Sharing a universal ethic: The principle of humanity in war

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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [Universitat Politcnica de Valncia]On: 26 October 2014, At: 01:18Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number:1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street,London W1T 3JH, UK</p><p>The International Journal ofHuman RightsPublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/fjhr20</p><p>Sharing a universal ethic:The principle of humanityin warHugo Slim a ba Director of the Centre for Development andEmergency Practice (CENDEP)b Senior Lecturer in InternationalHumanitarianism , Oxford Brookes UniversityPublished online: 19 Oct 2007.</p><p>To cite this article: Hugo Slim (1998) Sharing a universal ethic: The principle ofhumanity in war, The International Journal of Human Rights, 2:4, 28-48, DOI:10.1080/13642989808406759</p><p>To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13642989808406759</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Taylor &amp; Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of allthe information (the Content) contained in the publications on ourplatform. 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Terms &amp; Conditions of accessand use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>itat P</p><p>olit</p><p>cnic</p><p>a de</p><p> Val</p><p>nci</p><p>a] a</p><p>t 01:</p><p>18 2</p><p>6 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p><p>http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions</p></li><li><p>Sharing a Universal Ethic:The Principle of Humanity in War</p><p>HUGO SLIM</p><p>This article makes the case for a much broader ownership of the principle ofhumanity in war. It observes how enshrining the principle withininstitutionalized humanitarianism has limited the ideal of humanity to aconsecrated priesthood of relief agencies and their relatively small range of reliefactivities in war. Instead, the article argues that the principle of humanity is acosmopolitan or universal ethic and so humanitarian responsibility extends to allparties involved in war and with war. To illustrate this, the article uses the ideaof stakeholder analysis to identify the direct and indirect stakes that perpetrators,international politicians, international business and every global citizen has inwar. Having identified these stakes and the inevitable humanitarian responsibilitywhich flows from them, the article then examines the most common alibis andexcuses for avoiding such responsibility and a more prophetic form ofcontemporary humanitarianism is called for which actively challenges all themain stakeholders in war to embody the principle of humanity.</p><p>In this article, I am concerned with the universal application ofhumanitarianism's first principle - the principle of humanity.1 JeanPictet, the great ICRC lawyer who did so much to expound thephilosophy behind humanitarianism and the Red Cross movement,described this principle as the 'essential principle' of humanitarianism -'its ideal, its motivation and its objective'.2 The principle of humanity -particularly as it must be maintained in war - is the great truth whichhumanitarianism seeks to proclaim and practice as a universal principle.But rather than examining the principle itself, this article looks beyondorganized humanitarianism to see how the principle of humanity residesin the wider world of power and its moral thinking - who chooses toown it and disown it as a universal principle. In particular, I observe howthe principle of humanity is zealously kept alive by organizedhumanitarianism, yet how it is kept at bay by so many parties involved</p><p>Hugo Slim, Director of the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice (CENDEP),and Senior Lecturer in International Humanitarianism at Oxford Brookes University.</p><p>The International Journal of Human Rights, Vol.2, No.4 (Winter 1998) pp.28-48.PUBLISHED BY FRANK CASS, LONDON</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>itat P</p><p>olit</p><p>cnic</p><p>a de</p><p> Val</p><p>nci</p><p>a] a</p><p>t 01:</p><p>18 2</p><p>6 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>SHARING A UNIVERSAL ETHIC 29</p><p>directly or indirectly in today's inhumanity and war. And I suggest thathumanitarianism is perhaps over-protective of the principle of humanity,while the wider world is overly neglectful of it. Beyond simplyenshrining this precious principle in law and relief work,humanitarianism should do more to set it free upon the world, completewith all the obligations it entails for politicians, fighters, big business andevery human being.