TO THE 31ST INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE OF THE RED CROSS, GENEVA, 28 NOVEMBER 2011
May I begin by expressing my appreciation to the Swiss Government and the IFRC for the hospitality extended to me and my delegation since our arrival in Geneva.
We are also grateful to the ICRC for the assistance extended to the Cook Islands since our country became a member of this great Movement in 2003.
May I also say that my country is deeply honoured to have one of its own nationals, Ms Miki Rattle, to chair this most important Conference.
Joining together with the other countries represented here today in a combined effort to strengthen respect for international humanitarian law is a responsibility the Cook Islands takes very seriously.
The Cook Islands is small; it has no military forces of its own. Indeed, it has been more than half a century since we last sent troops to serve in an armed conflict, World War II.
Nevertheless, daily telecasts and other media reports bring home to Cook Islanders as well as to other small island States in the Pacific the horrors of war and the threats they pose to the lives and welfare of not only combatants but also innocent bystanders caught up in the conflict. As geographically isolated from war as we in the Pacific may seem to be to many, the tragic consequences of war are very real for all of us.
With that realization comes a responsibility shared by the Cook Islands and all other members of the international community. That responsibility is to build a strong respect for the Geneva Conventions and other IHL instruments.
However, a different challenge to meeting that responsibility faces small countries like the Cook Islands and others in the Pacific, far from the theatres of conflict. That challenge is to find our appropriate role in building respect for IHL.
Over the past twelve months, my Government and the Red Cross have, together, worked to address that challenge. We may not have our own military forces or be involved in military conflict, but we understand well that if we are to play our own small part in keeping safe the victims of war, then Cook Islanders need to first build knowledge of and respect for IHL in our own country.
The seed of knowledge of IHL must be planted which, if nurtured with care, will grow into familiarity and respect. In that regard, I wish to record with appreciation the initiative and drive of the Cook Islands Red Cross, over the course of this year, in planting that seed. Through the combined efforts of the Society and Government, a national IHL Committee has been established to promote knowledge of and respect for IHL. It is already active.
The fruit of our own knowledge and respect, I believe, will be an opportunity to reflect those values and attitudes more widely in our own region and beyond. We may be small, but through such actions, we – and other nations like us – can contribute to building global support for IHL.
In that regard and on behalf of my Government may I express our gratitude to the ICRC for the valuable assistance in the field of IHL. My Government gives its full support and co-operation to the Cook Islands Red Cross Society in building a strong respect for IHL in our country. Towards that end, and for the very first time, we have taken the initiative to commit the Government in joint pledges with the Cook Islands Red Cross in working together to promote IHL and international disaster response law.
On that note, and in conclusion, my country looks forward to working with its friends across the Pacific to stand together with us in building a culture where respect for IHL is strengthened both in our own region and beyond.