Geneva Conventions and United Nations Personnel (Protocols) Bill [ Lords]

Part of Registration of Births and Deaths (Welsh Language) – in the House of Commons at 2:57 pm on 1st April 2009.

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Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art 2:57 pm, 1st April 2009

I do not intend to detain the House very long on what I think is a fairly uncontentious Bill. This is one of those debates in respect of which, as it is has progressed this afternoon, hon. Members have made points that warrant discussion in greater detail. Although I understand the history and evolution of the Red Cross brand, it is worth pausing to think, if only for a moment, whether we are on the way to diluting that brand, thus rendering it more ineffective than effective in so many of the countries in which it plays so critical a role. How long will it be, I wonder, before someone says that the Red Cross is no longer the appropriate term to cover UN aid agencies, given the fact that we have the Red Crescent, the red crystal and other organisations? Will we have to go through a rebranding exercise? I am sure that nobody would want that to happen, but some might argue that it is the next logical stage.

I think it is worth pausing—with your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I do not want to depart too much from the meat of the Bill—to recognise the role that men and women under the umbrella organisations of the UN are playing in countries around the world. It is rather sobering to read what the noble Lord Malloch-Brown, a shadow Foreign Office Minister in the House of Lords, said. [Interruption.] As the Minister has recognised, I made a Freudian slip in saying that he is a shadow Minister when he is of course the real thing. He said:

"One of the darkest clouds of my latter years at the UN was the severity and growing frequency of attacks on UN humanitarian workers."—[ Hansard, House of Lords, 27 January 2009; Vol. 707, c. 197.]

That is, of course, regrettable and wholly unacceptable.

The increase in the number of attacks is worth bearing in mind. In 1996, three ICRC relief workers in Burundi were killed while travelling in a vehicle clearly marked with Red Cross emblems. In 1999, four ICRC staff were killed by the Sudan People's Liberation Army in south Sudan. They had been abducted in February, and were executed in April. In 2001, six ICRC workers were killed in Ituri Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo while travelling in two vehicles marked with Red Cross emblems. Also in 2001, a Red Cross plane was shot down in Sudan and the co-pilot was killed. In 2003, five ICRC staff were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq following the bombing of the ICRC's headquarters in Baghdad in a suicide attack. In 2007, a Red Crescent driver was seriously injured in an attack on a Somali Red Crescent pick-up truck clearly marked with the Red Crescent emblem.

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