Webster Geneva Hosts 26th Annual International Humanitarian and Security Conference

Conference organizers include many students at Webster GenevaWebster University Geneva hosted the 26th Annual International Humanitarian and Security Conference (IHSC) at the International Conference Center of Geneva (CICG), on the theme of “Renewing Multilateral Cooperation and Humanitarian Action to Protect Migrants, Refugees and Vulnerable Populations in a Time of Pandemic.” This year’s conference was held in person, with all keynotes and panels live-streamed.

The International Relations Department, in collaboration with the Webster Humanitarian Association, a student-led NGO, organized the two-day conference in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. This year’s conference, led by Dr. Jubin Goodarzi, chair of its scientific committee, was once again possible due to the support of the Swiss Confederation and the High Patronage of the Government of the Republic and Canton of Geneva.

The conference opened with a welcome from Dr. Goodarzi and Dr. Ryan Guffey, Director General of Global Campuses for Webster University.

Keynote presenters and panelists joined from UN Agencies, International Organizations and leading international NGOs, including:

  • International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Action Contre La Faim (Action Against Hunger)
  • U.N. High Commission for Refugees World Health Organization
  • U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC)
  • World Trade Organization
  • International Labor Organization
  • Internal Displacement Monitoring Center
  • Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders)
  • Platform on Disaster Displacement

Webster Geneva and public leaders at the conferenceRepresentation from academia, in addition to several Webster University faculty who also led panel sessions, included professors from the University of Geneva, the Graduate Institute of International & Development Studies, and the Institute of Economics at Corvinus University. In keeping with tradition, Webster student volunteers helped run the conference, from event logistics to technical support.

Remarks from Olivier Coutau, Geneva State Council’s Delegate for International Geneva, set the stage for the importance of the conference tradition, given Geneva’s critical role in serving as a hub for international cooperation and humanitarian action, and given its resources of university talent. “This conference is a fine example of what International Geneva is proud to offer,” said Coutau. Regarding global humanitarian needs during the pandemic, he added that this year’s IHSC “is a timely and welcomed contribution” towards interdisciplinary dialogue.

Day One included keynote speeches from Dr. Gilles Carbonnier, Vice-President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and Jean-Francois Riffaud, CEO of Action Against Hunger.

Dr. Carbonnier addressed numerous challenges related to armed conflict, covid-19 and climate change—from the rise in armed non-state actors to the growing need for commitments on climate finance. Regarding migrants, he expressed that “Covid has made life more precarious for people on the move all over the world” and that they are now “more vulnerable to security and other risks – particularly women and children,” and he closed with a call for further multi-stakeholder engagement.

Riffaud, who delivered the second keynote, has led numerous development aid programs (Central Asia, Middle East, Africa and Latin America). He addressed current security challenges that are creating a “shrinking humanitarian space”, and gave examples of how the targeting of aid workers and the neglect of agreed principles and international law have created more dire situations around the world for Action Against Hunger and other humanitarian actors.

Various panel sessions followed, on topics related to the Pandemic, Socioeconomic Implications, International Law and Human Rights, and Humanitarian Assistance and Protection. One guest panelist, Atle Solberg, from the Platform on Disaster Displacement, joined “Live from COP26” in Glasgow, via zoom.

It's the 70th anniversary year of the 1951 Refugee Convention, yet 1% of the world’s population is forceably displaced

Day Two of the conference began with an esteemed keynote speaker, Gillian Triggs, Assistant High commissioner for Protection at the UNHCR, who addressed “Challenges to Refugee Protection in the Age of Crises and Pandemic”. Dr. Otto Hieronymi, founder of the IHSC and former Head of the IR Department at Webster Geneva followed, with an sweeping and inspiring presentation on the need for a “Revival of Multilateral and Humanitarian Cooperation” in present times (transcript available here).

Gillian Triggs noted that while it is the 70th anniversary year of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the world has approached a staggering figure that 1% of the world’s population forceably displaced, and that whether from persecution, violence, conflicts, poverty, work, climate, inequality or discrimination, perhaps the #1 priority for leaders will be to respond to the mass displacement of people due to climate, which acts a exascerbating factor and risk multiplier to other crises. Panel sessions on Day 2 focused on Internal Displacement and Climate Change, as well as the Future of Planetary Health and the Protection of Vulnerable Populations.

The conference was held at CICGOf particular note was the session on Internal Displacement and Climate change, in which Barbara Essig (of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center) debunked the “unfortunate, great myth” of disaster displacement & climate change: that it will not lead to mass, cross-border migration “from the global South to the global north, but rather it will create internal or local cross-border displacements within the regions. This creates politically-based fear, she argued, which stalls the advancement of international policy and cooperation agreements.

That panel directly addressed the nexus of these cross-cutting issues of Migration and the Environment, which raised many elements and themes that will be included in the International Relations department’s new M.A. in Migration, Climate Change and the Environment, launching at Webster in Geneva in Fall 2022. Dina Ionesco, formerly with the International Office of Migration and panelist-contributor, who gave both a comprehensive review and inspiring outlook for the future of human migration and international cooperation, will be among the faculty teaching in the new Master.

Webster University Geneva expresses its deepest thanks to our keynote speakers and panelists, the Webster Humanitarian Association, our annual partners (ICRC and UNHCR), our patrons (Geneva’s State Council and the Swiss Confederation) and our many student volunteers.

The live stream on YouTube was recorded and will be made available for asynchronous viewers soon. For details about the speakers and links to the videos, please visit webster.ch/ihsc or visit the Webster University Geneva YouTube channel (Day 1 | Day 2). Key points on the conference, written by Dr. Jubin Goodarzi can be found here.

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