The International Committee of the Red Cross and its mandate to protect and assist: law and practice

Shucksmith, CL (2015) The International Committee of the Red Cross and its mandate to protect and assist: law and practice. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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It is 150 years since the establishment of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), following Henry Dunant’s experiences during the aftermath of the Battle of Solferino. It is 100 years since the commencement of the Great War: if we think about a ‘traditional’ battlefield, what images come to mind? Perhaps one imagines soldiers in uniform, tanks, guns and trenches. Do the emblems of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (IRCRCM) feature in the imagined conflict scenario? Now imagine the conflicts happening today in, for example, Syria, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Ukraine. In these conflicts, soldiers mingle with civilians in towns, armoured vehicles and open backed trucks transport non- uniformed soldiers between conflict areas and weapons include, amongst others, improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers and sexual violence. Nevertheless the emblems of the IRCRCM continue to emblazon the uniforms of medical personnel and their equipment, vehicles and aid boxes.

What consequences do the changes in the nature of armed conflicts have for the ICRC? The human consequences of conflict and the presence of the ICRC has been a constant for 150 years, but the needs of the population and the types of violence continually change. Indeed, since the creation of the ICRC in 1863, the methods, means and actors in conflicts have changed, but so has the practice of the ICRC. This thesis considers the legality of such developments. The ICRC is, perhaps most significantly, the self-entitled, ‘guardian’ of international humanitarian law (IHL) and a neutral and independent entity.

This thesis considers the activities currently undertaken by the ICRC in the name of ‘humanitarianism’. It addresses whether a strict interpretation of the Geneva Conventions I, II, III and IV 1949, Additional Protocols I and II and Statutes of the ICRC would show that it is, as an organisation, usurping its mandate and principles. It also takes into account the ‘ICRC Study on Customary IHL’.

The thesis examines the issue of whether the ICRC is an organisation with International Legal Personality (ILP) and, if so, whether it has legitimately extended its role beyond that provided in the Geneva Conventions I, II, III and IV 1949, Additional Protocols I and II and the Statutes of the IRCRCM. More broadly therefore the thesis examines the relationship between the ICRC and international law, including IHL, jus ad bellum and international human rights law (IHRL). One unique contribution made by this thesis is to undertake a substantial analysis of the meaning and implementation of humanity, which is a principle of the IRCRCM.

The IRCRCM definition of the principle of humanity is:

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, born of a desire to bring assistance without discrimination to the wounded on the battlefield, endeavours, in its international and national capacity, to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found. Its purpose is to protect human life and health and to ensure respect for the human being. It promotes mutual understanding, friendship, cooperation and lasting peace amongst all people.

Chapter five of the thesis shows that emerging concepts in the latter part of the twentieth century, in particular sovereignty as responsibility, human security and the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), are indicative of a development within the international community which identified the plight of individuals within sovereign States as relevant to the international community at large. In particular, the ‘humanity’ and humanitarian needs of people living within states, in particular during and after conflict, became part of international discourse. Humanitarian assistance is no longer restricted to the provision of aid to soldiers.

The idea of inhumanity in internal armed conflicts also gained traction on the international stage. It is evident from recent conflicts such as Libya, Syria and Ukraine that international willingness and ability to respond to such situations varies considerably. This thesis, therefore, considers whether the ICRC is able to reach people on the ground in a way that more politicised actors, such as the UN, are not. It considers whether there is a case to be made for a humanitarian approach to protection during, and after, armed conflict? Is the ICRC capable of reaching individuals and communities in a promising and effective way? Has the ICRC had to adapt its humanitarian assistance and protection roles to adequately respond to the changing nature of armed conflicts? These questions permeate the analysis of the mandate of the ICRC and its current work, which is undertaken throughout this thesis.

Critically, this thesis dedicates a chapter to analyse what ‘humanity’ means today. In much literature humanity is considered in terms of IHL, which, it is argued, provides a limited definition of such. Likewise, much literature on the ICRC centre’s on its links to IHL. The ICRC often forms a subsection of a chapter on IHL or is viewed through the lens of IHL. This thesis goes further than traditional accounts of the ICRC, as it presents the ICRC as key actor in the long-term protection and assistance of individuals and communities suffering through and trying to recover from armed conflict. It addresses the question of how to interpret ‘humanity’ and whether, perhaps, there is a case to argue that it can and should be interpreted more broadly, given the influx of human focused concepts to emerge since the end of the Second World War. This thesis focuses on sovereignty as responsibility, human security and Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) as key examples of such, as they all relate to humanitarianism. Their specific links are considered in detail in chapter five.

Teitel published ‘Humanity’s Law’ in 2011 which reflects on issues similar to those contained in this thesis. However, much of Teitel’s analysis remains grounded in ‘black-letter’ law, whereas this thesis is taking a socio-legal approach and focuses on the law and practice of the ICRC. Humanity’s Law, as a concept, is very close to this Author’s interpretation and understanding of international law and the international legal order, and, as such, it is imperative to refer, throughout the thesis, to ideas put forward in ‘Humanity’s Law’. In terms of existing literature and academic argument on the matter of ‘humanity’, Teitel provides a comprehensive analysis of case law and theory. In addition much literature on the ICRC dedicates a passing comment to the Principles of the IRCRCM, which include ‘humanity’.

Sovereignty as responsibility, human security and RtoP are reflective of a shift away from a state-centric model of the international legal order. There is increasing awareness and political will in terms of the plight of vulnerable populations in need. The key for this thesis is whether the ICRC mandate and practice are reflective of the developing notions of humanity, that is, is the ICRC ‘buying in’ to security or interventionist interpretations of humanity? Or, which would be a much more daring conclusion to draw, is the ICRC actually ‘feeding’ the development of ‘humanity’ as a concept which is, in turn, permeating international legal discourse more broadly?

The traditional theory of human security, as proposed by the United Nations Development Programme in 1994, considered economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political security to be of consequence to the people living in conflict and other insecure environments. These types of security were seldom prioritised in traditional security paradigms, which focused on national security. This thesis considers human security to be of continuing importance to people on the ground during and after armed conflict and other situations of violence. For people trying to rebuild their lives, family life, food, health and community security are as important, if not more important, than the maintenance of territorial borders. In this regard, it considers the work of the Economic Security (EcoSec) Unit, which assesses needs at household level in order to obtain first-hand local information.

This thesis required the undertaking of interviews with ICRC delegates at the headquarters in Geneva. The literature in this area is somewhat limited and that which is produced comes predominantly from the ICRC. It was necessary therefore to undertake empirical research to provide an original contribution to research in this field and to comprehensively address the research questions of this thesis. Finally, this thesis uses a case study of the ongoing conflict in the DRC to examine the activities of the ICRC and shows how, and to what extent, the changes within the ICRC practice are impacting people on the ground. The case study was also informed by the interviews.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: White, Nigel
Sivakumaran, Sandesh
Keywords: Humanitarian Assistance; International Committee of the Red Cross; Human Security; Humanity
Subjects: H Social sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
K Law > KZ Law of nations. Law of the sea. Space law
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Law
Item ID: 29162
Depositing User: Shucksmith, Christy
Date Deposited: 04 Feb 2016 15:04
Last Modified: 15 Dec 2017 17:38

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