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Speech


Ten years after the anti-personnel mine ban -- addressing the human cost of landmines, explosive remnants of war and cluster munitions.

Presentation by Robert Tickner, Geneva, 28 November 2007.

As the world's pre-eminent humanitarian organisation, it is not surprising the Red Cross/Red Crescent has taken a leading role in urging the governments of the world to take a stronger stand against the use of land mines, explosive remnants of war, and cluster munitions.

As we all know these deadly weapons and munitions continue to threaten, maim and kill innocent civilians indiscriminately long after hostilities have ended.

I come from Australia, which by global standards is a very privileged country, and except for a brief period in the Second World War, Australia has been free of the direct impact of international conflict.

I would argue however that this privileged position gives my country and indeed our Australian Red Cross Society a special responsibility to work in solidarity with our colleagues from those national Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies directly effected by such conflicts such as my colleague Fatima Gailani President of the Afghan Red Crescent Society who has spoken so eloquently and powerfully today.

I therefore want to speak about the work of Australian Red Cross in seeking to persuade the Australian people and the Government of the need for more effective humanitarian laws to protect civilian populations from the consequences of the use of these weapons.

I should stress at the outset that Australian Red Cross enjoys an excellent relationship with the members of all political parties represented in the Australian Parliament and with successive Government of all policial persuasions.

While Australian Red Cross has this year taken up the issues of cluster munitions it is not the first time that we have been involved in a commitment of this kind.

Like a number of other National Societies, and many non government organisations, ARC worked to encourage our government to participate in international efforts to ban anti personnel landmines. The focal point for many organisations was the International Coalition to Ban Landmines (ICBL). Red Cross/Red Crescent internationally and Australian Red Cross remained separate from this coalition. In Australia we had observer status with the local chapter of the coalition, participated in meetings and offered technical advice but were not party to its actions and decisions. The maintenance of our independent identity is an important point to emphasise.

In that campaign back in the 1990's Australian Red Cross focused on highlighting the humanitarian consequences of landmines on civilians -- for example sponsoring a photo exhibition launched by a former Prime Minister and running awareness raising seminars. We also conducted bilateral dialogue with the government.

Turning to the question of cluster munitions they are of course not a new weapon. They were used extensively in Vietnam and Laos in the 1960s, in African conflicts such as Sudan, Angola and Eritrea and, in a more recent upsurge, in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Chechnya.

Undoubtedly however, it was the conflict between Israel and Lebanon in late 2006 that dramatically brought the issue to world attention again. It is estimated that four million cluster sub-munitions were dropped there -- leaving the farms, orange orchards and olive groves littered. It is reported that as many as one million are still to be removed, in long-term, dangerous and expensive clearance operations.

All of us as human beings can not be helped to be moved by what we see and experience, and in January this year I attended as a representative of Australian Red Cross at a meeting in Tyre in Lebanon organised at the initiative of the Norwegian Red Cross and Lebanese Red Cross to discuss the impact of cluster munitions on civilian populations.

It was a powerful experience for me seeing at first hand: the Land Mines Clearance work of the United Nations; the disruption to post conflict reconstruction that resulted from the ongoing presence of cluster munities long after the conflict; and finally to visit a civilian victim of a cluster munition in his home.

That direct experience led me to take a very personal interest in the issue and with the full support of the national board of Australian Red Cross we became one of the sponsors of the resolution on Cluster Munitions presented to the Council of Delegates a few days ago.

The central argument I wish to put today is that Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies and the International Federation itself have an important role to play in the public domain, as civil society actors which can and should advocate humanitarian concerns to the people of the world and to government authorities calling on them to act to take a stand for humanitarian ideals and reform of International Humanitarian Law where it is necessary to do so.

I believe that this can be done while maintaining our committment to the principles of neutrality and impartiality, the ideals of the movement and in such a way that relations with political parties across the political spectrum remain undamaged and arguably even strengthened as the integrity and consistancy of our convictions and work is fully appreciated.

The RC/RC Movement as a whole has a specific credibility and legitimacy for becoming publicly involved in the major International Humanitarian Law debates of our time. We do so with our experience in providing humanitarian assistance and protection to the victims of war and with 'humanity' providing the overall motivation and even responsibility to act.

Indeed it was Henri Dunant himself who instituted a process of advocacy for the creation of voluntary relief societies and rules of war which we now know as the Geneva Conventions.

It should be noted that in 1999, the Council of Delegates adopted a policy on advocacy for the Movement (i.e. the ICRC, Federation and National Societies) and that policy sets out some guiding principles on the constraints on our advocacy. However it is also noted in that policy that 'public campaigning may be necessary on issues which are very significant and where there is only small likelihood of achieving change through traditional means of advocacy.'

In 2005 the Council of Delegates adopted a 'Strategy for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement that encourages the movement to pursue advocacy initiatives aimed at creating awareness of the conditions of victims of armed conflict, as well as promoting international humanitarian law.'

To take up this challenge in relation to Cluster Munitions as we have sought to do in Australia, we needed to develop a clear understanding of the inter-relationship between our humanitarian principles and our capacity to advocate has been critical as I believe it is for all national societies.

Australian Red Cross does not just have an abstract interest in advocacy but has developed its own detailed Advocacy Framework which has been formally considered and endorsed by our Board and has underpinned our work on Cluster Munitions.

Our advocacy framework is publicly available on our website and in its opening paragraphs reminds us all that 'advocacy on behalf of individuals, causes and policies is an integral mode of action employed by Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to prevent and alleviate suffering and to promote respect for humanitarian values.'

