Professor Dr. Helmut Aust and Dr. Esra Demir-Gürsel, Freie Universität Berlin
The workshop looks at the role of history and historical events for the protection of human rights in contemporary Europe that is facing an authoritarian and populist backslide. It brings together three important debates: firstly, the current challenges for the protection of human rights in Europe; secondly, the historical roots of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) which was intended to provide an early warning mechanism against a fallback into authoritarianism and totalitarianism and thirdly, the way the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has dealt so far in its case law with historical injustices, i.e. the type of situations it was meant to prevent from arising again. The current rise of authoritarian and populist tendencies poses the risk of turning into a severe threat for a European public order based on the ideals of human rights, the rule of lawand democracy – all of which are essential to securing peace and stability in Europe. The workshop will mapthe strengths and weaknesses of the ECHR system to keep its initial promise in the face of this current challenge. It connects three strands of discussion which have so far been leading separate lives yet need to be seen together. When thinking about the current challenges for the ECHR system it is worthwhile to reflect upon the conditions under which the Convention and its Court were set up. What was the role that the Court should play in upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law when the Convention was drafted? How have these expectations shifted over time? How has the ECHR defined its role when dealing with cases which concerned large scale historical injustices? The workshop will provide a forum for reflection on these issues which are of great importance for the maintenance of peace and stability in Europeand beyond. The way that the European system of human rights protection will deal with these situations is likely to have repercussions on a global scale.
As historians have engaged in a widespread and heated discussion about the history of human rights and its relationship to contemporary political and social developments around the world, many have also turned to humanitarianism. With new and protracted conflicts raging in the Middle East and other parts of the world, and with the growing number of natural disasters caused by a rapidly changing climate, humanitarian workers and organizations are busier than ever before. And yet, the scholarly literature on humanitarianism and the labours of humanitarian workers since the 1700s was, until the last decade or so, focussed mainly on humanitarian aid delivered to various sites of conflict after the end of the Cold War. Political scientists were the primary researchers pushing this field of humanitarian studies. Thankfully, historians have joined this scholarly discussion, adding a much-needed historical perspective. Historians at all levels are trying to understand the origins and development of humanitarianism, asking many vital questions: what has mobilized empathy for those suffering during war; how has humanitarianism been used and abused by the West in its effort to colonize the Global South; how can we understand the often-fraught gender and power dynamics involved in humanitarian campaigns and in the administration of aid; and, what is the relationship between humanitarianism and human rights? Scholars are also historicizing humanitarian institutions – like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Oxfam, Médecins Sans Frontières, CARE, and older institutions that tried foster “humanitarian sensibilities” like religious groups (missionaries) and the abolitionist movement – and asking how they fit into this budding historical narrative?
This rather brief outline of the field and its vital questions are merely a sampling of the work being done by historians around the world. It is also a snap shot of some of the themes I took away from this year’s iteration of the Global Humanitarianism Research Academy. In July 2018, I had the privilege of travelling to the University of Exeter in the UK and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Public Archive and Library in Geneva, Switzerland with the generous support of Care for the Future, the Leibniz Institute for European History, the German Historical Institute in London, and the ICRC. During my two-week intensive workshop and archival work, I had the pleasure of meeting and exchanging views with established scholars, newly-minted PhDs, and fellow PhD Candidates. I learned a lot during what can only be called a two-week academic adventure! While I could probably write ad nauseum about what I learned, my archival finds, and the people I met, I want to draw attention to a few lessons.
The fourth Global Humanitarianism Research Academy (GHRA) took place from July 09 to 20, 2018 at the University of Exeter and the Archives of International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. The GHRA was organized by FABIAN KLOSE (Leibniz Institute of European History Mainz), JOHANNES PAULMANN (Leibniz Institute of European History Mainz), and ANDREW THOMPSON (University of Exeter) in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross and with support by the German Historical Institute London. The Steering Committee received a huge amount of applications for the GHRA 2018 from around the world and selected twelve fellows (nine PhD candidates, three Postdocs). The participants came from Canada, China, France, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States and represented a range of disciplinary approaches from History, International Relations, and Political Science. Additionally, the GHRA was joined by GUY THOMAS (ICRC Geneva), IRÈNE HERRMANN (University of Geneva), STACEY HYND (University of Exeter), MARC-WILLIAM PALEN (University of Exeter), and ANDREAS GESTRICH (German Historical Institute London).
