22nd International Humanitarian & Security Conference
Webster University Geneva’s Department of International Relations, together with the Webster Humanitarian Association (WHA), held its 22nd International Humanitarian and Security Conference (IHSC) on February 16-17, 2017. The conference was led by Dr. Oreste Foppiani, Head of Webster Geneva’s Department of International Relations, and was organized in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). As in the past editions, it benefited from the High Patronage of the Government of the Republic and Canton of Geneva. Staff, faculty and students—notably those affiliated with the WHA—played a key role in the preparation and running of the conference, which involved over thirty panelists and four keynote speakers. The 22nd IHSC was attended by over 200 participants. It was once again held at the CICG (Centre International de Conférences Genève).
This year’s conference, “Upholding Refugee Protection, Human Rights and Humanitarian Law: The Role of Geneva in International Humanitarian Action,” marked the merger between Webster University Geneva’s Security Forum with the International Humanitarian Conference in order to better address the complex challenges of today’s world.
Panelists and keynote speakers addressed six themes: 1) Upholding International Humanitarian Law; 2) Fighting against environmental degradation and its consequences; 3) The responsibility to protect civilians; 4) Combating trafficking in human beings along migration routes; 5) The role of private foundations and non-profit organizations in humanitarian action; 6) The role of Geneva in international humanitarian action.
Protecting the Most Vulnerable
In his opening remarks, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN Office in Geneva and Other International Organizations, asked the question: “There were 65 million people displaced worldwide in 2016: What is the response of the international community?” He went on to relay the Pope’s firm condemnation of the abuse of human trafficking crimes and corruption, especially with regard to the rights of children. Jurkovič ended with the plea: “Let us be the last generation to fight the trade in human life.”
Ambassador Madina Jarbussynova, Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), further underlined the “inextricable link between migration and human trafficking” and how refugees on the move were most vulnerable to fall prey to criminal syndicates who, she estimated, generated a $3-6 billion profit in 2015.
The Role of Humanitarian Action and the Responsibility to Protect
In his powerful and emotional opening remarks, Doctor Thomas Nierle, Member of the International Board of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and President of MSF Switzerland, paid tribute to the MSF and ICRC colleagues who lost their lives in the field in the past months. Nierle said: “Attacks on humanitarian aid are part of a war strategy to make life unbearable for civilians.” And he asked: “Can we still work on the frontline of these conflicts or [only] from the sidelines?”
On February 16, the keynote speaker Giuseppe De Giorgi, Vice Admiral and former Chief of Staff of the Italian Navy, who was responsible for Operation MARE NOSTRUM in 2013-2014, presented the history and mission of the above-mentioned operation and how it aimed to carry out Search-and-Rescue (SAR) missions at sea and arrest human smugglers. He went on to explain why MARE NOSTRUM ended and why there is still a dire need “for a wider strategic approach while continuing to save people from drowning.”
During the different sessions on protecting vulnerable people, upholding human rights, preventing environmental degradation, and combating human trafficking, one of the common threads, was the need to adopt a comprehensive and holistic approach to address these issues and their root causes involving the key actors and stakeholders internationally through greater consultations and effective collaboration.
All photo credits: Oliver O’Hanlon.