Debating the History of Humanitarianism

Human-Rights

Andrew Thompson
Director, Centre for Imperial & Global History
University of Exeter

Humanitarianism developed at the intersection of Decolonization, the Cold War, and new & accelerating forms of Globalization. Decolonisation was about much more than the ending of colonial relationships: what was at stake was the dismantling of an entire global order: an old world of imperial states was replaced by a new world of nation states and this ushered in new patterns of cultural, political and economic relations. In the existential struggle that was the Cold War, the control of overseas territory mattered intensely to each side’s sense of security and power.

Capitalist West and socialist East competed to convince nearly and newly independent African and Asian states to adopt their models of humanitarian and development aid. As a result it became more difficult to distinguish aid given to further state interests from that given according to recipient needs. Globalisation meanwhile expanded the range of voices to which humanitarians had to listen while radically differentiating them. Aid agencies intensified their use of the international media, yet were exposed to greater pressures from their donor states and publics.

Together these 3 geopolitical forces − Decolonization, the Cold War, & Globalization − raised far-reaching questions about the relationship of international organizations and NGOs to state power; the basis upon which humanitarian needs were identified and prioritized; and the interaction of humanitarians with non-state armed groups. Continue reading “Debating the History of Humanitarianism”

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”

Global Humanitarianism Research Academy 2015 – Week 2

Cross-posted from Humanitarianism & Human Rights

After the first week of academic training at the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz, the Global Humanitarianism Research Academy (GHRA) 2015 travelled for a week of research training and discussion with ICRC members to the Archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva.

DSCN5071GHRA participants in the ICRC Archives

The First Day at Geneva started with an introduction to the public archives and library resources by ICRC staff. Jean-Luc Blondel, former Delegate, Head of Division, and currently Adviser to the Department of Communication and Information Management welcomed the group. Daniel Palmieri, the Historical Research Officer at the ICRC, and Fabrizio Bensi, Archivist, explained the development of the holdings, particularly of the recently opened records from 1966-1975. The Librarian Veronique Ziegenhagen introduced the library with its encompassing publications on International Humanitarian Law, Human Rights, Humanitarian Action, international conflicts and crises. The ICRC also possesses a superb collection of photographs and films which Fania Khan Mohammad, Photo archivist, and Marina Meier, Film archivist explained. Continue reading “Global Humanitarianism Research Academy 2015 – Week 2”

First Global Humanitarianism Research Academy, 13-24 July 2015

Fabian Klose
Leibniz Insitute of European History, Mainz
Follow on Twitter @FabianMKlose

Cross-posted from Humanitarianism & Human Rights

In about four weeks the first Global Humanitarianism Research Academy (GHRA) will meet for one week of academic training at the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz before continuing with archival research at the ICRC Archives in Geneva.The Research Academy addresses early career researchers who are working in the related fields of humanitarianism, international humanitarian law, peace and conflict studies as well as human rights covering the period from the 18th to the 20th century. It supports scholarship on the ideas and practices of humanitarianism in the context of international, imperial and global history thus advancing our understanding of global governance in humanitarian crises of the present.

GHRA announcement

The GHRA received a huge amount of applications from an extremely talented group of scholars from more than fifteen different countries around the world. The selection committee considered each proposal very carefully and has selected these 12 participants for the GHRA 2015: Continue reading “First Global Humanitarianism Research Academy, 13-24 July 2015”

The Future of the Past: Shining the Light of History on the Challenges Facing Principled Humanitarian Action

ICRC 50th anniversary
Food distribution, Pakistan. ICRC / Muhammad, N.

Andrew Thompson
History Department, University of Exeter

Cross-posted from the Humanitarian Practice Network

Even as Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the world mark the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the movement’s Fundamental Principles, there is a palpable sense that they are at risk. Threatened not only by the resurgence of state sovereignty and proliferation of non-state armed groups, the very universality of the principles may be in question. As the twenty-first century draws on, are the principles of ‘impartiality’, ‘neutrality’ and ‘independence’ still fit for purpose as Western influence wanes and the nature of conflict itself rapidly evolves?

The Red Cross’ principles have marinated in a century and a half of humanitarian history. That history matters. The past helps us to understand how different types of threat to humanitarian principles have emerged from different types of conflict and geopolitical environments. History also sheds light on how, despite such obstacles, the principles came to acquire the public prominence and moral authority they currently possess.

Where did the Fundamental Principles come from? Continue reading “The Future of the Past: Shining the Light of History on the Challenges Facing Principled Humanitarian Action”

History in the Making: An @ICRC Interview with Andrew Thompson

ICRC Headquarters, Geneva.
ICRC Headquarters, Geneva.

Malcolm Lucard
Cross-posted from Red Cross Red Crescent Magazine

Internal records from the ICRC’s archives concerning the conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s shed light on a decisive era for humanitarian action.

In a small room in the basement of ICRC headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, historian Andrew Thompson methodically pours through folders full of documents — typewritten mission reports, confidential telegrams and hand-written letters — never before seen by people outside the ICRC.

“It is a process of discovery,” says Thompson, a professor of history at Exeter University in the United Kingdom. “There is a sense of expectation and anticipation not knowing what is going to be there. For a historian, it’s a bit like opening a birthday present, or like going into a candy shop.”

The ‘candy shop’ in this case is the ICRC archives, where Thompson is exploring 40- to 50-year-old records to be released to the public in January 2015 under the ICRC’s policy of making internal documents public in blocks of ten years once 40 years have passed since the events they describe.

Aside from exciting Thompson’s intellectual curiosity, these records offer a deeper understanding of conflicts going on between 1965 and 1975. In particular, they give insight into an area of great interest to Thompson, who took an early look at the records in order to pursue research on the evolution of international humanitarian law and human rights law as they pertain to the treatment of political detainees in non-international conflicts.

“I see the ICRC archive as hugely important for people thinking and writing about the past and present of humanitarian aid and human rights,” he says. “But it’s also much more than that. It’s an archive that allows for studying conflict in all its different dimensions.”

The archives are a treasure trove for historians as they contain first-hand accounts from delegates on the ground, as well as internal and external correspondence, for every major conflict during the period in question. According to Thompson, they offer a perspective not always found in diplomatic or military archives because in addition to political analysis, they show how conflict affects the lives of ordinary people on the ground. Continue reading “History in the Making: An @ICRC Interview with Andrew Thompson”

Call for Applications: Global Humanitarianism Research Academy

Global Humanitarianism

International Research Academy on the History of Global Humanitarianism

Academy Leaders:  

Fabian Klose (Leibniz Institute of European History Mainz)

Johannes Paulmann (Leibniz Institute of European History Mainz)

Andrew Thompson (University of Exeter)

In co-operation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (Geneva) and with support by the German Historical Institute London.

Venues:  

  • Leibniz Institute of European History, Mainz
  • Archives of the International Committee of Red Cross, Geneva

Date:                          13-24 July 2015

Deadline:                   31 December 2014

Information on:       

http://hhr.hypotheses.org/ and https://imperialglobalexeter.com/

The international Global Humanitarianism | Research Academy (GHRA) offers research training to advanced PhD candidates and early postdocs. It combines academic sessions at the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz and the Imperial and Global History Centre at the University of Exeter with archival sessions at the Archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. The Research Academy addresses early career researchers who are working in the related fields of humanitarianism, international humanitarian law, peace and conflict studies as well as human rights covering the period from the 18th to the 20th century. It supports scholarship on the ideas and practices of humanitarianism in the context of international, imperial and global history thus advancing our understanding of global governance in humanitarian crises of the present. Continue reading “Call for Applications: Global Humanitarianism Research Academy”