Uses and Misuses of International Humanitarian Law and Humanitarian
The rehabilitation of international humanitarian law (IHL) has become a priority
for those who think that the horrors of contemporary wars are largely due to the
blurring of the distinction between civilians and combatants and for those who
think that campaigning for the respect of IHL could result in more civilised
wars. Similarly, respect for humanitarian principles is still seen by many as
the best tool available to protect the safety of aid workers. In this text, I
argue that both assumptions are misled. The distinction between civilians and
combatants, a cornerstone of IHL, has been blurred in practice since the late
nineteenth century. In addition, humanitarian agencies claiming to be
‘principled’ have been victims of attacks as much as others.
History and current practice tell us that neither IHL nor humanitarian
principles provide safety or can guide our decisions. Accepting their symbolic
value, rather than their unrealised potential to protect and solve operational
dilemmas, would free humanitarian agencies from endless speculations.