This article is written by Bhavna Arul, a fourth-year law student from Symbiosis Law School.


International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is that part of international law which takes its basis from considerations of humanity. It aims to minimize the suffering of those who do not believe in war or believe in fighting in a more humane manner by restricting the use of barbaric weapons. Complex disasters bring together many organizations. Each has its own institutional history and culture, often indeed its own jargon. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement dates back to the middle of the last century and, over intervening years, has witnessed numerous changes both on the world scene and within its own fabric. Wars, civil unrest and national emergencies; floods, famines and earthquakes; epidemics of malaria, cholera and AIDS; industrial disasters and transport crashes; hostage-taking crises; rural and urban catastrophes—numerous such situations have been responded to by national and international missions, under the aegis of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. 

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement encompasses a family of 169 national societies (1998), hinged with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). The national societies vary enormously in scale, program responsibilities, and depth of human and material resources. The movement is committed to seven fundamental principles and pursuit of the Geneva Convention. 

The IFRC focuses largely on natural disasters, rehabilitation, community development, health programs, etc. In many respects the IFRC is a support secretariat for the national societies. Both the ICRC and the IFRC are located in Geneva, with regional delegations. There are numerous occasions when the ICRC and IFRC reinforce each other at planning and operational levels, given the frequent overlap of functions in complex post war and revolutionary situations, including the support of refugees. 

History and Origin

The Red Cross movement traces its origins to Henry Dunant, a Swiss businessman, whose book, Un souvenir de Solferino (1862), led to the formation of the “International Committee for Relief to Wounded Military Personnel”, to the calling of a diplomatic conference in Geneva and to the consequent “Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field” . The Swiss flag in reverse was adopted as the emblem of the new movement and an international symbol of humanitarianism. In Muslim countries, the red crescent on a white background became the equally respected emblem of the same movement.

The values of the Geneva Convention both as entry points and as foundations for international humanitarian law and also a dynamic body of “principles and rules”, acted as a guide and measure of support for the movement.

The Red Cross initially was only working on war related issues, but over time it has extended services to other humanitarian causes as well. The earlier post-World War II era not only saw expansion in the numbers of national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies (and their branches), the period also witnessed significant changes in the priorities of the Red Cross. These included a growing interest in, and influence of, developing-country concerns such as child nutrition, primary health care, the meeting of basic needs, and natural disaster reduction. Today, the Red Cross and the Red Crescent are seen as internationally respected emblems of humanitarian service, neutrality and non-aggression. What started off as a movement, has today been established as a globally accepted institution.

Position Today

Today, the most important problem faced by the world is the lack of global peace. Unstable governments, political tension and ongoing wars are not only some issues, but also causes of other humanitarian issues such as hunger, poverty, diseases, natural disasters, etc. Climate change is another important issue that is of global concern. The nature of crises is changing, with violence increasingly happening in urban areas and against civilian populations, and the consequences of armed conflict and natural disasters have become more protracted. In some contexts, humanitarian actors have been on the ground for decades, dealing with the complex aftermath of crises, resurging violence, or protracted crises. Camps for refugees and internally displaced persons have become long-term temporary solutions. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that the average duration of the thirty-two protracted refugee situations at the end of 2015 was twenty-six years.  Three of the four camps that constitute Kenya’s Dadaab complex, for example, were established in 1991 and 1992, and the complex today hosts over 230,000 refugees and asylum seekers. Sudden or recurring natural disasters often lead to protracted crises in countries with insufficient capacity to respond to the ensuing impacts on their population and infrastructure. 

Responding to the humanitarian needs of those affected by conflict and disaster is not a short-term endeavour. There is recognition within the humanitarian community, as reflected in the outcome of the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, that there is a need to rethink the linkages between humanitarian action, development, and peace and security. Humanitarian actors increasingly perceive a responsibility to work toward bridging what has been described as the “humanitarian-development divide”3 and not to overlook the nexus between addressing and reducing humanitarian needs and building the foundations for sustaining peace. This issue briefly aims to explore how principled humanitarian action, in synergy with other types of responses and initiatives, can contribute to creating the conditions for self-sustaining peace. 


The UN sustaining peace resolutions recognize the role that humanitarian action can play in safeguarding or strengthening the preconditions for peace. Indeed, when possible, conflict-sensitive, localized, and sustainable humanitarian action can have a positive impact on communities’ resilience and capacities for peace. Institutions working towards humanitarian acts should keep the following in mind in order to engage in complementary efforts that contribute to sustaining peace: 

  1.  Humanitarian action must remain guided by the principles of neutrality and independence. Political objectives should not be mixed into humanitarian interventions. The linkages identified between humanitarian action and peace efforts do not suggest that they should be intertwined. Peacebuilding efforts or processes should be developed in parallel to humanitarian activities. 
  2. Policies that address the humanitarian-development divide will help ensure humanitarian action that helps build sustainable services and resilient communities. Given the prevalence of protracted crises, achieving a meaningful and sustainable impact requires that humanitarian actors engage in longer-term planning to find more durable solutions.
  3. Humanitarian and peacebuilding actors should more closely interact. Respecting humanitarian principles and interacting more closely with peacebuilding actors are not necessarily mutually exclusive. There should be more coordination between the two spheres to ensure not only a good understanding of their respective mandates and objectives, but also complementarity in their efforts. This would help in particular when it comes to developing a shared understanding of the context.
  4. Both humanitarian and peacebuilding actors would benefit from exploring further how humanitarian action can contribute to creating the conditions necessary for sustaining peace. A good example to follow would be the ICRC’s initiative on international humanitarian law (IHL) and peacebuilding, which aims to explore whether respect for IHL during a conflict strengthens the foundations on which peace can be built.

Latest Posts


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *