GENEVA – The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies plans to adopt a charter to guarantee the rights of volunteers and establish mission guidelines as demand for their services grow globally, sources familiar with the matter said Thursday.
The organization hopes to incorporate lessons learned from the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011 in the “Charter for Volunteers,” expected to be adopted at its November general assembly in Turkey. If enacted, it would be the world’s first guidelines for volunteer activities set by an international organization, they said.
The draft charter says volunteers are to “alleviate human suffering,” “protect life and health” and “never discriminate.” It also calls for “promoting a culture of nonviolence and peace.”
While volunteers have come to play a critical role in the humanitarian support work of the Red Cross, its staff has witnessed various challenges volunteers face in doing their work. The charter is expected to help prevent such on-site problems.
On the volunteers’ part, they have faced a lack of protection during unsafe missions.
The draft charter states that “volunteers are not unpaid workers but the embodiment of voluntary service,” and calls on aid organizations to “protect the volunteers” and “facilitate volunteers’ access to health and life insurance, and in some cases opportunities for livelihood.”
In 2001, the International Association for Volunteer Effort adopted the Universal Declaration on Volunteering, but its content is less concrete than the envisioned charter.
The charter is expected to be shared by international organizations and nongovernmental organizations once it is adopted.
The Red Cross said there are currently over 14 million volunteers helping its activities worldwide.
Volunteer activities had a watershed moment in Japan after a major earthquake hit Hyogo Prefecture in 1995. And in the wake of the March 11, 2011, quake and tsunami disaster that struck the eastern Tohoku region, over 1.52 million people volunteered to help in the relief efforts there.
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