Madam President of the Swiss Confederation,

Red Cross/Red Crescent friends,
Ladies and gentlemen,


“The humanitarian imperative comes first.”

This is the first line of the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief. In one line, the framers of the code captured the history, purpose, and common humanity of the Movement.

The humanitarian imperative comes first. Isn’t this, my friends, why we are here?

To quote my dear friend, Peter Maurer: “the world is at a turning point”[1]. There are more people in need of humanitarian assistance than ever before. The UN tell us that there are over 80 million people who need our help – a figure that has doubled in the past decade alone. In 2014 almost 102 million people were affected by disasters[2].

The response of the Movement is, as ever, Humanity. The incessant, relentless drive to reach out to the most vulnerable, the most isolated and to protect their lives and restore their dignity. Our actions are guided by need, and by need alone. This is an ideal, but it is also a practical approach that has been forged by more than 150 years of humanitarian action. Our Movement is Neutral, Impartial, and Independent because being so allows us to reach the most vulnerable and most isolated.

The humanitarian imperative comes first. However, alone, it is not enough.

This Principled approach, and the laws that have been crafted in partnership with States, has guided our Movement for 150 years. It has helped shape the global humanitarian system. But the history of Humanity, is the history of our species. It is a history told by war, violence, deprivation and degradation, disasters, both natural and manmade, and despair.

Humanitarian organizations cannot be expected to carry these principles alone. Our Movement needs the support of States, and even more than that, their leadership, to keep these principles at the forefront, and to foster renewed respect for them and the laws that underpin them.

We have a joint responsibility and a collective accountability to reach all those in need. National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have the unique identity as independent auxiliaries to public authorities. Governments do not have the answers to all the challenges their citizens face. Even the best resourced can struggle to reach the truly isolated and vulnerable. We can walk that last mile, bringing the needle to the arm of a poor child, so to speak.

We also, together, need to adapt. Humanitarian needs have grown, but they have also changed. We are not responding to the same crises that we were even a decade ago. Conflicts are protracted and share little with the conflicts that shaped our modern world order.

Disasters are different, driven by accelerating catalysts such as climate change and unplanned urbanization. They are more severe, more frequent, and less predictable. People are moving on a scale that has not been seen for 70 years, reminding us that all countries are united in their shared vulnerability.

Together, the Movement and States need to find new ways to tackle these challenges. We cannot continue to pump so much money, time and effort into relief that too often comes late, and that too often leaves people facing the same risks and vulnerabilities. We need a shift in how we tackle humanitarian need. We need to prioritise efforts that support communities to become stronger and more resilient.

The IFRC is committed to making this shift. Our Secretariat has framed its new five year plan and budget around partnering for resilient communities. [Tomorrow] we will launch the One Billion Coalition for Resilience. Through this coalition, by working together, it is our belief that 1 billion people can be supported over the next decade to take steps towards reducing the risks and vulnerabilities they face, and, by doing so, take steps to a future that is safer and more resilient. This is an opportunity, on an historic scale, to prevent suffering and protect dignity before it is challenged.

The humanitarian imperative demands nothing less. It is our hope that States will join us in making this ambition a reality.

Our National Societies are essential components in this ambition to build resilience. Each day they work with communities, ensuring basic services for those in chronic need, and a helping hand to those facing exclusion or marginalization. They provide health services, set up early warning systems, offer first aid, and bring to scale response operations in times of crisis. They are present along the continuum of the community experience, supporting communities to recover and rebuild in a way that addresses the risks that triggered the crisis in the first place.

Strong and well-functioning National Societies are a critical part of any society. As such, we, the Movement and States, share an interest in strong National Societies, and a shared responsibility to do all we can to support them.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This Conference is an opportunity for our Movement to join together with States to pursue our common objective of Humanity. It is an opportunity to reaffirm our shared commitment to the up to 17 million Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers, who are on the frontlines and who, present in vulnerable communities around the world, are agents for shaping a more resilient world.

We will be asking States to help us create and facilitate an enabling environment for volunteerism, including through the promotion of supportive legislation, policy and practice. Such laws and policies can ensure the safety and security of humanitarian volunteers, by mandating their right to adequate safety equipment and training, psychosocial support and by helping put in place the basic systems of social protections, including insurance or an equivalent safety net. This is not an option. Since the last International Conference, nearly 100 Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers have been killed in the line of duty. We are collectively accountable to make sure the same cannot be said in four years’ time.

The Disaster Law resolution seeks to strengthen national legal response mechanisms to both facilitate and coordinate international response when required. It also promotes efforts to ensure that laws are in place to facilitate and mainstream disaster risk reduction and first aid, and by doing so builds on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Our goal is resilient communities, but this will not be achieved without robust and risk focused national frameworks.

The Movement will draw attention to one of the most prominent and yet poorly addressed drivers of vulnerability in our society: sexual and gender-based violence, and in particular violence against those already suffering the consequences of disaster, armed conflict, or displacement. The Resolution on Sexual and Gender based violence seeks, among other things, to ensure that adequate legal and policy measures are taken by governments and the Movement to anticipate, prevent and respond to these insidious, cruel and completely unacceptable acts.

In the spirit of true partnership, we will also ask you to do all you can to facilitate our work. The Resolution on Strengthening the Movement’s Response to growing humanitarian needs, asks States to facilitate and protect National Societies’ auxiliary status, and to provide for a strong legal and policy base. It asks as well for the role and mandates of the international components to be facilitated, ensuring access and safety in line with International Humanitarian Law and the Statutes of the Movement.

Finally, it asks States to recognize the considerable work that has been done to improve cooperation and coordination within our Movement, including the adoption of a Movement logo, the agreement of common rules and principles for resource mobilization, and an updated pact on how we will work together in response to major humanitarian challenges.

And those humanitarian challenges are many. Today, tens of thousands of vulnerable people all over the world are on the moving, seeking safety and dignity. This Conference will place a spotlight on the vulnerability of migrants and refugees, and will remind us all of the commitments when we last met, including a commitment to ensure that National Societies enjoy effective and safe access to all migrants, irrespective of their legal status.

Our goal is resilience, but never acquiescence to the violations of rights and principles that are becoming more and more frequent. States have, over the coming days, a rare opportunity to strengthen the normative framework of IHL by adopting a compliance mechanism.

Distinguished delegations,

This Conference is a critical part of a broader dialogue on the nature, focus and future of humanitarian assistance. The decisions in front of you build on the impressive work of the Sendai World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Sustainable Development Goals. It is my hope that, as we meet here in Geneva, our colleagues in Paris will find a new commitment to address climate change, one that is built in large part on resourcing and empowering communities to deal with the consequences.

Finally, the Movement welcomes the opportunity to build on this dialogue at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. The Summit key messages of dignity, safety, resilience, partnership and finance are essential to all that we do. The Council of Delegates has adopted a message to the Summit that States have been invited to acknowledge. We hope that concrete recommendations and commitments will be made in Turkey that will progress and facilitate our collective resilience efforts.

Thank you, again, for joining us here this week. Engage with us, pledge with us, challenge us, and help us preserve what is fundamental to all of us: our humanity in action.

Thank you.

[1] https://www.icrc.org/en/document/peter-maurer-respect-laws-of-war

[2] 2015 World Disasters Report