Strategic Opportunities in a Changing World

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Donor Partnership Forum 2012, A Forum for Change, Oslo 14 September 2012

 


Mr Støre based his speech on the following points.

Check against delivery.

 

  • Thank you for the invitation. I still have a sense of coming home when I come here, many good memories from these buildings, these rooms, inspirational meetings.
  • Last Tuesday I visited the Bærum Red Cross voluntary centre. Immense role. Part of the fabric of the welfare state, of social welfare. Important work, integration, trust, confidence, social capital, “glue”.
  • I want to pay tribute to all the Red Cross workers around the world, and here in Norway, who are doing such important work, helping us to feel more secure and safe. I am very grateful. Vital presence in the many vulnerable places and situations.
  • My main message: There is great humanitarian potential to be found in mobilising volunteers through the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and that this has renewed relevance in the context of our response to today’s humanitarian challenges. They are there, on the ground, on the spot, operational, a long way from our “paperwork”. Among the suffering. Volunteers play an immense role.

 

***

 

  • The title chosen for this forum is apt: “Forum for change”.
  • Current situation. Example: Syria. Appalled by the atrocities taking place. Conditions are continuing to worsen. Civilians appear to be deliberately targeted. The UN estimates that 2.5 million people are in need of assistance.
  • Access to those in need is hampered by insecurity and the Government’s unwillingness to provide access. The UN and other humanitarian organisations have had limited opportunities to respond. No coherent international approach. Who has access, the opportunity to offer assistance and aid? The other day I met WFP’s director in Oslo, we talked about access on the ground, insecurity, relevance.
  • Huge dilemma: What should be done when confronting a state that does not care about its own people?
  • [A few words from my visit to Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Territory last week].
  • The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), assisted by the ICRC, has in fact been the only organisation that has been able to provide assistance in the precarious humanitarian situation. Hundreds of volunteers have been mobilised to provide first aid, food and medical care. SARC has operated under extremely demanding conditions.
  • This underlines the potential of a network of volunteers that can be mobilised fast and respond quickly. With this in view, it is crucial to support capacity-building at a local level. The Red Cross and Red Crescent movement is a model in this regard.
  • In Libya in 2011, too: we saw how the presence of the Libyan Red Crescent was essential in responding to the demanding humanitarian situation last year. Thanks to them, the ICRC was able to operate and to scale up its efforts. In both Libya and Syria, other international humanitarian organisations experienced major access problems.
  • Thus the presence of national societies and volunteers has been absolutely vital for providing life-saving health care, food and water.

 

***

 

  • A long step back to 22 July 2011. Government buildings bombed and young people shot and killed at Utøya. We saw it here too. When we experienced these brutal attacks (political extremism), the mobilisation of health personnel and volunteers trained in first aid from organisations such as the NRC was decisive in saving people’s lives. The NRC played a fundamental role in following-up, people-to-people, drawing on their experience from other crises.
  • Search and rescue teams from the NRC were among the first to arrive at Utøya. Volunteers were able to draw on experience gained from the International Red Cross network and this was invaluable.

 