</p><p>THE LIMITS OF HUMANITARIAN PRIESTHOOD</p><p>As an example of that most curious oxymoronic phenomenon - a secularreligion - international humanitarianism runs the risk of any faith. Itexhibits the strange and potentially self-defeating paradox of mixinguniversalism with exclusivity. On the one hand, humanitarianism seeksto extend its belief in the principle of humanity to all corners of theglobe. On the other hand, for reasons of orthodoxy and control, itsimultaneously maintains something of a monopoly on the principle byequating the humanitarian ideal with a relatively small range of reliefactivities administered to affected populations by its own cadre ofhumanitarian organizations. In religious terms, this paradox is thetension between prophecy and priesthood, between faith andorganization. The prophet confronts society with a truth and isconcerned with personal, social and political transformation. The priestseeks to enshrine and enact that truth in ritual and to sustain standardsof purity, membership and worship. The prophet gives offence and somelts or hardens hearts. The priest gives structure and codes of practice.The growth of any religious or quasi-religious movement and itseventual institutionalization is the gradual accommodation of these tworoles into a single institution. In such a process, the more conservativepriesthood usually wins out over the more radical prophets.3 It is theessential argument of this article that as the standard bearer of theprinciple of humanity, contemporary humanitarianism, as it has becomeincreasingly institutionalized in the modern era, has become excessivelypriestly and needs to recover some of its prophetic power if it is toextend its first principle to others.</p><p>The quasi-religious tendency of international humanitarianism toproclaim a universal message but to institutionalize the message in sucha way as to consecrate and so monopolize the messengers (humanitarianworkers and lawyers) is a mixed blessing. While it protects the greattruth of the principle of humanity, it may also constrain the moral powerof that truth and inhibit wider ownership of the principle. Preserving theprinciple of humanity in the aspic of humanitarian organizations can lead</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>itat P</p><p>olit</p><p>cnic</p><p>a de</p><p> Val</p><p>nci</p><p>a] a</p><p>t 01:</p><p>18 2</p><p>6 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>30 THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF HUMAN RIGHTS</p><p>to a dangerous idea that while the world should become morehumanitarian it must become so through humanitarian agencies alone.This institutionalization of the principle can make internationalhumanitarianism vocal in the great principle of its faith and ardent in itsapplication in relief but somewhat miserly in the empowerment of otherswith that same principle. There are perhaps two main reasons for this.First, despite humanitarianism's universalism, humanitarians still tend tosee the principle of humanity as somehow 'theirs'. Second, because thedetermination not to give offence is the overriding ethos of thehumanitarian modus operandi with its commitment to impartiality andneutrality, the call to humanity is seldom voiced prophetically. As it hasdeveloped next to war through the centuries, humanitarian assistance ismuch more a priestly rite of cleansing and boundary setting in war thana prophetic movement of political and social challenge to war itself.</p><p>These two traits - possessiveness and priestliness - work to facilitatehumanitarian action by humanitarian agencies but are dangerous to thehigher ideal of humanity precisely because they take the pressure offothers to embrace the principle themselves and meet their ownhumanitarian obligations. These traits also lead to a related and insidiousillusion that if the world is not being humane it must somehow be thefault of the humanitarians. This factor has been extremely evident inrecent years when perhaps more ink has been spilt by or abouthumanitarians and their responsibility for death and violence than aboutthe responsibility of warlords, violent politicians and internationalnegligence or collusion in the violence of today's wars and genocides. Apowerful mix of critique by academics, politicians, the violent and themedia has been coupled with a near pandemic of self-recrimination anddoubt among humanitarians themselves. At times, this has created theabsurd impression that it is humanitarians rather than politicians, warcriminals and other powerful forces who should be in the dock fortoday's war and inhumanity.