In the absence of a normative framework, the concept of humanitarian corridors lacks a consistent definition and is highly vulnerable to political interpretation. The notion underwent multiple semantic shifts, from referring to a right of passage in situations of armed conflict, to an appeal to facilitated access in the face of bordure closures or bureaucratic constraints. The diverse range of situations in reference to which the terms ‘humanitarian corridor’, ‘relief corridor’ or ‘access corridor’ are used, often interchangeably, is matched only by the diverse range of actors that use them. Calls for their opening have become so common that corridors seem increasingly considered a relevant modality of humanitarian action despite much ambiguity around what they are expected to achieve, how much protection they offer, and how they are likely to affect the overall dynamic of conflicts. Meant to allow the unobstructed deployment of humanitarian aid and/or the evacuation of civilians, humanitarian corridors are by definition temporary and limited in geographical scope. As such, they are a timid assertion of the principle of free access to victims, prone to manipulation by belligerents or third parties to serve war strategies or to project an image of civility. Looking at the wide array of its application in history, the author puts the use of the concept into perspective, drawing on a variety of examples to illustrate how both the idea and its implementation have been problematic. A few operational recommendations are then derived from this analysis for humanitarian practitioners to consider and adapt in light of their particular context.
many may remember, was also (together with Eritrea, then 1983–85) at the heart of
what has been described as the ‘archetypal media famine’ ( Moeller, 1999 ). More than 50 years after Biafra,
that saw the birth or acceleration of humanitarian action and a sea change in
definitions of what humanitarian action may be, and more than 35 years after the
‘Ethiopian famine’, we still grapple with similar issues around spectacles
of suffering, advocacy, politicalinstrumentalisation and conceptions of solidarity
. In limiting the application of humanitarian law, the use of corridors also further enables politicalinstrumentalisation and manipulation of humanitarian access by armed actors on all sides. In this, the author provides a useful, historically grounded analysis of the risks of mobilising this language and the challenges to humanitarianism presented by its increasingly common – and uncritical – use.
In the interview with Tony Redmond and Gareth Owen, Roísín Read leads us through an exploration of the role of history and memory in shaping communities of practice