Red Cross delegate visits a detainee

Red Cross delegate visits a detainee.

In 2004 Red Cross Volunteer Valerie Goodwin traveled to Florida. In broken English, her cab driver asked whether she was there for business or pleasure. She responded, “Neither and both. I am here as a volunteer with the Red Cross helping with hurricane recovery.”  In that moment they made eye contact in the rear view mirror and the cab driver’s eyes welled up with tears. He then went on to tell Valerie that he was a Prisoner of War (POW) in Serbia and when he had been taken he assumed there was no hope for him. But then he recounted how the International Committee of the Red Cross came to inspect the camp and added his name to their list of detainees. He said “As soon as I was on their list I knew I would live. I just needed to be counted.”

It is individual stories like these that drive home the importance of respect for human dignity and compliance with international humanitarian law. Today, August 22, 2014, marks the 150th anniversary of the first Geneva Convention. More commonly known as the rules of war, this landmark treaty established the basis for humane treatment of wounded soldiers on the battlefield. In the years that followed, two more treaties were adopted covering the ‘Condition of Wounded and Sick at Sea’ and the ‘Treatment of Prisoners of War’. In 1949, in the aftermath of World War II, these three treaties were revised and a fourth treaty was introduced covering the ‘Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War’. Considered the cornerstone of International Humanitarian Law, the Geneva Conventions achieved universal acceptance in 2006, making them the only treaties in international law to be ratified by all nations.

And while many people have heard of these rules in one way or another, many do not know that the creation of the Red Cross movement is at the very heart of these rules. Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, risked her life to care for soldiers on the battlefield during the Civil War and, years later, successfully lobbied the US government to sign the Geneva Convention. But the Geneva Conventions are not just important milestones in international humanitarian law, they are meaningful and relevant to the millions of individuals whose lives are affected by armed conflict.

Today, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the original Geneva Convention, we call on all parties to all conflicts to preserve what it means to be human by complying with the rules of war. 

You can help by sharing this video, which explains the basics of international humanitarian law.


From left to right: Aparna, Joe, the representative from New Zealand, and the representative from Brazil

This last week, Aparna G. from the National Youth Council and I took part in the 3rd Annual Model IFRC General Assembly, or MIGA. This extraordinary event, hosted by the South Korean Red Cross, brings together 200 youth from approximately 50 Red Cross and Red Crescent national societies to learn, debate, and, ultimately, take action on international issues.

Within MIGA, our workshop addressed the promotion of peace and non-violence as it relates to conflicts driven by climate change. Participants at MIGA identified peer education based programs as the most effective to address this issue. A peer education approach creates direct communication and shared learning, both of which were acknowledged to be critical by the host of professional speakers during the MIGA opening session. In a world with rapidly evolving communication mediums, in particular social and mass media, the power of peer-to-peer communication should not be underestimated. The American Red Cross has embraced this model, especially with our most successful youth programs. A good illustration of this approach is the IHL Action Campaign, which is entirely based on peer education.

Our delegation’s experience in peer education was invaluable during MIGA, and resulted in the American Red Cross head of delegation winning the Henry Dunant Award. As the highest individual honor awarded during MIGA, it is presented by the President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, Tadateru Konoé, and represents outstanding leadership during the conference. It is no coincidence that the American Red Cross delegation spearheaded a push for a peer education program throughout the MIGA. It’s simply the best tool in our arsenal to educate, engage, and inspire young people to action.

The amount and quality of work done by the participants of MIGA stands as a testament to the eagerness of young people to participate in our humanitarian mission, and I know it won’t stop with end of this year’s MIGA. As a representative of the American Red Cross, I am appreciative of the opportunity to participate in MIGA, and hope to continue this strong relationship between our National Societies in the future. I’d also like to say thank you for the incredible hospitality of the Korean Red Cross, and the opportunity to make connections, meet new friends, and learn from them all.

Author: Joseph Gibson, Program Associate, Peer Education, IHL, American Red Cross

American Red Cross, National Headquarters, Washington DC

American Red Cross, National Headquarters, Washington DC.

Today marks the 65th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the foundational treaties of International Humanitarian Law, which is now universally ratified. In the wake of the American Civil War, Clara Barton established the American Red Cross, dedicating her life to aiding sick, wounded, and hungry soldiers irrespective of their allegiance. The International Humanitarian Law team at the American Red Cross continues her legacy of promoting respect on the battlefield by educating the public on the rules of war and the legal regimes setting limits on the effects of armed conflict.

