Geneva (AFP) – The head of the Red Cross federation, the world’s largest humanitarian network, is stepping down, a spokesman confirmed Thursday, following a row in Italy surrounding the Rome Pride event.
Francesco Rocca is leaving his post as the head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) after the controversy in Italy, where since March he has led the right-wing government of the Lazio region, encompassing Rome.
Earlier this month, the Lazio government withdrew its sponsorship of Rome Pride, saying the June 10 event was too political.
Rocca said he decided to resign to avoid the possibility that his decisions taken as president of the Lazio region might be instrumentalised in a way that affects the reputation of the IFRC.
In a letter to the 191 national societies and the IFRC secretariat, he said “with great sadness” that his decision to resign was a “very difficult one” reached after “some careful and painful reflections driven by my desire to protect our organisation and people we serve”.
Recent events related to Rome Pride have made him think “how every single decision or action taken by me, despite always being in line with our fundamental principles and values, could be instrumentalised in good or bad faith and risk to jeopardise the reputation of our beloved IFRC”.
He also said his growing engagements in Lazio were making it difficult to juggle the two jobs.
The IFRC presidency is an unpaid, voluntary role, so presidents have typically had other careers or positions while serving in the post.
Rocca will remain in charge at the Geneva-based IFRC until a successor is chosen.
An IFRC spokesman told AFP: “He called for an extraordinary session of the general assembly, and at the end of this session he will resign.”
The date of the assembly should be decided within the coming weeks, he added.
His resignation was first reported by Switzerland’s ATS news agency.
- Row in Rome
The IFRC brings together more than 16 million volunteers around the world, acting before, during and after disasters and health emergencies to help meet the needs of vulnerable people.
Rocca, 57, became president of the IFRC in 2017 and was re-elected in 2022
Of the decision not to sponsor the Rome Pride, Rocca, as Lazio president, had said the region’s name “cannot, nor will it ever, be used to support actions aimed at promoting illegal behaviour”, specifically surrogacy.
The theme of Rome Pride 2023 was “QueeResistenza”.
Campaigners have been condemning what they called “multiple attacks” on the LGBTQ community in Italy since Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s hard-right government took office in October.
Rocca was elected in Lazio with the backing of Meloni’s coalition, which styles itself as a defender of “traditional” family values.
The premier’s far-right Brothers of Italy party has proposed a law to extend Italy’s existing ban on surrogacy to include Italians who go abroad to find a surrogate mother.
The Lazio region said Rome Pride’s public statements — which include calls for the rights of same-sex couples to adopt children or access fertility treatment, and for legalisation of surrogacy — “violate the conditions” of sponsorship.
The mayor of Rome, left-winger Roberto Gualtieri, condemned the decision and said his city authorities would maintain their sponsorship.