red Cross and Red Crescent for its discussion with authorities about the National Society’s support for its implementation from national to community level.  National Societies may also use its influence with authorities for “Disaster Risk Reduction and resilience” to be recognised by governments as one of the priority issues to be addressed through its inclusion in the post-MDG agenda and in the context of sustainable development.

IFRC has committed 10% of every disaster emergency appeal that is funded towards Disaster Risk Reduction and building resilience. We appeal to all Governments, international and national partners and donors to do the same. IFRC’s Secretary General, Mr. Bekele Geleta, passionately believes, that, ”supporting communities to be resilient helps them to bounce back and forward after a disaster, and risk reduction is integral to resilience”.

3. Social: meeting basic needs and promoting respect for diversity encourages inclusive sustainable development

A society, which promotes social sustainability for development, meets first basic needs for food, shelter, education, work, income and safe living and working conditions.  It provides a “soft infrastructure” of the community and an enabling environment for the wellbeing of people and development of human potential for the whole population without discrimination. 

It encourages democracy and citizen’s participation and involvement in the decision-making process, which is essential to build a society of inclusive sustainable development and to promote the respect for diversity. 

We have to recognise the positive contributions all parts of society can bring to foster mutual understanding and respect for human dignity.  Given the changing political environment, such as increased mobility and migration, we must truly reflect the make-up of the population in their organisation and to increase the participation of all in development process through different initiatives and activities, including engaging in the voluntary services and social relationships that comprise community. 

Let me share some thinking in the area of migration, as globalisation makes migration an inevitable fact of life for all countries.  There is, however, a growing public concern about the visibility of difference within communities, and the changing demographic circumstances. 

These pressures have contributed significantly to the vulnerability of migrants and their families.  In this regard, the IFRC argues for national level action by governments, but recognises that this action needs to be within agreed and understood international norms and standards.  These standards must recognise the rights of the migrants themselves, and ensure access to points which meet their needs, including access to legal remedies. 

The IFRC, therefore, uses the International Convention on the protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families as a reference for its humanitarian diplomacy and urges that all States – especially in countries with a major influx of migrants – ratify and promote the implementation of this convention.  We need to promote respect for these rights and for the needs of the most vulnerable that humanitarian actors provide assistance to all migrants, unconditionally. 

We also encourage governments to support ways of fighting discrimination. Integration and non-discrimination are factors that can enable migrant populations to maximise their contributions to the host society, and reduce the risk of disaffection and turbulence.

4. Economic development starts with resilient livelihoods at the communities and with respect to ecosystem and environment to ensure its sustainability

Poverty reduction and human development are central to sustainable development.  Development is sustainable where livelihoods are resilient, local coping capacities are strengthened and where people are able to earn sufficient income to meet their needs.  Interventions that aim at increasing resilience of local communities to existing and future threats will ultimately also contribute to regional security, personal dignity and supports communities.   

Everyday, economic decisions and choices are made and have consequences to sustainability.  Ways to improve the lives of impoverished people without further degrading ecosystems need to be found.  Engaging individual and communities in understanding sustainability, participating in the process of building a sustainable economy, and making green purchasing decisions are essential.

The IFRC’s annually published World Disaster Report, which can be read on-line, is a powerful tool for humanitarian diplomacy with decision-makers, academia and general public.  For example, with the increasingly adverse impact brought on by food insecurity, to promote the understanding in related areas, the 2011 World Disaster Report provides an in-depth analysis of the causes and impacts of hunger and malnutrition. 

It looks at community, national and international levels – both during and after emergencies and over a longer-term perspective.  It examines the challenges associated with the globalised nature of food-related vulnerabilities, and the need to move towards cross-disciplinary approaches.  The report also acknowledges the complexities involved, that the issues of global food security, hunger and malnutrition go to the core of virtually all the major components of the functioning of the international system, including climate change adaptation.

Following the launch of this report in 2011, IFRC has actively reached out to the international community, for example, with the G20 leadership, with the Committee of World Food Security, with key stakeholders at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban. 

A joint study has been done with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and disseminated to highlight the challenges for reducing vulnerabilities to food insecurity, and recommendations for remedies to reverse the situation through interventions at all levels. Recently the President of the IFRC, Mr. Tadateru Konoe met the Director General of FAO, Mr. José Graziano da Silva and discussed a partnership to work together to reduce food insecurity and vulnerability.

5. Last but not least: good governance through capacity development for effective institutions and ownership at local level and effective partnerships at all level for sustainable development.

Local communities have a significant role to play in the design of a national policy agenda, especially since the impact of global threat such as climate change is often felt first at the local level.  Local communities must be empowered and encouraged to participate actively and consistently in conceptualising planning and executing sustainability policies. 

The IFRC is committed in capacity development of National Societies as we understand that only strong and accountable local institutions, with decentralized approaches to policy design and implementation, can be an effective basis on which to build national and global agendas.

It is imperative that Governments from developed and developing world work in partnership with their counterpart Governments, United Nations and other international organisations globally and with civil societies and private sector nationally, to make a difference in the future and the lives of all including the most vulnerable.

For IFRC, national systems and institutions, including Red Cross Red Crescent as auxiliary to the public authorities, must be at the centre of the planning and implementation processes.  Capacity must be developed within countries in need, to create an enabling environment for effective service delivery to the people at the communities, and promote an inclusive development process that addresses the needs of the most vulnerable.

The Red Cross Red Crescent places people at the heart of our preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery work and we truly believe that local ownership and capacity building are key for enhanced community resilience.  With our humanitarian diplomacy effort from international to local level, we keep reminding our partners that only by doing this together, through reducing vulnerability and enhancing capacity, we can achieve ultimately sustainable national development.

Having said so, let me add few words on volunteering.  More than dollar values, is the social capitalisation from volunteering.  Volunteering creates good citizenship, fosters local ownership, and promotes the accountability of governments.

In term of our National Societies’ contribution to country development, globally, we estimate that Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers alone add over US$6 billion to global GDP through their freely given labours and skills. If we add to this, the contribution of other voluntary bodies, perhaps volunteering contributes some US$10-15 billion i.e. close to 10 per cent of the equivalent of current official development assistance (ODA).

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me close my intervention with an urgent call to all stakeholders of sustainable development. We must recognise that no development can be sustainable without empowering women and youth and their active involvement in related areas. 

Women and youth’s empowerment must remain a central policy priority.  Through better education and employment opportunity, more direct control over resources and a more inclusion and voice in decision-making can bring a change to today’s world. 

IFRC continues place women and youth at the centre of its work and through humanitarian diplomacy at all levels continues calling for the involvement of women and youth for forwarding sustainable development.  We welcome your joining of this diplomacy effort to make it a reality in the future we want for tomorrow.

Thank you.