FOR THE FIRST TIME IN ITS 150-YEAR HISTORY, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has appointed a woman, Dr Helen Durham, as the Director for International Law and Policy to its headquarters in Geneva. She speaks to JULIE MCCROSSIN.
As Helen Durham and her husband, singer and musician Greg Arnold, set up their new home in Geneva and find schools for their children, Alexander and Hannah, an interesting “to do” list is waiting on Durham’s new desk. The Red Cross has a mandate to educate people on the laws of war. The laws are found in the Geneva Conventions, their additional protocols and other treaties restricting the use of particular weaponry. The ICRC in Geneva has a particular mandate to influence the behaviour of people to respect these laws.
At 45, Durham is the youngest person ever appointed to the role and the first Australian to join the ICRC Directorate in Switzerland. Indeed, she is the first non-Swiss citizen to join this Directorate.
The priorities for her new job include keeping health care workers safe in war zones, preventing the use of child soldiers and reducing sexual violence towards both sexes in armed conflict. While progress has been achieved in international law for female victims of sexual violence, Durham believes more work is needed for men and boys, especially in relation to sexual humiliation during interrogation.
This is a challenging line up for any new job, but it seems there is plenty more to keep her awake at night.