Challenging the notion of a ‘humanitarian tradition’


Thomas Brückner

These days, when we compare discourses of humanitarian assistance, it is astonishing how many states use the formula of a ‘humanitarian tradition’ to describe past actions and indeed influence current debates (see examples with critical discussions from Britain and from Switzerland). Wo liegt die Humanitäre Schweiz ? Eine Spurensuche in 10 Episoden accordingly conducts research into the history of the concept in Switzerland during the 19th and 20th century. Continue reading “Challenging the notion of a ‘humanitarian tradition’”

The ICRC and Switzerland 1919-1939: a “special relationship” examined

Basel, 8 May 2016, the World Red Cross Day and Henry Dunant’s birthday. Copyright: Thomas Brückner

Thomas Brückner

Switzerland is uniquely positioned as host of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Swiss neutrality, Swiss humanitarian policy, and the Swiss flag are often associated with the Red Cross. As a result, a special relationship has developed between the country and the international humanitarian organization. My book, Hilfe schenken. Die Beziehung zwischen dem Internationalen Komitee vom Roten Kreuz und der Schweiz (NZZ Libro 2017), critically explores this relationship during the period between the two World Wars (1919-1939) using sources from the ICRC archives, the Federal Archives of Switzerland, and a wide range of publications and private archives in Switzerland.

At first sight, the interwar years were a calm period for the special relationship. Looking closer, however, exposes how the relationship between the ICRC and Switzerland changed and strengthened during this time, foreshadowing criticisms during Second World War that the axis between Bern and Geneva had become too close to guarantee truly neutral and independent humanitarian aid. Continue reading “The ICRC and Switzerland 1919-1939: a “special relationship” examined”