Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at the 150th Anniversary of the Red Cross humanitarian action at the House of Estates on 1 October 2013


In wars and catastrophes, the Red Cross and the Red Crescent are symbols of humanity and hope. They are signs of a genuine will to help. People in need are not left alone.

I congratulate the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement on its’ 150th anniversary. Thank you for your endless work to save lives and reduce human suffering. The vision of Henry Dunant to protect the civilian population from the brutal consequences of war is as relevant today as it was 150 years ago.

The valuable work of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement should lead decision makers, us, to reflect seriously on what kind of a world we are living in.

Humanitarian crises, conflicts and even some of the natural disasters are caused by humans – by us. In Syria over 110 000 people have been killed, and more than 6 million have had to flee their homes, but so far the international community and the UN Security Council, have been unable to stop the fighting and provide sufficient aid to the Syrian people.

Terrorism is a constant – and “a man made threat” causing fear, injuries and death as witnessed in Kenya.

There is clear evidence that Climate change is happening and the Earth is warming, and we, human beings are causing most of it. But there is lack of political will to stop it – or lack of will to respond to any of these crises , man-made crisis.

On the other hand, endless work carried out by the volunteers and the professional delegates of the Red Cross should make every one of us ask, is there anything I can personally do? It seems that far too often we are placing the responsibility to act on someone else. Have we forgotten that if you give, you will receive?

Unfortunately, providing help is not an easy task. In places like Afghanistan humanitarian organizations and workers are being threatened and deliberately targeted. Twenty years ago the norm was to respect humanitarian principles, but today’s realities are different.
In some cases, the roles and responsibilities between the military and humanitarian actors have become blurred. Military assets can be used in support of humanitarian assistance only when no other means are available. The fundamental principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence must be respected by all parties, at all times.

As the number and scope of emergencies rise steadily, we need to ensure that the international humanitarian system is effective. We have to work harder to foster trust and strengthen the global partnerships in international humanitarian assistance.

Over the past century and a half, the International Committee of the Red Cross has grown into an organization that is present in over 90 countries all over the world. The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is rooted into local communities through their national societies. These societies are often the first ones to provide assistance when disaster strikes, and also the last ones to leave.

The Finnish Red Cross is one of the largest civic organizations in our country. I’m particularly proud to be a patron of an organization which helps those, who need it most. Together we can encourage people to take care of each others.

I wish the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement strength and determination in their important work!