On Day One, the participants started with discussing crucial texts on the historiography of humanitarianism and human rights. The common reading list included texts regarding the historical emergence of humanitarianism since the eighteenth century and the troubled relationship between humanitarianism, human rights, and international humanitarian law. Furthermore, the participants reflected on twentieth century conjunctures of humanitarian aid and the colonial entanglements of human rights as well as recent scholarship on the genealogies of the politics of humanitarian protection and human rights since the 1970s. In the evening, MARCUS GEISSER (ICRC, United Kingdom) gave a stimulating public guest lecture “The ‘present’ is never present – it is already past. Humanitarian action in an age of reorder” at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum Exeter, in which he reflected on his personal experiences as an ICRC delegate for twenty years in various conflicts around the world.
The international Global Humanitarianism | Research Academy(GHRA) offers research training to PhD candidates and early postdocs. It combines academic sessions at the Imperial and Global History Centre at the University of Exeter and the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz with archival sessions at the Archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. The Research Academy is for early career researchers who are working in the related fields of humanitarianism, international humanitarian law, peace and conflict studies, human rights covering the period from the 18th to the 20th century as well as the institutional history of the ICRC and the development of its fundamental principles. It supports scholarship on the ideas and practices of humanitarianism in the context of international, imperial and global history thus advancing our understanding of global governance in humanitarian crises of the present.
In July 2019, the Global Humanitarianism | Research Academy
will first meet for one week in Mainz for academic sessions of lectures, class
meetings and discussions, including study time (the academic meetings rotate
annually between Mainz and Exeter; in the previous year this meeting took place
in Exeter). PhD students will have the chance to sharpen the methodological and
theoretical focus of their thesis through an intense exchange with peers,
postdocs, and established scholars working in the same or related field of
humanitarianism. The postdocs
will benefit from discussing their research design and publication strategy
with established scholars.
The academic session at Exeter or Mainz is each year followed by a one
week archival session at Geneva. Here the archives of the ICRC offer a unique
insight into humanitarian action during the past 150 years. The holdings provide
rich material, including visual material, for the history of international
affairs in the ages of nation states, empires and global governance,
particularly the study of humanitarianism, humanitarian law, conflicts studies
as well as related issues such as human rights. Under the guidance of
experienced archive staff, the members of the Research Academy will study
primary sources related to the previous discussions at Exeter as well as to their
own research projects if applicable.
Opportunities may also be provided for intensive discussions with active
members of the ICRC staff and other Geneva based humanitarian organisations.
Each selected academy fellow receives the cost of travel to Mainz
and accommodation in Mainz and Geneva. Academy fellows will be asked to
purchase their travel to Geneva as proof of their commitment to attending the
The Research Academy
invites applications for the 2019 Global
Humanitarianism | Research Academy (GHRA) from PhD students and early
postdocs. The Steering Committee will select up to 12 participants. Applicants
must be able to certify that they are fluent in both written and spoken English,
the Academy’s working language. Participants of the international Global Humanitarianism | Research Academy will be chosen
by the Steering Committee on the basis of
a cover letter (maximum 350 words)
setting out the applicant’s motivation for participating in the academy
and indicating the anticipated outcome of their research;
a statement (maximum 1,000 words)
summarizing their research project;
a brief curriculum vitae (maximum 2 pages);
letters from appropriate referees.
This application should be compiled by the applicant and the whole set of papers including reference letters should be submitted as a single PDF, with the file saved as ‘LASTNAME_FIRSTNAME.PDF’. To apply, please send your application consisting of one pdf-document with the Subject “Global Humanitarianism | Research Academy” to the organisers at email@example.com by December 31, 2018.
The German Historical Association (Verband der Historiker und Historikerinnen Deutschlands) passed a resolution on present threats to democracy at its bi-annual meeting in Münster
The German Historical Association (VHD) held its bi-annual meeting, the Historikertag, from 25-28 September in Münster, Westphalia. The 3.700 visitors debated the theme “Divided Societies” (“Gespaltene Gesellschaften”) in almost 100 sessions and panels ranging from ancient to contemporary history. The topic was also intensively discussed with regard to historians’ role in the present. Initiated by Dirk Schumann and Petra Terhoeven from Göttingen and supported by a group of a dozen historians, the General Meeting on 27 September passed a resolution on the present threats to democracy (“Resolution des Verbandes der Historiker und Historikerinnen Deutschlands zu gegenwärtigen Gefährdungen der Demokratie”). An overwhelming majority of the several hundred members present voted in favour of the Münster declaration (pdf).
