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”