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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: June 2020

3 - The Limits of Humanitarianism: Decolonization, the French Red Cross, and the Algerian War

from Part I - Anti-Colonial Struggles and the Right to Self-Determination


In January 1957, at the height of the Algerian War, Algerian nationalists formed the Algerian Red Crescent to provide aid and humanitarian assistance to civilians and combatants. However, the French Red Cross (CRF) had long been active in Algeria and according to International Committee of the Red Cross guidelines, individual countries are only permitted one national society. The Algerian nationalists were aware of this stipulation, yet they firmly maintained that the CRF was not neutral and actively discriminated against Algerians. This chapter examines CRF activities in Algeria during the Algerian War and analyzes how national society frequently encountered difficult situations that forced its delegates to choose between its humanitarian mission and nationalist (French) politics. More often than not the latter prevailed. Despite being a national society that was supposed to be neutral, its activities were skewed toward the French military and civilian population. The CRF had two faces: one that presented the organization as neutral, and one that prioritized the needs of French soldiers, thus violating the CRF’s core principles. This chapter highlights the intersection of politics and humanitarianism and demonstrates the persistent power of nationalism at the end of empire.

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