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The role of NGO's during wartime: humanitarian vs pacifist ideals

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The original debate on the humanizing of war by humanitarian action.
    1. Humanitarian ideals: A fight to humanize war.
    2. Criticisms from pacifists by humanizing wars.
    3. Humanitarian action is necessary.
  3. NGO's acceptance that action can sometime contribute to wars.
    1. The embezzlement of humanitarian aid: A resource for the perpetuation of wars.
    2. humanitarian actors' contribution to war: Remaining neutral.
    3. The issue of 'humanitarian war'.
  4. Conclusion.
  5. Bibliography.

Since the beginning of modern humanitarian action during wartime (with the birth of the ICRC), the question of the NGOs' role on the battlefields has been the subject of an important controversy, opposing humanitarian to pacifist ideals. Indeed, pacifists' main point was to denounce the fact that, in different ways and especially by humanizing wars, humanitarian action during conflicts indirectly contributed to the perpetuation of war.
As we will see, although the original debate opposing the ICRC to pacifists ended in the "victory" of humanitarian ideals, which were legitimated according to the international opinion, the idea that NGOs can indirectly contribute to war in several different manners is still relevant nowadays and NGOs need to admit it to ameliorate their action and avoid certain pitfalls (II). The humanitarian ideal is based on a fundamental value: respect of human life.

[...] Although humanitarian ideals and pacifist ideals don't belong to the same sphere (pacifist preoccupations being part of the political sphere), although pacifist criticisms shouldn't and haven't impeded necessary humanitarian action during wartime, and although the pacifist vs humanitarian debate may seem a little out-of-date, NGOs can still learn from this debate. Indeed, by keeping in mind the pacifist critical point of view, NGOs can try to avoid, to a certain (and limited) extent, the pitfall of contributing to war. Bibliography [...]


[...] Although this idea seems excessively utopian, the opposition of pacifists is understandable: the idea of ?humanizing can indeed seem absurd and illusory, especially when we take a look at historical events: the humanitarian principles established by international humanitarian law haven't impeded the worse atrocities (e.g. recently in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Rwanda). This pacifist point of view can be illustrated by Einstein: point is not to humanize war but to abolish However, the pacifist opposition to humanitarian action can seem quite unfruitful and lacks of realism. However, humanitarian action is necessary The link between humanitarian action and peace has always been ambiguous and complex. A paradoxical situation seems to be inevitable: humanitarian assistance exists through war, was born during the war. [...]


[...] Dunant therefore had a crucial role in the establishment and respect of the humanitarian ideal, highlighting the existence of human solidarity during wartime. By ameliorating the conditions of war victims, war was being humanized. Humanitarian law has been developed since the first Geneva Convention, it now includes not only the wounded but also war prisoners and civilians. Many NGOs have flourished and contribute to the respected of humanitarian values during crisis situations (especially during wartime), and the spirit of ?sans frontiérisme? can illustrate this will to reach victims whatever side they belong to and to create, within the battlefields, a ?humanitarian space?. [...]

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