The resolution defends key principles against present-day threats posed by populists’ voices and activities. It argues amongst others for a historically sensitive language against discriminatory cries like “Volksverräter” or “Lügenpresse” reminiscent of the anti-democratic rhetoric in Germany during the first half of the twentieth century. It further appeals to hold up humanitarian principles and international law with regard to asylum seekers and refugees calling to mind past German deeds and experiences. The declaration also mentions the search for European cooperation that emerged from the bitter strife and conflicts during period of two world wars as well as the principles of debating in pluralist democracies. The resolution concludes with an appeal to study the past critically so that political abuse in the form of fake history can be rejected based on scholarship.
The resolutions has already attracted comments in the press. See for example
During the General Assembly and in a panel discussion on the previous evening, members of the German Historical Association discussed not so much the detailed points in the draft resolution, nor did they question the exact wording. A large majority appeared to support the key principles. The foremost question was whether and how historians should intervene in political debates. Some argued against a resolution on particular political issues although they generally supported the ideas and values of the text. They preferred to focus on threats to freedom of research and the democratic conditions necessary to maintain that freedom. Few saw the resolution as a party political statement or pointed out that a rhetoric of crisis might fuel the danger. That the declaration was also directed against the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) was plain without that party being explicitly mentioned. Nevertheless, most recognized that the text was on the defence of principles rather than policies and does not support positions of any single political party.
Those in favour agreed that historians should give guidance based on their scholarly expertise. Historical guidance for the public usually takes the form of analysis and historical explanations. However, it seemed to the majority that present threats called also for normative statements. One speaker reminded the assembled historians of Theodor Mommsen’s intervention in the anti-Semitism debate in 1880 and declared that Mommsen’s principled stance may serve as a positive reference for today’s German Historical Association. Distinguishing between the historian as scholar and expert on the one side and the historian as citizens on the other was described as a moot and artificial point under present circumstances. It was felt that historians should explicitly defend those principles of pluralist society under attack from populism at present. One speaker from Chemnitz and another one from a memorial site (Gedenkstätte) in Lower Saxony strongly urged those present to pass the resolution because they needed this kind of support by the professional organisation against the current, sometimes daily threats to their freedom of research. The final vote by showing of hand demonstrated that German historians as an organised profession overwhelmingly recognized the present threats and saw the need to defend key principles of pluralist and democratic society.
The Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz, Germany seeks a new Research Fellow (Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter*in) for five years
Deadline: 15 October 2018
The successful candidate pursues an individual research project within the frame of the IEG research agenda “Negotiating differences in Modern Europe” . The innovative project contributes to one of the three research areas of the IEG (research program). The position is open to Early Modern and 19th or 20th century applications.
The Leibniz Institute of European History (IEG) in Mainz is an independent research institute and a member of the Leibniz Association. It conducts research on the political, social, cultural and religious foundations of Europe from the early modern period to contemporary history and has an international fellowship programme for PhD candidates (www.ieg-mainz.de/en).
Since 2015, Denmark’s conservative-liberal government has tightened immigration laws 89 times. Denmark has minimised the financial allowance for asylum seekers, made family reunifications almost impossible for refugees under temporary protection and suspended the admittance of UN quota refugees. “I want to make Denmark unattractive for asylum seekers”, says minister of Integration Inger Støjberg. Now, prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has introduced a plan to deport rejected asylum seekers to centers outside the EU.
Danish Parliament in Copenhagen
Read and hear more in a feature by German public radio Deutschlandfunk Kultur:
AHRC Care for the Future, in partnership with the University of Exeter, invite you to join us for an evening with Markus Geisser, Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor at the International Committee of the Red Cross. Markus will be talking about his work with the International Committee of the Red Cross – a career that has seen him travel the globe and influence the development of humanitarian aid policy. There will be an opportunity at the end of Markus’ talk to ask questions. This will be followed by a wine reception with nibbles. All are welcome to attend.
When: Monday 9 July 2018, 17:45 – 19:55 BST Where: Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Queen Street, Exeter, EX4 3RX
****Please register your attendance****
Doors at 17:45 for a 18:00 start.
Please use the garden entrance at RAMM for Gallery 20.
