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You are here: Home / … / Australia: Changing minds on law and war
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Australia: Changing minds on law and war

Joe Cropp, Australian Red Cross, in Melbourne

In late 2009, the global membership of the IFRC made a collective comittment to increase its advocacy efforts to address the major challenges facing the world today. It’s new Humanitarian Diplomacy Policy highlights the responsibility of Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies to persuade decision-makers and opinion leaders to act, at all times, in the interests of vulnerable people, and with full respect for fundamental humanitarian principles.

Australian Red Cross has embraced its responsibility as a Red Cross National Society to disseminate International Humanitarian Law (IHL). They utilised humanitarian diplomacy as a key method for educating the public and decision makers about the set of rules which seek to limit the effects of armed conflict on certain categories of people and place restrictions on the methods and means of warfare.

According to Dr. Steve Francis, National Manager for Movement Relations & Advocacy , “Australian Red Cross selected a very public method of humanitarian diplomacy to pursue our IHL dissemination goals. We were determined to generate improved understanding of IHL and Red Cross principles and values among decision makers and the general public.”
Winning hearts and minds

The need to educate the public about IHL became apparent when Australian Red Cross undertook the People on War survey to mark the 60th Anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. The survey revealed that more than 40 per cent of Australians surveyed thought that it was “okay to torture captured enemy soldiers in certain cases to obtain important military information”. And while 88 per cent of participants in the survey had heard of the Geneva Conventions, 49 per cent felt that the “laws of war” made no difference.

The results of the survey were disturbing, leading Australian Red Cross to conclude that a public campaign was required to help bring to life the Geneva Conventions for a new audience. The campaign was launched early in 2010 in every major Australian city.
Campaign in action

Australian Red Cross staff and volunteers took to the streets to spread the IHL message that “even wars have laws.” Using public displays that were vibrant and quite confronting, the campaign focused on the themes of the illegality of using torture, the crime of using child soldiers, and the prohibition on anti-personnel landmines.

The images used in the campaign sought to make everyday Australians reflect upon issues that are experienced by our colleagues in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement across the world. Volunteers engaged in humanitarian diplomacy with members of the public and 20,000 postcards with information about IHL were distributed. “We felt it was time to raise our voice about these matters with the general public,” said Dr. Francis.

The campaign was successful in raising the importance of humanity during war with more than 40 mentions on television, radio and in print media. This coverage extended across all capital cities and reached people who would not normally pay attention to humanitarian issues.

The campaign website received 10,000 hits during the first week. Six thousand people completed an on-line poll on issues such as the protection of hospitals and schools and the laws relating to child soldiers. Results from the poll indicated that after Australian Red Cross had provided campaign information, only 5% of those polled believed it was acceptable to use torture. On the streets, volunteers reported a strong level of support and, interest in the issues being brought to the attention of the public.
The Road Ahead

Australian Red Cross believes the Even Wars Have Laws campaign was successful in its stated aim of educating, informing and engaging key stakeholders about IHL, including decision makers and the general public.

In reflecting on lessons learned, Australian Red Cross considers the focus on IHL, an area in which the International Movement has a high level of expertise and experience, ensured credibility was maintained. In winning hearts and minds through the Even Wars Have Laws campaign, successful humanitarian diplomacy was achieved due to a unique ability to help the general public and the media relate to the images on display and think more deeply about the situations and philosophical and moral issues they presented.

This example of public Humanitarian Diplomacy, and the positive results arising from the actions taken has encouraged Australian Red Cross to continue to examine and identify new opportunities to advocate on issues of humanitarian concern. While confidential diplomacy is the primary approach in the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, action in the public sphere is becoming necessary, where the humanitarian need is greatest and where other means of changing minds and raising awareness have not been successful.

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