</p><p>Western humanitarianism's tendency to simultaneously proclaim andprescribe its principle belief, to be at once universal and exclusive, is thusdouble-edged. It may make good sense by ensuring that the creed is notcorrupted. The faith (in the principle of humanity) and its scriptures(international humanitarian law) has a 'guardian' in the ICRC and anincreasingly ritualized system of 'codes of conduct' and service'standards' which act to sanctify a priesthood of agencies who are pureand well versed enough to deliver humanitarianism. But the tendencytowards a humanitarian priesthood and the exclusive ownership of itsguiding principle also serves to give the impression that humanitarianismis not the preserve of non-humanitarians. This impression plays straight</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>itat P</p><p>olit</p><p>cnic</p><p>a de</p><p> Val</p><p>nci</p><p>a] a</p><p>t 01:</p><p>18 2</p><p>6 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>SHARING A UNIVERSAL ETHIC 31</p><p>into the hands of those who have interests in seeing the principle ofhumanity kept firmly in a moral ghetto as something other than, and setapart from, the 'real world' of politics and power. Humanitarianism canthen be miscast as a particular belief of certain do-gooders rather than auniversal principle - a cleansing ritual in war and violence which theperpetrators and supporters of war are neither required nor ordained topractise. In short, the principle of humanity becomes something whichhumanitarians hold to but others do not. This surely undermines theuniversalism of the principle of humanity. One can imagine howwarlords, violent politicians, international big business, great powerpoliticians must look happily upon humanitarianism's possessive streakwhich confines the practice of its faith to its own relief rituals, so over-emphasizing the priestly side of its movement to the detriment of itsprophetic call. Such emphasis can appear to make the principle ofhumanity the responsibility of humanitarian organizations and not theresponsibility of the violent, the politically calculating and theprofiteering. But as this article will argue, and as humanitarianism knowsonly too well, it is these groups above all who should take the principleof humanity to their hearts and own it as a universal principle whichcarries with it rigorous obligations.</p><p>REASSERTING HUMANITARIANISM'S PROPHETIC ELEMENT</p><p>The increasing swell of concern for humanitarian principles and theirrediscovery by relief agencies in recent years has produced something ofan ecumenical movement in humanitarianism today - a coming togetherof orthodox and non-conformist humanitarian traditions to agree uponthe basis of a universal faith which may differ somewhat in practice butnot in principle. The orthodox might be the Red Cross movement andwestern militaries who have long worked together on these issues andare well versed in the law and rituals of modern humanitarianism. Theincreasing NGO presence in discussions of humanitarian principles maysignal a faint breeze of prophetic ardour and non-conformism blowingthrough the process. Poorly versed in humanitarian law and diverse inrelief practice, they do however come from an actively prophetictradition. It is as if we are all heading towards some millennial equivalentof the great councils of the early church at which the Red Cross, NGOs,UN agencies, UN military forces and their donors will thrash out the finepoints of humanitarian doctrine and emerge with a powerful andestablished humanitarian orthodoxy. As a result of the encounter, thepriestly may become a bit more prophetic and the prophetic may becomea little more priestly.</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>itat P</p><p>olit</p><p>cnic</p><p>a de</p><p> Val</p><p>nci</p><p>a] a</p><p>t 01:</p><p>18 2</p><p>6 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>32 THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF HUMAN RIGHTS</p><p>But like the early Christian councils, the notable thing aboutcontemporary councils on humanitarianism is their inwardness. They aresometimes more prone to agonize over the faith than to engage with theworld. And like humanitarian's possessiveness of its basic principle, suchinwardness and apparent doctrinal pedantry must also warm the heartsof warlords and other parties who have a stake in inhumanity, inevitablyraising the possibility that the humanitarian movement is actually justdistracted by its navel rather than waking to the new dawn of somedramatic regrouping of humanitarian values. It is, therefore, the addedconcern of this article to urge that the new ecumenical movement inhumanitarianism today should be as much concerned with addressing theworld in which humanitarianism finds itself as with agreeing the wordswith which to describe itself. Equally, it is essential that any newhumanitarian movement should not be possessive with the importantprinciple of humanity but rather should be determined to be generouswith it, to lavish it upon others rather than keep it to itself. This is aprinciple and a responsibility which we can and must lay upon others.Like the parable of the talents, we should not be overly protective of thegreat principle we have been given by burying it in our own institutionsand mandates but instead make i...</p></li></ul>