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Humanitarian care and small things in dehumanised places

31-12-2012 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 888, by Paul Bouvier

Small things, just like a cup of coffee, pictures of flowers, animals, and landscapes, or a few drops of perfume. Very small things indeed, so derisory that they rarely dare to appear in reports, accounts, and media articles on humanitarian action in the field. Yet, such small things sometimes represent a substantial part, and perhaps a most meaningful one, of the activity of the ICRC’ personnel in the field in the midst of armed conflicts and violence.


Paul Bouvier is the senior medical adviser of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Geneva, Switzerland, with specialisations in paediatrics and public health. His special interests include vulnerability, trauma, and resilience of victims of violence. Since 1979 he has visited or worked as a physician in various places of detention on various continents. At the ICRC his current activity deals with health and ethical issues in humanitarian action, and training humanitarian professionals in the public health responses in crises and armed conflict.