Our framework reminds us that 'advocacy can be confidential or public and can be conducted in a wide variety of ways' and in accordance with Movement policy.

Advocacy by Australian Red Cross will generally be conducted on a confidential basis except where:

  • an explicit position on the issue has already been taken
  • or confidential advocacy has been ineffective and public advocacy is in the interests of the people whose humanitarian concerns who are the focus of our concerns.

 

Our Advocacy Framework states that a number of factors need to be taken into consideration in deciding whether or not to advocate on a specific issue and in what manner such as:

  • the risks of advocacy or silence for the national society and other components of the Movement
  • the strength of the evidence; the need to preserve the distinct identity of the national society when considering cooperation with other organisations which are advocating on an issue
  • finally the resources necessary to advocate effectively.

 

In talking about the experience in my country this year I should stress that Australian Red Cross is not the only Australian organisation to be working in support of an international convention on Cluster Munitions and I am conscious of the very significant work done by many others.

However our own contribution to the public debate I believe was very important in helping to change the attitude of the Government of the day which had not previously been a participant in the Oslo process.

One of our first initiatives was a submission to a Parliamentary Committee which was then considering a draft bill to ban cluster munitions. Our submission urged the Committee to recommend an outcome which would be in line with expressed ICRC policy.

Secondly, we began private bilateral dialogue with the government with the Chair of our Board making strong private representations to Government and comparable representations to the Opposition in the Australian Parliament.

Thirdly, as CEO (Secretary General) I was a member of a Government Ministerial advisory committee which recommend that the Government adopt a policy in support of a treaty with content consistent with ICRC pronouncements.

Fourthly, ARC conducted a confidential dialogue with non government organisations with an interest in the area in order to keep informed of developments in the wider civil society.

Fifthly, we raised our concerns at the International Humanitarian Law Advisory Committee which is a national high level advisory group with the secretariat of the Committee with ARC. The Australian Attorney General's Department, the Dept of Foreign Affairs Defence and other key agencies are all represented.

Throughout this process we continued to raise public awareness of the issues through our International Humanitarian Law Program -- which have focused on ensuring that our Red Cross staff have an awareness of the issue as well as the general community through our conduct of public events and use of the media.

Then as a further committment to advocacy on this issue I used the occasion of World Red Cross Day this year to argue the case in 'Opinion Pieces' in two major Australian newspapers and on radio for the Australian Government 'to do more' and to consider support for 'a ban on inaccurate, unreliable weapons which would send a clear message to the rest of the world and be a significant step towards ridding it of a weapon that goes on destroying lives long after the fighting forces have packed up and gone home'. The initiative generated considerable public support for the position taken by Australian Red Cross.

A further intended initiative (which was ultimately not necessary to win the support of the Government) was to support the youth membership of Australian Red Cross in their youth campaign activity in which they planned to emulate the fine work of the youth membership of the Norwegan Red Cross.

However I am pleased to report that to its credit, some months ago, prior to losing office at last weekend's election the Australian Government changed its position in relation to participation in the Oslo process and gave a strong commitment that they would support a treaty in line with the views promoted by the ICRC. We are confident that the newly elected Government in Australia will display a comparable commitment to the process and we will monitor very closely their performance in this area.

I want to mention two particular Australian initiatives which we believe have and will have great capacity to increase our influence with legislators and influence the public policy of governments which impact on international humanitarian law. I raise them here to encourage other national societies to consider taking up these initiatives in their own courtries.

Firstly, we have acted to establish a Parliamentary Friends of Red Cross grouping within the Australian Parliament and in a number of our state and territory parliaments. In this grouping in the Australian Parliament we have convenors from not only the Government and Opposition but all the major political parties represented in the Parliament. The Group operates as a forum where members of parliament can come together and put aside ideology to work in support of the principles and values of our Movement. One visiting speaker at their meeting has been Mr Jacques Foster the Vice President of the ICRC.

I commend this initiative to other national societies and would be pleased to share with you the modes of operation this group and assist you with ideas for the setting up of comparable groupings within your own countries where this is possible and desirable. I make the obvious and important point that future Governments and future leaders will be drawn from the ranks of these parliamentarians and as Friends of Red Cross or Red Crescent they are strong allies for us when we take up the cause of reform including in the area of IHL.

A second initiative I would commend to you is our work in the preparation of a Handbook for Parliamentarians on International Humanitarian Law which will be published in February 2008. We will be sending a copy to every member of Parliament in Australia (including those in state and territory parliaments) which we think will be a wonderful way to promote respect for International Humanitarian Law.

We are grateful for the support of the ICRC and the International Parliamentary Union for the preparation of this handbook and it is modelled on an earlier publication published by the ICRC and the IPU.

Importantly we are keen to make this publication available to other national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The publication has been designed and structured so that it can be adapted for use within any country. The relevance to our work in building Government and community support for our work in IHL including on Cluster Munitions should not be underestimated.

I also would strongly argue that National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies not directly affected by the impact of Land mines and Cluster Munitions and comparable weapons have a responsibility to work with other Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies serving directly affected populations to assist them in the work. In the case of Australian Red Cross we work with a Government funded AusAID program and with Cambodian Red Cross on the Landmine Survivors Assistance Program. The goal of the program is to reduce the vulnerability of survivors of landmines and unexploded ordnance, their families and affected communities in Cambodia.

I strongly argue that all of us have a duty to respond to the suffering of the victims of these weapons around the world.

Thank you for the opportunity to raise these ideas with you tonight and I look forward to the dialogue which is to follow in this workshop.