In order to carry out this mission, the team creates and delivers programs tailored to a myriad of audiences. The demand of such programming is rapidly increasing as our work raises awareness about IHL principles and the importance of preserving human dignity in times of conflict.

For instance, our youth program based on a peer education model has sparked interest among thousands of high school and college students around the country. This past year, 8 Red Cross chapters participated in the IHL Action Campaign reaching over 24,000 young people across the nation. We are now welcoming an additional 4 chapters and will continue educating the next generation of humanitarians through this popular program.

Moreover, as part of our legal education program, we recently launched the “Introduction to IHL: A Primer for Professionals”, a legal education course designed to teach the basics of IHL to lawyers, government officials, military personnel and and others whose understanding of IHL is limited, for whom increased knowledge of the law will improve the execution of their jobs. This course not only discusses the legal framework upon which IHL stands, but also provides opportunities to apply this legal knowledge to current conflict situations around the world.

Last, the team promotes IHL education by convening events on current national and international IHL-related topics. In the past, we have organized workshops, public lectures and open discussions on an array of IHL subjects. The next on our event series is “Human Trafficking and Armed Conflict: A Multidisciplinary Conference” on September 25, 2014 at the American Red Cross, National Headquarters in Washington, DC. This conference aims to bring together practitioners, law enforcement, advocates, lawmakers and academics to discuss human trafficking within the sphere of conflict and emergencies. Particular attention will be paid to gender and migration issues in the trafficking narrative and the event will foster a collaborative discussion on legislative and advocacy practices to combat human trafficking.

From child soldiers and refugees to international justice and gender issues, our team is committed to bring current IHL issues to the forefront of our programming. We invite you to join us in this journey to educate our societies by teaching them that we can find humanity, even in the midst of war.

Author: Yenisleidy Simon, IHL Intern

Hello from Seoul, South Korea! Today is the first day of the 3rd annual Model International General Assembly, or MIGA III. Similar to a Model UN conference but with a Red Cross Movement focus, this event has grown from a regional experiment to a global affair, with nearly 200 youth from 48 national societies attending.

This is the first time the American Red Cross has been invited to attend. Aparna Ghosh, American Red Cross National Youth Council member, and I are representing the American Red Cross. Aparna’s focus while at MIGA will be as a youth representative, creating connections with other youth, learning, and sharing best practices with our fellow national societies. My focus at MIGA, however, is on peer education. More than just a contemporary buzz phrase, peer education is vital to the Red Cross Movement, and plays a major role in our domestic IHL programs.

MIGA is a prime example of peer education at work. Hundreds of young people are engaging with each other to debate pertinent global issues, often related to IHL. They are from all over the world, including Bangladesh, the Netherlands, Australia, and Afghanistan each bringing their own experience to the table while endeavoring to work as a common Movement. On a practical level, we educate each other to accomplish a mission, combining our areas of expertise and knowledge to form cohesive delegations that can tackle complex issues. While I am familiar with IHL and gender issues, I rely on my colleague from the Japanese Red Cross in areas of disaster risk reduction, and my colleague from Korea for ecology. Only together can we tackle our workshop’s topic – climate change and conflict.

It’s no coincidence that last year’s Global Youth Conference in Sydney, Australia had more youth in attendance than any year in history. The momentum around youth programs, especially peer education is growing, and MIGA III is just one example. In the United States, last year’s IHL Action Campaign reached over 24,000 youth, and we’re seeing unprecedented growth and interest in the program for this coming year.

I’ll have more news from MIGA over the next week, but I know that lessons I learn in Seoul will impact my work in the American Red Cross for years to come, as well as influence my own views of the world today. That, at its core, is what peer education is all about.

Author: Joseph Gibson, Program Associate, Peer Education, IHL, American Red Cross



Oxford Academy team at the IHL Youth Leadership Summit in DC

This year the IHL Action Campaign convened 26 teams from 8 chapters around the country. A total of 267 students participated and produced incredibly insightful and creative materials to educate their peers and communities about IHL topics, in particular child soldiers and international justice. Through their thoughtful and engaging activities, IHL Action Campaign participants were able to reach more than 24 000 people in person and online this year. The IHL Youth Leadership Summit, which created a space to share best practices, encouraged team leaders and members to aim for an even greater impact. They will now incorporate the lessons learned into next year’s Action Campaign as they focus on two equally important topics: gender and refugees.

