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section heading icon     humanitarian

This page highlights international humanitarian groups and agencies, along with studies of global humanitarian law. 

It covers -

section marker icon     introduction

Differences between human rights and humanitarian organisations are explored in Larry Minear's The Humanitarian Enterprise (Bloomfield: Kumarian Press 2002), complemented by René Provost's International Human Rights Law & Humanitarian Law (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2002).

A comprehensive treatment of customary law is provided in Customary International Humanitarian Law (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2005) by Jean-Marie Henckaerts & Louise Doswald-Beck.

Perspectives on humanitarianism are provided in works such as David Rieff's persuasive A Bed For The Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis (London: Vintage 2002), The Role of NGOs under Authoritarian Political Systems (Basingstoke: Macmillan 1997) by Seamus Cleary, Compassion and Calculation: The Business of Foreign Aid (London: Pluto 1996) edited by David Sogge, Fiona Terry's Condemned to Repeat? The Paradox of Humanitarian Action (Ithaca: Cornell Uni Press 2002) and The Ethics of Assistance: Morality & the Distant Needy (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2005) edited by Deen Chatterjee.

For the intersection of rights, responsibilities and power see works such as Reading Humanitarian Intervention: Human Rights and the Use of Force in International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2003) by Anne Orford, Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 2003) by Nicholas Wheeler, You, the People: The United Nations, Transitional Administration, and State-Building (New York: Oxford Uni Press 2004) by Simon Chesterman, The Dark Sides of Virtue: Reassessing International Humanitarianism (Princeton: Princeton Uni Press 2004) by David Kennedy, Evaluating Humanitarian Action: Reflections from Practitioners (London: Zed Books 2001) edited by Adrian Wood & John Borton and In the Shadow of 'Just Wars': Violence, Politics and Humanitarian Action (Ithaca: Cornell Uni Press 2004) edited by Fabrice Weissman

Questions of development and aid programs are highlighted in the separate Digital Divides profile elsewhere on this site, which points to international studies and works such as William Easterly's The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures & Misadventures in the Tropics (Cambridge: MIT Press 2001), Amartya Sen's The Political Economy of Hunger (Oxford: Clarendon 1990), Graham Hancock's acerbic The Lords of Poverty: The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the International Aid Business (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press 1989), Civil Society & the Aid Industry (London: Earthscan 1998) edited by Alison Van Rooy, NGO Capacity & Effectiveness: A review of themes in NGO-related research recently funded by ESCOR (London: IIED 1996) by Anthony Bebbington & Diana Mitlin and Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Ithaca: Corbell Uni Press 2003) by Margaret Keck & Kathryn Sikkink.

section marker icon     the IFRC

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the peak body of national Red Cross societies and their counterparts in the Islamic world.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) - a nongovernment organisation that is independent of those national Red Cross/Red Crescent organisations - is based in Switzerland. It is the custodian of the Geneva Conventions highlighted earlier in this profile. It is not an agency of the United Nations.

The IRC promotes itself as

an impartial, neutral and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence and to provide them with assistance. It directs and coordinates the international relief activities conducted by the Movement in situations of conflict. It also endeavours to prevent suffering by promoting and strengthening humanitarian law and universal humanitarian principles.

Spending in 2004, primarily on disaster relief, was around 823 million Swiss Francs. The IRC receives substantial government funding. Its emphasis on noncondemnation of governments (and more broadly on what has been characterised as a discretion that amounts to secrecy) has led to criticisms that it is coopted by totalitarian regimes. Its failure to condemn the Holocaust and subsequent atrocities has proved to be particularly controversial, resulting in the emergence of organisations such as MSF that both deliver aid and alert the international community.

Perspectives are provided by Jean-Claude Favez' The Red Cross and the Holocaust (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 1998) and the more upbeat The Humanitarians: The International Committee of the Red Cross (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2005) by David Forsythe.

section marker icon     ACF

Action Against Hunger - aka Action Contre la Faim (ACF/AAH) - is an international nongovernment and nonreligious organisation founded in Paris in 1979. Its emphasis is on the relief of famine and problems of global hunger.

section marker icon     ActionAid

ActionAid (AA) is a conferderation of international development and philanthropic organisations in Europe.

section marker icon     CARE

The Cooperative for Assistance & Relief Everywhhere (CARE), initially the Cooperative for American Remittances in Europe, is a confederation of international relief and development organisations in the US, Japan, Australia, Canada and other nations.

section marker icon     CRS and WorldVision

World Vision International (WVI) originated in the US in 1950 to aid children orphaned in the Korean War and has arguably become the largest 'Christian' relief and development agency. It is controversial for combining a humanitarian and an evangelical agenda.

Competitor Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is another religious organisation, founded in the US in 1943 by the Roman Catholic Bishops to assist the poor in other nations.

section marker icon     IRC

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), not to be confused with the Red Cross, was founded prior to the 1939-45 War and initially centred on rescue of those persecuted by the Nazi regime and allies such as France. Agents included the great Varian Fry. It has become one of the largest US NGOs.

section marker icon     MSF

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), with the motto of soignez et temoignez [care for and testify], was founded in 1971 by French doctors and has grown to become the largest indepenmdent medical relief agency. It has expanded from traditional emergency relief to advocacy regarding Third World access to pharmaceuticals.

section marker icon     Oxfam

Oxfam, formerly the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, was founded in the UK in 1942 to aid starving civilians in Greece. It has come to emphasise emergency relief, development and advocacy with for example campaigns for international debt relief and human rights.

section marker icon     SCF

Save the Children Fund (SCF), founded in the UK after the 1914-18 War to assist children in Germany and Austria, has come to combine emergency relief with social activism. It has proven to be an influential international lobbyist in calls for developed economies to increase aid to the Third World and has increasingly emphasised a rights-based approach, centred on the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child.

section marker icon     WHO and WFP

The World Food Program (WFP) is a UN agency established in 1963 to "lead the fight against global hunger" but has come to centre on emergency relief efforts.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is another UN agency, concerned with both medical treatment and social development in line with conceptualisation of health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being" rather than the absence of disease or infirmity.

section marker icon     ECHO

The European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) was established by the European Union in 19992 to provide emergency assistance and relief to victims of armed conflict or natural disasters outside the EU. It is claimed as the largest single aid donor in the world.

section marker icon     UNICEF, UNHCR, UNDP

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) was created as the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund - an ad hoc body - in 1946. It became a permanent UN agency in 1953, with a mission of helping "children living in poverty in developing countries" and protecting "children in the midst of war and natural disaster".

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is the UN's principal provider of development advice, advocacy and grant support.

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version of April 2006
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