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2013 is the 150th anniversary of the founding of the ICRC, and 2014 the 150th anniversary of the signing of the First Geneva Convention, a further milestone in the history of humanitarian aid. Since the ICRC is Switzerland’s most important strategic partner in the field of humanitarian action, Switzerland has decided to participate in the festivities this and next year. The annual conference of Switzerland’s Humanitarian Aid serves as a platform for joint action both in Switzerland and abroad to draw attention to Switzerland’s and the ICRC’s commitment. The guest of honour at this event was the president of the ICRC, Peter Maurer.
In his opening speech on Switzerland’s humanitarian responsibility, Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter, head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), paid tribute to the special relationship between Switzerland and the ICRC, one based on a shared history and values. Mr Burkhalter stresssed that: “The principles that we share with the ICRC – neutrality, impartiality, humanity and responsibility – are the foundation of our long humanitarian tradition.” He thanked the members of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) and reminded his audience that Switzerland would further intensify its humanitarian effort through the strengthened deployment of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit.
In his speech, Manuel Bessler, the Federal Council’s Delegate for Humanitarian Aid , referred to the visionary ideas of Henri Dunant and their Importance today. “Present-day humanitarian aid has its origins in the battlefields of the past,” he said. In recognition of the ICRC and its missions to conflict zones throughout the world, Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter presented to the ICRC president, Peter Maurer, Switzerland’s gift of a special financial contribution to cover the costs of recruiting 150 ICRC delegates. CHF 18.2 million has been earmarked to finance an additional 150 delegates over a period of four years.
Peter Maurer spoke about the outstanding relations between the ICRC and Switzerland. He paid tribute to Switzerland as an important partner in humanitarian questions, as a donor but also as a contracting party and the depositary of the Geneva Conventions. Switzerland and the ICRC are working together to give international humanitarian law further concrete relevance. “In the politics and society of this country, we note the broad interest and solid support for the work of the ICRC,” he said. He concluded his speech with “a great and heart-felt word of thanks for the outstanding cooperation, the inspiring partnership, and for everything that is still to come.”
In addition to the partnership with the ICRC, the annual conference focused on the theme “Accessing the Victims – the Challenge”. Martin Dahinden, director-general of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), reported on Switzerland’s humanitarian commitment in countries with failing state structures and those in the process of transition. He pointed out that these countries were still far from overcoming poverty; he went on to say that the commitment in such regions was combined with very high risks but insisted that such missions were worthwhile. Part of the annual conference was devoted to discussions with people with first-hand experience of human suffering. Jesuit priest Nawras Sammou recounted how he ran a refugee relief organisation in Aleppo, Syria, and other humanitarian workers reported about their work in conflict-affected countries such Myanmar and Mali.
People interested in pursuing a career in humanitarian aid were able to obtain detailed information at this annual meeting. As the Federal Council’s Delegate for Humanitarian Aid, Manuel Bessler said: “Because conflicts will unfortunately remain part of everyday life in the future, it is important for humanitarian organisations to be able to recruit motivated and well qualified people.” In a discussion with two young people who had just completed the so-called “Green Programme” of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit, he demonstrated the SHA’s approach to recruitment.