Markus looks back to a long career as humanitarian practitioner. A Swiss native, he started in 1999 when he first joined the ICRC and carried out his first mission as an ICRC delegate in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This was followed by several years managing field operations in Myanmar, Thailand, Liberia, Darfur (Sudan) and then again in eastern DRC. From 2006 until 2013, he worked in senior management positions in countries affected by the so-called “Global War on Terror”, first in Iraq and Jordan, then in southern Afghanistan and in Washington DC. From 2013 until 2015, he served as Deputy Head of the division working on humanitarian policy and multilateral diplomacy at the ICRC’s headquarters in Geneva. In March 2015 he joined the ICRC Mission to the United Kingdom and Ireland as Senior Humanitarian Affairs and Policy Advisor. He holds a Diploma in Peace and Conflict Studies from the Fernuniversität Hagen, a BA in Political Sociology from the University of Lausanne and a MSc in Violence, Conflict Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.
Switzerland is uniquely positioned as host of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Swiss neutrality, Swiss humanitarian policy, and the Swiss flag are often associated with the Red Cross. As a result, a special relationship has developed between the country and the international humanitarian organization. My book, Hilfe schenken. Die Beziehung zwischen dem Internationalen Komitee vom Roten Kreuz und der Schweiz (NZZ Libro 2017), critically explores this relationship during the period between the two World Wars (1919-1939) using sources from the ICRC archives, the Federal Archives of Switzerland, and a wide range of publications and private archives in Switzerland.
At first sight, the interwar years were a calm period for the special relationship. Looking closer, however, exposes how the relationship between the ICRC and Switzerland changed and strengthened during this time, foreshadowing criticisms during Second World War that the axis between Bern and Geneva had become too close to guarantee truly neutral and independent humanitarian aid.Looking at ICRC missions in the field, for example, I found that the ICRC did not collaborate with Switzerland during the interwar years nearly as much as it had done during the First World War. This also held true for the refugee crisis after the First World War, and for several conflicts during the 1930s.
However, Swiss foreign policy started relying more and more on its relationship with the ICRC. It was important for government officials to position Geneva and the ICRC as pillars of its neutrality and humanitarian policy in order to promote Geneva as the headquarters of the League of Nations.
There was also competition about competencies and patronage when it came to developing international humanitarian law. Switzerland showed a great interest and provided resources to the ICRC. Members of the ICRC were in close collaboration with Swiss officials to prepare a convention for the protection of prisoners of war and the revision of the Geneva Convention. In 1929, a conference held in Geneva completed this work and 33 states signed the conventions. The Swiss and the ICRC positions were strengthened in the texts.
Beginning of “the Troubles” and the erection of the “Peace Lines” (constellations)
Over the course of 1969, domestic tensions in Northern Ireland, which had been growing for decades between the Protestant and Catholic parts of the population, escalated to the point of open violence. In August, various cities experienced several days of civil-war-like unrest. In Belfast, the hostile confessional groups engaged in veritable street battles in which residential districts were attacked and entire streets lined with houses were burned down. Nine people were killed, over 700 civilians and police were injured, and in Belfast alone nearly 400 houses were damaged by arson attacks.
Northern Ireland was an integral part of the United Kingdom. When the situation came to a head, the prime minister of Northern Ireland called on the central government in London for help. In response, British army units were sent to separate the parties to the conflict and bring the situation back under control. After arriving, the British soldiers began to put up barbed wire fences and checkpoints around the neighbourhoods controlled by the battling groups – first at the hot spot between the Catholic Falls Road and the Protestant Shankill Road. The idea was to prevent further attacks between Protestants and Catholics. General Sir Ian Freeland, the British troops’ general officer commanding, called these peace lines a “very, very temporary affair”, underscoring his position thus: “We will not have a Berlin Wall or anything like that in this city”.
The Peace Line on Springmartin Road in Belfast-West
Yet over the course of the nearly thirty-year conflict in Northern Ireland, which is often referred to as “the Troubles”, the provisional fences were indeed replaced with permanent barriers: walls of concrete and steel, up to eight meters high and reinforced at the top with fencing, whose various sections ran for a total of 34 kilometres through front yards and residential streets. These so-called “peace lines” or “peace walls” put their stamp on the cityscape of Belfast, as they did in other Northern Irish cities like Derry/Londonderry, Portadown and Lurgan. They became a visible expression of Northern Ireland’s population, divided by civil war.
