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International Review: Principles guiding humanitarian action

Counterterrorism / Online publications / Religion / Sexual Violence 5 mins read

International Review: Principles guiding humanitarian action

Jenin. ICRC delegate negotiating with Israeli military authorities about problems linked to the earth wall built by Israeli Defense Forces. (Photo by Carina Appel, 2003-07-14)

The year 2015 was marked by a major anniversary for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement: 50 years ago, its seven Fundamental Principles have been adopted in Vienna. This prompted several initiatives to study their contemporary practice and impact of the principles guiding humanitarian action, including an international conference cycle and this dedicated edition of the International Review of the Red Cross.

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What are the main challenges that humanitarian actors face in upholding a principled approach in today’s crises and emergencies? How are “principles guiding humanitarian action” understood by different actors and used in contemporary field realities? These are the questions to which the Review sought a response in this issue.

The contributions highlight three important dimensions of the principles guiding humanitarian action: (1) they function simultaneously as “tools to do the job” – providing a compass to navigate through difficult choices in situations of conflicts and violence (2) as “identity catalysts” – resulting from the experience of humanitarian workers, principles in turn contribute to shaping the humanitarian sector’s identity and boundaries , and (3) as an “ethos in action” – they are not only principles of humanitarian actors, they are humanitarian principles; the call to uphold human dignity, embedded in the principle of humanity, can and should be heeded by all of us.

Table of contents

Editorial: The humanitarian ethos in action

Vincent Bernard, Editor-in-Chief of the International Review of the Red Cross

The new editorial board of the International Review of the Red Cross

IRRC Editors

Interview with Mr Ma Qiang

Ma Qiang, Former Executive Vice-President of the Shanghai branch of the Chinese Red Cross

Humanitarian principles put to the test: Challenges to humanitarian action during decolonization

Andrew Thompson, Professor of Modern History at the University of Exeter

Romancing principles and human rights: Are humanitarian principles salvageable?

Stuart Gordon and Antonio Donini

Unpacking the principle of humanity: Tensions and implications

Larissa Fast, Science and Technology Policy Fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Volunteers and responsibility for risk-taking: Changing interpretations of the Charter of Médecins Sans Frontières

Dr Caroline Abu Sa’Da and Xavier Crombé

A matter of principle(s): The legal effect of impartiality and neutrality on States as humanitarian actors

Kubo Mačák, Lecturer in Law at the University of Exeter

Applying the humanitarian principles: Reflecting on the experience of the International Committee of the Red Cross

Jérémie Labbé and Pascal Daudin

Walking the walk: Evidence of Principles in Action from Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies

Amelia B. Kyazze, Senior Humanitarian Policy Adviser at the British Red Cross

Legislating against humanitarian principles: A case study on the humanitarian implications of Australian counterterrorism legislation

Phoebe Wynn-Pope, Yvette Zegenhagen and Fauve Kurnadi

From Fundamental Principles to individual action: Making the Principles come alive to promote a culture of non-violence and peace

Katrien Beeckman, Head of the Principles and Values Department at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Coming clean on neutrality and independence: The need to assess the application of humanitarian principles

Ed Schenkenberg van Mierop, Executive Director of HERE-Geneva

Tools to do the job: The ICRC’s legal status, privileges and immunities

Els Debuf, Legal Adviser in the Office of the Head of the Legal Division of the International Committee of the Red Cross

Faith inspiration in a secular world: An Islamic perspective on humanitarian principles

Lucy V. Salek, Senior Policy Adviser on Conflict Transformation for Islamic Relief Worldwide

“Rahmatan lil-’alamin” (A mercy to all creation): Islamic voices in the debate on humanitarian principles

Abdulfatah Said Mohamed and Ronald Ofteringer

Faith and impartiality in humanitarian response: Lessons from Lebanese evangelical churches providing food aid

Kathryn Kraft, Lecturer in International Development at the University of East London

Opinion note: Is neutral humanitarian action permissible under Islamic law?

Mohd Hisham Mohd Kamal, Associate Professor at International Islamic University Malaysia

Memorandum: The ICRC’s privilege of non-disclosure of confidential information


Speech: Humanitarian diplomacy and principled humanitarian action

Peter Maurer, President of the ICRC

What’s new in law and case law around the world?

ICRC’s Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law

Book review: Humanitarian ethics: A guide to the morality of aid in war and disaster

Fiona Terry

Book review – International law and armed conflict: Fundamental principles and contemporary challenges in the law of war

Anne Quintin

New publications in humanitarian action and the law (Spring/Summer 2015)

ICRC Library and Research Services

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