Humanitarian Diplomacy: The ICRC’s Neutral and Impartial Advocacy in Armed Conflicts

| March 2019
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Abstract: As part of a roundtable on “Balancing Legal Norms, Moral Values, and National Interests,” this essay describes the humanitarian diplomacy of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) by comparing it conceptually with other forms of advocacy and illustrating it with the ICRC’s recent experience in the Yemen crisis. Humanitarian diplomacy is examined as one particular way of balancing legal norms, moral values, and national interests in the pursuit of greater respect for international humanitarian law (IHL) and principled humanitarian action in armed conflicts. The essay looks back to ancient history for archetypal forms of humanitarian advocacy in various cultural traditions. It then describes humanitarian diplomacy’s practice of discreet diplomacy and confidential dialogue with all parties to a conflict, and compares its relatively “quiet” approach with the “loud” approach of outrage activism focused on “naming and shaming,” which tends to be the norm today. The essay argues that there is an important and complementary place for the ICRC’s style of humanitarian diplomacy alongside other forms of advocacy even in the face of criticism that the ICRC is sometimes publicly silent about what it knows of atrocities and avoids naming and shaming.

Keywords: humanitarian diplomacy, International Committee of the Red Cross, confidentiality, neutrality, impartiality, Yemen


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Category: Issue 33.1, Roundtable: Balancing Norms, Values, and Interests

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