The rehabilitation of international humanitarian law (IHL) has become a priority for those who think that the horrors of contemporary wars are largely due to the blurring of the distinction between civilians and combatants and for those who think that campaigning for the respect of IHL could result in more civilised wars. Similarly, respect for humanitarian principles is still seen by many as the best tool available to protect the safety of aid workers. In this text, I argue that both assumptions are misled. The distinction between civilians and combatants, a cornerstone of IHL, has been blurred in practice since the late nineteenth century. In addition, humanitarian agencies claiming to be ‘principled’ have been victims of attacks as much as others. History and current practice tell us that neither IHL nor humanitarian principles provide safety or can guide our decisions. Accepting their symbolic value, rather than their unrealised potential to protect and solve operational dilemmas, would free humanitarian agencies from endless speculations.
right to intervene
This article was first published in Issue 2, Volume 2 of The Journal of Humanitarian Affairs.
How can a medical humanitarian organisation deliver emergency assistance in Syria when there is nowhere in the country where civilians, the wounded and their families, medical personnel and aid workers are not targeted? Not in the areas controlled by the government, nor in those held by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the different rebel groups. So what action could be taken, and how? Remotely or on site? At the very least, we had to decipher the diverging political and military agendas, and then adapt, persist or sometimes just give up. In this article, I will present the full range of methods used to acquire knowledge and obtain information as well as the various networks used to carry out this venture. I will also show how Médecins Sans Frontières’ operations became a balancing act, punctuated by episodes of adapting to the various difficulties encountered.
In the eyes of Rony Brauman of Médecins sans Frontières, wars are always triggered in the name of morality. Today’s “humanitarian” interventions are little more than new moral crusades – and their justifications are based on lies.
Rony Brauman has just published “Guerres humanitaires ? Mensonges et intox”. This book, a collection of interviews co-authored with Régis Meyran, explores a number of recent armed interventions that have all shared the goal of saving lives. Reviewing conflicts in Somalia, Libya, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, Brauman discusses the reasons advanced for justifying these wars and the accompanying lies.
Argued in the 1990s in the name of the "right or duty to intervene", the application of military might to rescue populations in danger is now debated with reference to the "Responsibility to Protect" paradigm (or "R2P" for those in the know). In this article Fabrice Weissman explains why MSF refuses to adhere to this doctrine of ‘just war', whose legalisation would effectively be legalising a new form of imperialism.
Should military forces be dispatched to a foreign country to save its population from massacre, famine, epidemics, or oppression? Debated in the 1990s as the "right or duty to intervene", the application of military might to rescue populations in danger is today debated as the "responsibility to protect".