Cross-Posted from imperialglobalexeter
Andrew Thompson History Department, University of Exeter
Even as Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the world mark the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the movement’s Fundamental Principles, there is a palpable sense that they are at risk. Threatened not only by the resurgence of state sovereignty and proliferation of non-state armed groups, the very universality of the principles may be in question. As the twenty-first century draws on, are the principles of ‘impartiality’, ‘neutrality’ and ‘independence’ still fit for purpose as Western influence wanes and the nature of conflict itself rapidly evolves?
The Red Cross’ principles have marinated in a century and a half of humanitarian history. That history matters. The past helps us to understand how different types of threat to humanitarian principles have emerged from different types of conflict and geopolitical environments. History also sheds light on how, despite such obstacles, the principles came to acquire the public prominence and moral authority they currently possess.
Where did the Fundamental Principles come from?
The principles were first articulated by the Swiss jurist and co-founder of the international Red Cross, Gustave Moynier. His four principles of the 1870s ‒ ‘centralisation’, ‘foresight’, ‘mutuality’ and ‘solidarity’ ‒ were more firmly focused around the role of the national societies and their relation to the ICRC and each other.
Right from the get-go, the idea of giving aid based purely on the needs of the suffering, irrespective of religious, ethnic or political affiliation, was built into the Geneva Conventions. Article 6 of the 1864 Convention stated that wounded or sick combatants would be collected and cared for regardless of nationality.