Humanitarian principles revisited? Current and future challenges – Panel discussion
On 21 March, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the ICRC, and at the backdrop of the Review’s recent issue on ‘The Future of Humanitarian Action’, the International Review of the Red Cross and the Centre for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action (CERAH) convened a panel discussion in Geneva entitled ‘Humanitarian Principles Revisited? Current and Future Challenges’.
With panellists ranging from classical humanitarian actors such as MSF and ICRC to a more faith-based actor such as IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation in Turkey, the event offered an opportunity to explore the meaning of humanitarian principles, their relevance in today’s multi-faceted humanitarian environment, and the challenges in operationalising them. It also marked the first-ever launch of the Review in Geneva.
Fiona Terry, expert on humanitarian action and member of the Editorial Board of the Review, opened the discussion by stating that the debate is too often framed around the ‘pragmatic vs. principled approach’ dichotomy. She insisted that it is a false debate since the humanitarian principles are actually very pragmatic in themselves: ‘the principles provide ethical and operational norms to guide behaviour’. The panellists - Philip Spoerri, Director of International Law and Cooperation, ICRC, Bruno Jochum, Director General of MSF Switzerland, Ed Schenkenberg Chief Executive of DARA and former director of ICVA, a global network of over 70 national and international non-governmental organisations, and Huseyin Oruc, Deputy President, IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation - shared the perspectives of their respective organisation. They discussed adherence to humanity, independence, impartiality and neutrality, issues of interpretation of the principles, relations with belligerents and the question of perception, with reference to specific contexts such as Syria, Afghanistan or Somalia.
The event attracted great interest from academics, students, humanitarian practitioners and donors. The audience engaged the panellists on various topics such as integrated missions, multi-mandate organisations, dissemination issues, the impact of professionalization of the humanitarian sector on principles, the relevance of a global dialogue and the usefulness of ‘codes of conduct’ for humanitarian organizations.
This event took the Review ‘off the bookshelf’ and offered a public forum for discussion on some critical issues for contemporary and future humanitarian action.
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