Will the humanitarian we know today and for decades succumb to the multiplication of conflicts, terrorism as well as the return of high intensity war against a background of fragmentation-recomposition of the world and the return of peoples, nations and empires.
The humanitarian we are talking about here is the access of victims of conflicts, disasters and major epidemics to the relief they urgently need to live. This humanitarian is that of the principles of political neutrality, the impartiality of aid based solely on needs without distinction of any kind and the independence of NGOs from state political actors. Finally, our humanitarian is that of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) which aims to regulate and basically humanize the course of wars.
Does war today change the conditions for humanitarian action?
What do we see today? We see on the one hand a bloody Hamas expedition to slaughter Israeli civilians and on the other hand the State of Israel, which has the right to defend itself, use massive military means on the tiny territory of Gaza or fighters and Palestinian population are very intertwined at the cost of many civilian casualties. IHL is in danger of being lost if we do not return at least to a regular supply of the population and hospitals, with safe areas, not to mention the protection of hostages and civilians.
In Ukraine, we saw Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, invade a country with internationally recognized borders, in the name of a war of preventive reconquest, generating crimes against humanity, a war of very high intensity, as well as a certain lack of understanding of neutrality as well as impartiality of relief. The war lasts, the Ukrainians are the first response to their own needs, the separatist territories of Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk in the east of the country are inaccessible to humanitarians who, moreover, must demonstrate their purpose and their added value.
In Afghanistan, after 20 years of war by the United States and NATO against the Afghan Taliban, which finally won, impose sharia law and lead humanitarians to choose between relief for millions of Afghans in the face of famine and respect for the human rights of these same Afghans, particularly Afghan women. Everyone determines his action according to the priority of his mandate!
In the South Caucasus, we saw a state, Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey and a passive Russia, impose a total blockade for 9 months to 120,000 Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh or Artsakh that no humanitarian organization could no longer rescue. Then launch a lightning attack to drive them away in a few days from their ancestral land in violation of IHL and the negotiations that were then taking place. The issue of international aid is now crucial for Armenia itself, which is threatened.
We could multiply the examples to other regions such as in the case of Sahel countries that export destabilization to all of western Africa or to the Asia Pacific in the process of accelerated militarization around Taiwan. Nor is it necessary to examine in detail the Middle East on the verge of explosion from the epicentre of Gaza which is both a revealer and an accelerator of antagonisms. It is no mystery to anyone that Hamas’ bloody offensive is a proxy war between Iran and the Arab countries aimed at derailing the Abraham Agreement between Israel and these Arab countries against the backdrop of the Palestinian cause.
From 1980 to 2023, what change of era?
War is not new, neither terrorism, nor war crimes, nor even genocide. What is changing, however, is this multiplication of wars against the backdrop of a conflicted recomposition of the world and the obvious weakening of the UN.
In the 1980s, at the time of the East-West conflict, wars took place essentially on the periphery of the «two great». We were dealing with endless «small wars» where humanitarians then found their place between the legitimacy of solidarity and the need for relief in poor countries with little structure and in civil war. This type of situation still exists but it is no longer the only model.
Moreover, what complicates any binary approach between unjust war and just peace, it is the theory of the so-called just war that meets criteria stated since Roman antiquity by Cicero, then by Saint Thomas Aquinas in the MiddleAge until the Geneva Conventions of the post-Second World War. And to distinguish well in Latin the «jus ad Bellum» on the just causes of a war, the «jus in Bello» on the just behaviors and the «jus post Bellum» on the equitable peace agreements. Without forgetting the duty of resistance, developed by the supporters of the duty of interference like Bernard Kouchner.
Iraqi army soldiers patrol the streets on March 1, 2006 in Mosul, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom to retake the city controlled by Daesh. (US Army photo by Spc. Clydell Kinchen)(US Army photo by Spc. Clydell Kinchen)
In 2023, we are experiencing a double background movement that overlaps and fears accelerating each other. There is the active focus of terrorism carried by the most radical Islamist minorities. At the same time there is a powerful aspiration to a multipolar world of what is called the global south, which asserts itself in the face of the so-called western world and its values and which could weaken IHL if we do not know how to promote it as a common value for all without distinction.
The danger of a politicization of the humanitarian.
In this extremely destabilizing context for the humanitarian world, some may have the dangerous temptation to politicize the humanitarian to assert their own personal preferences and promote this or that system of thought or ideology. We must warn them to impose on themselves the recurrent criticism they oppose to States or international organizations when they accuse them of sometimes using humanitarian aid for political purposes.
For those who nevertheless wish to pursue this partisan path, it seems to me that the shortest path would be to engage politically without using a humanitarian screen that would have everything to lose in legitimacy, consistency and confidence, including their partners and public opinion, both here and on the ground. Not to mention the internal divisions that this would generate within each organization and within the humanitarian community itself.
Continue in the humanitarian path called «dunantist» in reference to the founder of the Red Cross, Henri Dunant, during the battle of Solferino in 1859, which bases the humanitarian principles already mentioned (humanity, neutrality, impartiality, independence), which does not exempt us from thinking about what the Germans call «zeitenwende» or change of era and its consequences on the new conflictual contexts of humanitarian aid.
The need to adapt.
This also does not exempt humanitarians from making their «aggiornamento» and evaluating their limits as a force of proposal, influence and effectiveness in the service of populations in danger. In this online review «Humanitarian Challenges», we have initiated this reflection and we will continue it as with this editorial that participates in it.
Thus, I believe that respect for so-called universal values can and must be compatible with respect for human diversity, which is a wealth. Diversity of peoples and cultures that want to be recognized and respected and whose most minority are by definition the most threatened with disappearance or oppression. Biodiversity is well and rightly protected. Let us also protect humanity one and diverse.
Humanitarian aid is more necessary than ever to save more and more lives at risk. The humanitarian crest line is always the path of humanist commitment, impartiality, risk-taking to allow access to relief for populations in danger.
The international humanitarian situation and the modalities of its action will be at the heart of the 5th National Humanitarian Conference (CNH) which will be held in Paris and which will be the opportunity to present the 3rd edition of the Humanitarian Strategy of France for the period 2023 – 2027.
President of Humanitarian Challenges.
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Alain Boinet is the president of the online journal Défis Humanitaires http://www.defishumanitaires.com and the founder of the humanitarian association Solidarités Humanitaires, of which he was executive director for 35 years. In addition, he is a member of the Humanitarian Consultation Group at the Crisis and Support Centre of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, a member of the Board of Directors of Solidarités International, the French Water Partnership (PFE), the Véolia Foundation, the Think Tank (re)sources.
Discover the Défis Humanitaire 82th Edition :
- Humanitarian aid in the face of widespread geopolitical disruption
- In Gaza with Première Urgence Internationale
- Opinion column: Afghanistan: help at any price
- Humanitarian aid and development: what synergies for people?
- International solidarity key to integrating Nagorno-Karabakh refugees in Armenia
- Combating antimicrobial resistance
- “Le goût du risque”