Geneva's 21st Humanitarian Conference

Webster's 21st International Humanitarian Conference drew 350 participants. [Photo by Oliver O'Hanlon]
Webster University's 21st International Humanitarian Conference in Geneva drew 350 participants to address themes ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit scheduled for May in Istanbul


Webster University Geneva’s Department of International Relations, together with the Webster Humanitarian Association (WHA), held its 21st International Humanitarian Conference (IHC) on Feb. 18-19, 2016. This year’s Conference entitled “Toward the World Humanitarian Summit” aimed at addressing topics of the first World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to be held in Istanbul on May 23-24, 2016.

Toward the World Humanitarian Summit

This year’s IHC was led and organized by Oreste Foppiani, head of Webster Geneva’s International Relations’ Department, who worked in close cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as well as with faculty, staff and students of the university.

As in previous years, the conference was held under the auspices of the Government of the Republic and Canton of Geneva. The conference hosted over 40 distinguished panelists and speakers, including practitioners, scholars, members of the Geneva-based international community and representatives of civil society. The conference attracted 350 participants.

The aim of the IHC was to discuss and assess the key issues on the agenda of the first World Humanitarian Summit, a UN Secretary-General initiative: Improving the Efficacy of Humanitarian Action, Reducing Human Vulnerability and Risk, Transformation and Innovation in Humanitarian Action, Meeting the Need of People in Conflict Situations. 

As Elisabeth Laurin, Permanent Representative of France to the UNOG and Other International Organizations, reminded those present at the IHC conference: “The Istanbul summit is a major rendezvous to address major crises.”

The Critical Role of Individuals

Among the conference's featured speakers (clockwise from top left): Fausto Pocar, Nicola Carlone, Oreste Foppiani, Olivier Coutau, Yves Daccord, and Elisabeth Laurin. [Photos by Oliver O'Hanlon; Carlone photo by Jess Wright]
Enter Among the conference's featured speakers (clockwise from top left): Fausto Pocar, Nicola Carlone, Oreste Foppiani, Olivier Coutau, Yves Daccord and Elisabeth Laurin


While the speakers addressed the crises affecting millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance, several panelists underlined the critical impact that individuals can have on today’s events.

In in his opening remarks, Olivier Coutau, Geneva’s State Council’s Delegate for International Geneva, posed the challenging question that all humanitarians should ask: “What is the interest of the victims?”    

On Feb. 18, the keynote speakers Yves Daccord, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and Fausto Pocar, president of the international Institute of Humanitarian Law (IHL) and judge of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), offered some answers to Coutau’s question. 

Daccord said: “There has been a shift in the way security is managed toward the power of the individual.  Individual people can make a difference, good and bad.  We are in a new ‘ecosystem’ in which the UN and non-governmental organizations, and people, have a role to play in a more dynamic, fluid world.”

Pocar spoke of the relationship between humanitarian action and law: “[There is a need for] restorative action and preventive action, and respect for the individual.”

Effective Media for Effective Humanitarian Action

On Feb. 19, in the second-day keynote address, Jean-Marie Etter, director of the Fondation Hirondelle, spoke of the role of the media and the diffusion of information via radio in areas of crises around the world. "There cannot be effective humanitarian action without effective media," she said. "And our role is to provide information, not communication.”

Return conference speaker Nicola Carlone, head of the Plans & Operations Department, Italian Coast Guard HQ, talked about the role of NGOs and the Italian Coast Guard in the mass rescue operations held in the Mediterranean. While the general population has been made well aware of plight of immigrants off the Italian coasts, thanks to extended media coverage, in his presentation, Carlone provided precise data to illustrate how the number of persons rescued continued to rise over the past year.

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