-Emily Kenney, Program Officer for Peer Education

IHL Action Campaign team member, Daniella, shares her thoughts and aspirations for next year.

It was a privilege to be able to go to the IHL Youth Leadership Summit this year. One of the things that I enjoyed the most was getting the opportunity to see how all of the participants in the IHL Action Campaign affected their communities through their campaign presentations. It was not only a powerful motivation but it was encouraging, and it made me proud to be a part of something that was making a difference. This experience will definitely impact what my school’s Red Cross will do this coming school year. Now that I saw the extent to which some of the schools reached their community, I aspire to not only be a part of the IHL Action Campaign next year, but also help guide the team to make an impact outside of our school. This aspiration has led me and others on the team to already start planning a wonderful campaign that will hopefully gain the attention of our school and the neighboring cities. Of course the motivation is all thanks to the training, support, and knowledge gained at the IHL Youth Leadership Summit, and my team and I are thankful for such an opportunity. I can’t wait to be a part of the campaign this year, and I know that whatever we do, we will be assisting in a cause to make the world a better place.

-Daniella, Oxford Academy

After three days of icebreakers, presentations, and guest speakers, the IHL Youth Leadership Summit is finally coming to a close. Needless to say, the opportunity to go on an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C. for a few days was an excellent experience. None of us from Bradley University knew exactly what to expect, but based on what we hoped, the Summit went above and beyond. The opportunity to see all of the other teams present their campaigns demonstrated what this fantastic generation of thinkers and problem-solvers were already hard at work on in high school. Coming from an area like Central Illinois, global awareness and activism is not as much of a priority as it could be. Leaving that area and seeing what other IHL teams were up to gave me the opportunity to see that across the country, students are passionate, active, and willing to work hard for humanitarianism and global awareness.

The Bradley University team at the IHL Youth Leadership Summit

The Bradley University team at the IHL Youth Leadership Summit

Bradley University was one of the IHL Action Campaign teams to conduct a campaign on a college campus. Following our presentation, students from high school teams gave so much praise and support, that I can only say that I am humbled to have been a part of the IHL program, and inspired by high school students who see such a great value in IHL. There was not a single campaign that did not vastly exceed my expectations in one way or another. The Action Campaigns were so diverse, only adding to the already exceptional experience of uniting youth under a mutual passion for humanitarianism. Being a college team only made the Summit more exciting. Preparing to enter my second year at Bradley, I vividly remember what senior year of high school was like: college applications, college applications, AP classes, making difficult decisions about the direction of life, college applications… and that was just the first semester! To see students who are so passionate about IHL that they can rise above the stress factors to organize a campaign of the caliber I have seen here is truly astounding. The IHL team at NHQ has truly organized an amazing event that fosters healthy competition in order to bring out the amazing things that millennial activists can do for humanitarianism.

On Saturday, guest speakers on the topics of gender and refugees arrived to help inspire students for next year. From thought provoking questions on gender, to the wonderful Deng Abiel discussing his life as a resettled refugee in the United States, to the panel on refugee organizations, the guest speakers reminded us all why we are here. We are active in IHL for our communities, the communities far away from us, and most importantly, humanity. Humanity is a very abstract word, and yet, this is such a great medium to be able to remind us and others that in spite of our differences, we are all human, and deserve identity, dignity, and security.

-Joshua, Bradley University

IHL Youth Leadership Summit participants at the American Red Cross, National Headquarters

IHL Youth Leadership Summit participants at the American Red Cross, National Headquarters

High school students share their impressions of the IHL Youth Leadership Summit hosted in June 5-8, 2014 in Washington, DC.

It was fun learning from the other teams and getting to see how they interpreted and informed the public on International Humanitarian Law and Child Soldiers. I learned that there are so many ways to communicate an idea to people, and affect them in such a way that they are interested in learning more and finding a way to be active for a particular cause. I was most impressed by the extensive use of technology by some of the Action Campaigns. When Oxford Academy does the IHL Action Campaign next year, it is definitely a goal to incorporate more technological mediums which will allow for us to target more of our community. The goal for all of these incredible campaigns is to not only make a difference, but to get other people to care and want to do something too. It is awesome to be able to get more people in the Orange County, CA community involved and interested in topics that are important to reflect upon. With all of the impressive and creative ideas for the IHL Action Campaign that my group and I saw this year, we are excited to get a head start and plan an awesome campaign for next year.

-Daniella, Oxford Academy


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