“The present is never present – it is already past. Humanitarian action in an age of reorder” – by Markus Geisser

2 ICRC Staff Members Killed in Attack in Yemen

Cross-posted from Humanitarianism & Human Rights

AHRC Care for the Future, in partnership with Exeter’s IIB and the GHRA 2018, invited Markus Geisser, Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor at the International Committee of the Red Cross to give a public keynote at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery Exeter. Markus looks back to a long career as humanitarian practitioner and accordingly he referred in his talk to this long experience.

Markus joined the ICRC in 1999 and carried out his first mission as an ICRC delegate in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This was followed by several years managing field operations in Myanmar, Thailand, Liberia, Darfur (Sudan) and then again in eastern DRC. From 2006 until 2013, he worked in senior management positions in countries affected by the so-called “Global War on Terror”, first in Iraq and Jordan, then in southern Afghanistan and in Washington DC. From 2013 until 2015, he served as Deputy Head of the division working on humanitarian policy and multilateral diplomacy at the ICRC’s headquarters in Geneva. In March 2015 he joined the ICRC Mission to the United Kingdom and Ireland as Senior Humanitarian Affairs and Policy Advisor.

Why Historians Can Be Valuable Members of the Humanitarian Family

ICRC in Geneva

Cédric Cotter
Law and Policy researcher, ICRC

Cross-posted from Humanitarianism & Human Rights

When I was a young student in history and philosophy at the University of Geneva, I had never thought that one day I may work for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Yet it happened. While I was preparing my Masters thesis, the protection division at the ICRC was looking for a young historian to carry out a research in their archives. I got hired for a one-year traineeship contract, which was extended by two shorter terms within the relations with the arms carriers unit and at the archives division. This experience was a turning point in my career. As a consequence, I decided to write my PhD dissertation on the history of the ICRC, which was part of a research project dedicated to Switzerland during the First World War. I analyzed the interactions between humanitarian action and neutrality at that time.

In July 2015, during my research, I got the chance to participate in the very first Global Humanitarian Research Academy. This academy played a very positive role for me, as it was an occasion to meet other researchers working on the history of humanitarian action. Our various talks and debates made me think about other practices and ways of studying the past of humanitarian organizations. We shared different perspectives, some close and some more distant from mine, however all of them very interesting and challenging. It also gave me the opportunity to posit my hypotheses and research results to more advanced scholars. They gave good advice that I then used during the writing process of my dissertation. Meeting others PhD students was useful in terms of networking, of course. Beyond that, the excellent atmosphere created during the academy allowed us to maintain amicable contacts, as well. Still today, I regularly exchange with my fellows. At the end, this experience was really rewarding. Continue reading “Why Historians Can Be Valuable Members of the Humanitarian Family”

What Does it Mean to Act with Humanity?

Fabian Klose and Mirjam Thulin (eds.), Humanity: A History of European Concepts in Practice From the Sixteenth Century to the Present. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2016. 324 pp. £75 (hardback), ISBN: 9783525101452

Reviewed by Ben Holmes (University of Exeter)

What does it mean to belong to the human race? Does this belonging bring with it particular rights as well as responsibilities? What does it mean to act with humanity? These are some of the big questions lying at the heart of a new edited collection from Fabian Klose and Mirjam Thulin, Humanity: A History of European Concepts in Practice From the Sixteenth Century to the Present (2016). Based on a 2015 conference at the Leibniz Institute in Mainz, the book, as the title suggests, is not a purely conceptual history of the term ‘humanity’.[1] Rather it looks to discover ‘the concrete implications of theoretical discourses on the concept of humanity’ [page 18]. In other words, how did ideas of ‘humanity’ guide European practices in areas like humanism, imperialism, international law, humanitarianism, and human rights?[2] The editors argue that despite the implied timeless, universal nature of the term, humanity is both a changing, dynamic concept, and has been prone to create divisions as much as it promotes commonality. Although the volume is a study of European conceptions of humanity, the contributions are transnational, displaying how conceptions of humanity were practiced in Europe and in the continent’s interactions with the wider world over the course of five-hundred years. Continue reading “What Does it Mean to Act with Humanity?”

Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid in the Twentieth Century

Review of Johannes Paulmann (ed.) Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid in the Twentieth Century. London: Oxford University Press, 2016. 460 pp. £75 (hardback), ISBN: 9780198778974

Ben Holmes
History Department, University of Exeter

Dilemmas HumanitarianismDilemmas of Humanitarian Aid in the Twentieth Century (2016), edited by Johannes Paulmann (Director of the Leibniz Institute of European History and Professor of Modern History at the University of Mainz), exemplifies the burgeoning field of the history of humanitarianism. In providing historical context to a sector that is often stuck in the ‘perpetual present’, the volume shares a common purpose with a fast-growing body of literature.[1] Specifically, the volume examines 150 years of history to demonstrate that the technical and ethical crises central to modern humanitarianism – such as competition between aid organisations, the tendency of aid to ‘do more harm than good’, and the manipulation of aid by political actors – are not unique to the twenty first century. They have, in fact, ‘been inherent in humanitarian practice for more than a century’ [3].[2] Continue reading “Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid in the Twentieth Century”

Tonight (12pm EST, 5pm GMT) Watch Live Streaming ICRC Debate on the History of Humanitarianism with Director Thompson

ICRC (1)

Cross-posted from the International Committee of the Red Cross, where the debate will be streamed live

This livestreamed public event, to be held on 16 September from 18:00 to 19:30, will gather internationally recognized historians, academics and senior humanitarian practitioners to discuss the doctrine of humanitarian principles in critical historical perspective. It will be the public segment of a two-day historical symposium jointly organized by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, theUniversity of Exeter and the ICRC. The event is inscribed in the Research and debate cycle on principles guiding humanitarian action.

The year 2015 represents a major anniversary for the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement: 50 years ago, its “Fundamental Principles” have been proclaimed at its XXth International Conference  in Vienna. The aim of this conference is to reflect on how these principles have influenced – and been influenced by − the broader humanitarian sector. What can be learnt about the Principles from the rich history of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the wider humanitarian sector, that may in turn provide insights into current realities and act as a guide for the future?

The panelists will discuss the relevance, influence and challenges of the humanitarian principles in three different historical periods: (1) From the Birth of Humanitarianism to the World Wars (c. 1860-1945), (2) Decolonisation and the Cold War (1945-1989) and (3) The Era of “Liberal Interventionism” (1990’s-today). Continue reading “Tonight (12pm EST, 5pm GMT) Watch Live Streaming ICRC Debate on the History of Humanitarianism with Director Thompson”