For more than half a century, the Fundamental Principles of Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary service, Unity, and Universality have underpinned the global humanitarian work of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (ICRC). But how have these principles evolved since their codification in 1965, and to what extent have they been adapted to the exigencies and challenges presented by modern day conflict and disaster and emergency contexts? Are certain principles more 'valuable' than others and what can the successes, failures and controversies of the past teach us about the future of humanitarian work?
These are just some of the thought-provoking questions raised by the ‘Connecting with the Past – the Fundamental Principles of the ICRC Movement in Critical Historical Perspective’ conference. The conference was a collaboration between the AHRC Care for the Future theme’s Afterlives of Empire: Thinking Forward Through an Imperial Past project and the ICRC, held at the ICRC's headquarters in September 2015 in Geneva. The event brought together an international group of historians and humanitarian practitioners in order to examine the Fundamental Principles through five significant periods of history, and the many unprecedented and complex humanitarian problems arose throughout. The AHRC also produced a short film of the conference called History and Humanitarianism.
These images from the ICRC photo archives represent humanitarian response to conflicts over these five periods, from the Boer War through to conflicts taking place in recent times in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. The photos here represent the incredibly rich holdings in the ICRC archives, an equally valuable source for historians and humanitarians alike. The images are of great value for bringing alive and illustrating the dynamics of the conflicts. They also allow us to view the Fundamental Principles in action: capturing humanity at work in the prevention of suffering, showing the impartiality and neutrality necessary to serve multiple actors in conflict situations, conveying the ICRC's global presence, and interrogating the universality of its ideals.
We present these images for their intrinsic interest and also as a reminder of a key tenet of the conference: that the history is vitally relevant and resonant to practitioners today, and not something that is simply the preserve of the researcher in the archives. More information about the conference, including the report, a short film, and a video of the conference’s public debate, can be found on the Care for the Future website.
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