***

  • Some current trends in “a changing world” – the title of the conference: I have identified five trends that I believe are particularly important – i.e. that have an impact on the humanitarian contexts we are facing today.
  • Firstly, we live in a post-9/11 world; 9/11 caused a shift in mentality and created new divisions. It affected (and continues to affect) our ability to – how we – understand change and crises.
  • Either you were “with us” or “against us” (which didn’t/doesn’t match the realities).
  • Groups labelled as terrorists.
  • Stereotypical images of “the enemy” were created. This is dangerous. Polarisation between the West and the Muslim world. The anti-Islam film clip, on YouTube, now sweeping across the world. Someone just pushed the button, set off sparks, and the fire started.
  • Anti-terrorist legislation has hampered humanitarian assistance.
  • Increased suspicion and mistrust, also affecting humanitarian organisations. Who are they really? Who do they represent? Who are the true victims? Makes it more difficult for the Red Cross to be neutral, changes the climate. These rapid changes and shifts are causing divisions.
  • Secondly, the evolving nature of the humanitarian crises themselves. Particularly in relation to climate change. (The Arctic is melting, but at the same time there is a huge impact in Africa where Lake Chad is disappearing.) The impacts of climate change appear to be increasing in number, scale and intensity. (As NRC President Mollekleiv just described.) People are being up-rooted. Sudan, Darfur, lack of resources, the basis for livelihoods.
  • Disaster risk reduction is likely to gain greater prominence in policy terms as the human, economic and political costs of disasters continue to mount.
  • Thirdly, the nature of conflicts also continues to evolve. (We have to update our “old mental maps”.) We are witnessing the emergence of new social, religious and military groups, and a fragmentation of armed groups.
  • There are still a significant number of protracted conflicts that are not driven by clear ideological motives but rather by economic, or at times even criminal, motives. We have to renew our analyses.
  • Entire regions are beyond the control of the state and beyond the reach of social, health and education services.
  • States are still the main players, but some states are failing. Structures and institutions are falling apart.
  • Many actors blatantly disregard international humanitarian law and human rights law. (Maybe they don’t know much about humanitarian law, or about rights and obligations?) People’s daily lives are becoming more difficult.
  • Globalisation: power shifts between states, but there are many other factors and players, as well.
  • What can we do to encourage respect for these bodies of law? A big task. (We do not need to draw up “new legislation”, we need to ensure that existing legislation is applied.)
  • Fourthly, countries with huge budget deficits are having to make deep cuts in welfare services, defence spending and humanitarian assistance. And we are just at the beginning. (The cuts in defence spending – consequences for NATO? What will happen with the European welfare states? Major challenges. Universal services. What will come instead?)
  • At the same time, new growth-driven economies, new actors, are winning new market shares and are promoting their political and cultural values more actively and assertively, both in international organisations and vis-à-vis other countries. Economic power, political power. Global power shift. New norms and standards?
  • The emergence of a range of “new” or non-traditional actors and players – from non-OECD government donors to diaspora populations worldwide – is being matched in many places by the emergence of new local actors with close ties to the affected populations.
  • And fifthly, the Arab Spring, the younger generation is rising up, overthrowing authoritarian leaders who have failed to ensure employment, welfare, economic development, freedom and respect for fundamental human rights. And women are demanding their right to inclusion and participation. Arab Spring: a bottom-up movement (Egypt). Myanmar: a top-down process.

 

***

 

  • Responding to and preparing for change: the role of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. What is your understanding of the changes taking place? How can we understand and cope with these trends? With change? How can we, at the same time, preserve all the things that are worth preserving?
  • Are the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement able to cope with and respond to change? (And what about the state, the Norwegian Government?)
  • Your movement is better prepared than most. You are present in almost all countries, at local and national level. This puts you in a unique position to understand what is going on in different societies, at different levels, and to be prepared to respond as necessary. To read the changes taking place.
  • You have structures for mobilising volunteers. You have earned credibility and legitimacy, both among the populations and authorities concerned. This is your part of your “capital”.
  • Therefore, it is important to hear the NRC’s assessment of the changes in Norwegian society – as well as international trends. What is on your “radar screens”? Norway ten years ago was different to Norway today. Challenges to the welfare state. The needs of today. Vulnerable groups. Integration. Language. Drugs. Young people. The elderly. Loneliness.

 

***

 