Conference at the Department of Anthropology and African Studies (ifeas) Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany
22 – 24 February 2018
This conference introduces the notion of care into studies of humanitarianism. Care is a social activity produced by combinations of intimate and institutional practices. All of us need to be cared for, but care requirements are revealed more starkly and are often amplifi ed in moments of acute need or emergency. At the same time, in emergency and disaster situations, quotidian care arrangements can themselves undergo a crisis. Everyday routines may need to be adapted and radically changing conditions can call into question established procedures, or demand alternative modes of action.
Humanitarian intervention reconfigures caring institutions through new ways of knowing and representing suffering that emerge alongside organizational responses; it produces shifts in the organization and practice of care that profoundly reshape the sociality of those involved; and it is implicated in the production of new material environments that restructure the possibilities and limits of caring interventions. Contributors draw on ethnographic fi eldwork to explore the mutual construction of entitlements, responsibilities and governance that shape practices of care in humanitarian contexts, as well as the moral underpinnings, materiality and lived realities of these dynamics.
When I was a young student in history and philosophy at the University of Geneva, I had never thought that one day I may work for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Yet it happened. While I was preparing my Master thesis, the protection division at the ICRC was looking for a young historian to carry out a research in their archives. I got hired for a one-year traineeship contract, which was extended by two shorter terms within the relations with arms carriers unit and at the archives division. This experience was a turning point in my career. As a consequence, I decided to write my PhD dissertation on the history of the ICRC, which was part of a research project dedicated to Switzerland during the First World War. I analyzed the interactions between humanitarian action and neutrality at that time.
In July 2015, during my research, I got the chance to participate in the very first Global Humanitarian Research Academy. This academy played a very positive role for me, as it was an occasion to meet other researchers working on the history of humanitarian action. Our various talks and debates made me think about other practices and ways of studying the past of humanitarian organizations. We shared different perspectives, some close and some more distant from mine; however all of them very interesting and challenging. It also gave me the opportunity to question my hypotheses and research results to more advanced scholars. They gave good advices that I then used during the writing process of my dissertation. Meeting others PhD students was useful in terms of networking of course. Beyond that, the excellent atmosphere created during the academy allowed us to maintain amical contacts as well. Still today, I regularly exchange with my fellows. At the end, this experience was really rewarding.
First GHRA 2015
Now, I am Law and Policy researcher for the Law and Policy Forum (obviously…) at the ICRC. One might wonder why a researcher with a background in history carries out research on issues related to International humanitarian law (IHL). My training as a historian helps me a lot in my work for several reasons.
I first use concrete skills developed during my dissertation and at the Global Humanitarianism Research Academy. On a daily basis, I need to find references on specific topics and read plenty of publications. Mountains of data are stored at the ICRC archives and my role is to exploit them by finding facts, evidences, eloquent examples, by synthetizing them and by enhancing our more than 150 years of experience, successes and failures. Being a PhD student is not only an intellectual adventure; it is also a full professional experience. While researching and writing my dissertation, I gained many soft skills too: project management, responsibility, flexibility, creativity, persistence, communication, teamwork ability, etc. Historians sometimes tend to forget that we have these skills sought in the private sector.
Investigations on the role of Volkswagen during military dictatorship: TV-Documentary by Stefanie Dodt and Thomas Aders
Lúcio Bellentani, a former Volkswagen worker, visiting the prison in which he was tortured by Brazilian police after he had been handed over by the Volkswagen security force (Source: ARD-Mediathek)
The German automobile firm Volkswagen is being investigated by public prosecutors in Brazil. Newspaper and TV journalist from NDR, SWR and Süddeutsche Zeitung have now published findings of their own. The excellent TV documentary by Stefanie Dodt and Thomas Aders is available in the ARD-Mediathek with English subtitles and in Portuguese. Lúcio Bellentani, a former worker, says he was arrested in the workshop by factory security and handed over to the Brazilian secret police who took him away for prolongued torture over several months. Carl Hahn, then top manager with the car company, claims that he had no idea that human rights were violated on company ground. He says that there are more important things than investigating the past.
Carl Hahn, former Volkswagen top-manager, who says that there are more important things than investigating the past (Source: ARD-Mediathek)
The company’s press officer does not wish to make a statement on the accusation as long as the investigations are ongoing. The journalist team of investigators base the documentary on interviews but also on archival files. They contain a large number of reports on Volkswagen do Brasil workers the company regularly sent to the secret police during the dictatorship. This is an exemplary piece of journalistic and archival research.