  • Then, four further reflections – my “take” – on strategic opportunities in a changing world:
  • Firstly, we need more channels of contact, more discussions, and more forums for dialogue than ever before, in order to explore both our differences and our commonalities. Access to the “driving forces”.
  • We have just been through a decade during which channels of communication have narrowed rather than widened. (The government/state is not enough.) When the dominant message was that “you are either with us or against us”. Us/them, a black/white version of the globe, as I mentioned earlier.
  • I believe this has made the world more dangerous. More scope for prejudices and prejudgements.
  • This polarisation has undermined our ability to understand and deal with modern conflicts. More conflicts take place within countries than between countries. (Resources, trade, culture, religion). Different sources of conflict. Emphasis on why we shouldn’t talk to certain groups, not on how we might approach them after all. (We all know that you have to make peace with your enemies, not with your friends.)
  • The Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies talk to everyone and they are part of the societies in which they operate.
  • Your movement is strategically placed to break down “enemy images” and create spaces for dialogue and concerted humanitarian action. These spaces must be actively used and cultivated. Focus on vulnerable groups. Stick to the ICRC’s mandate.
  • Secondly, we need to achieve a broader ownership of humanitarian action and of fundamental humanitarian values and human rights. (Again: Take a look at the ICRC’s mandate).
  • An on-going challenge: the misconception that humanitarianism, the “humanitarian space”, and human rights are “a Western agenda”. They are not. We need to make that clear.
  • Traces of this universal language can be found in the philosophies, ethics, laws and strategies of many great civilisations, from ancient to modern times. Humanitarianism is not a Northern, Eastern or Western idea – it is fundamentally human.
  • We are living in an increasingly multipolar world – or perhaps a zero-polar world? –where our focus is still on state sovereignty. We need to remain focused on this critically important point of departure: that we are dealing with humankind, that humankind is global.
  • Human rights are also universal, global, and we need to recognise this if we are to capitalise on their empowering potential.
  • Also important to remember that universal human rights are not imposed from “outside”. States themselves agreed on them 60 years ago. There are now 162 states parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. That makes its standards almost universally applicable. The same goes for the Geneva Conventions and other instruments of international humanitarian law.
  • I believe we have ample evidence to show that these rights have led to change for the better: they have empowered people, they have protected individuals, and they have protected groups. Nevertheless, they are being challenged. Some states keep arguing that they do not want values “imposed from outside”, “by the West”.
  • But human rights are also threatened because those who most openly advocate them are often guilty of applying double standards. How can broader global ownership of fundamental humanitarian values and principles, as set out in the UN Charter and Geneva Conventions, be achieved? How can we promote inclusion and full participation in areas where exclusion has been the norm? (For example women, minorities).
  • This is one of the main challenges facing societies all over the world. There is a need for a better sharing of responsibility for the humanitarian challenges we are facing today.
  • This leads to my third reflection: We need new approaches in international diplomacy in order to address urgent humanitarian challenges. We need to engage the general public and civil society organisations, the non-state actors.
  • An example: This week we have held the Third Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Oslo. 75 states have ratified the Convention and 36 more have signed.
  • Although some states have neither ratified nor signed the Convention, we can now see that it has created a powerful norm for these states too. Cluster munitions are seldom used, and those who use them are stigmatised.
  • Both the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the Mine Ban Convention (1997) (“human disarmament issues”) represent victories for civilians, for victims of these weapons, for international humanitarian law, and for civil society. Partnerships. Civil society was involved early in the process, strong focus on the victims.
  • They are also victories for states and for political and diplomatic craftsmanship. And, not least, they are victories for the power of dialogue – listening, learning and responding. For processes built on trust. Not all states have ratified but norms and standards have been created, trade has been reduced, use been stigmatised. A new approach.
  • The participation of survivors and representatives of civil society in the processes was crucial – not least the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Insights and competence.
  • Their contributions helped change the perception and understanding of the humanitarian problems caused by these weapons. The processes stayed focused on the actual reality on the ground. By supporting local actors, opportunities for achieving real change have been grasped.
  • In sum, a bottom-up approach was used, which proved very effective.
  • Other examples demonstrating the effectiveness of this approach (governments – civil society):
    • It was the families of the disappeared who fought for a treaty against enforced disappearances.
    • It was the disabled who led the process of drafting the treaty on their rights.
    • It was victims of torture who stood up against the atrocities they had suffered.
  • And due to the efforts of civil society and human rights defenders across the world, the International Criminal Court is now up and running.
  • There are still many issues that have, or may have, a humanitarian impact and that require creative thinking and active involvement on the part of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement:
    • Nuclear arms (have we “left this issue behind in the 1980s”?), disarmament,
    • the use of explosives in densely populated areas, urban warfare,
    • respect for and compliance with international humanitarian law,
    • protection of victims of other forms of violence, and
    • the numerous threats against medical personnel, services and infrastructure.
  • I would therefore like to emphasise the importance of joining forces – as individuals, as civil society organisations, and as states. The importance of new arenas, new alliances, renewing the diplomacy.
  • Alliances may differ according to the issue at stake. We should seek to identify good alliances in order to improve the humanitarian situation. Examples:
    • Norway’s cooperation with Cuba on Haiti after the earthquake,
    • and now in the peace process in Colombia (bringing the parties together), and
    • our collaboration with new partners for example in Indonesia, Argentina, Uganda and various civil society organisations on reclaiming the protection of civilians under international humanitarian law.
  • My fourth and final point: I want to stress (the obvious fact) that humanitarian problems must be solved politically. Governments, ministers.
  • Knowledge (of humanitarian law, human rights, values. An up-hill struggle?).
  • Time and again we see short-term solutions being used to address humanitarian crises. Long-term and sustainable solutions depend on strengthening local preparedness and resilience.
  • How can we improve in this area? What role can the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies play in this context?
  • We can do more to build capacity in weaker societies and transfer experience, without taking over or “using” our partnership for reasons of self-interest.
  • How can we build a more genuine and reciprocal partnership between Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies? I believe this would strengthen ownership and participation and be an effective “forum for change”. Together.
  • Let me revert to three important, issues: the nuclear arms issue, the threats to the health care system (access, inequalities), and the challenges of climate change and environmental issues. The potential for political conflicts.
  • I wish you every success with this forum.

 

 

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