Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 April 2016
The term humanitarianism finds its roots in 19th-century Europe and is generally defined as the “impartial, neutral, and independent provision of relief to victims of conflict and natural disasters.” Behind this definition lies a dynamic history. According to political scientists Michael Barnett and Thomas G. Weiss, this history can be divided into three phases. From the 19th century to World War II, humanitarianism was a reaction to the perceived breakdown of society and the emergence of moral ills caused by rapid industrialization within Europe. The era between World War II and the 1990s saw the emergence of many of today's nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations. These organizations sought to address the suffering caused by World War I and World War II, but also turned their gaze toward the non-Western world, which was in the process of decolonization. The third phase began in the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War, and witnessed an expansion of humanitarianism. One characteristic of this expansion is the increasing prominence of states, regional organizations, and the United Nations in the field of humanitarian action. Their increased prominence has been paralleled by a growing linkage between humanitarian concerns and the issue of state, regional, and global security. Is it possible that, in the 21st century, humanitarianism is entering a new (fourth) phase? And, if so, what role have events in the Middle East played in ushering it in? I seek to answer these questions by focusing on regional consultations that took place between June 2014 and July 2015 in preparation for the first ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), scheduled to take place in Istanbul in May 2016.
1 Barnett, Michael and Weiss, Thomas G., “Humanitarianism: A Brief History of the Present,” in Humanitarianism in Question: Power, Politics, Ethics, ed. Barnett, Michael and Weiss, Thomas G. (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2008), 1–48Google Scholar.
3 World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), accessed 12 December 2015, https://www.worldhumanitariansummit.org/.
4 WHS, “MENA Consultation Report,” 3–5 March 2015, accessed 4 January 2016, https://www.worldhumanitariansummit.org/node/493003; WHS, “Regional Consultation for Eastern and Southern Africa,” 27–29 October 2015, accessed 4 January 2016, https://www.worldhumanitariansummit.org/bitcache/4120909833355d8e114cc5974256f5052d77248c?vid=515669&disposition=inline&op=view; WHS, “Regional Consultations for Europe and Others,” 3–4 February, accessed 4 January 2016, https://www.worldhumanitariansummit.org/bitcache/0630a6f65e7655356108297dc0d02c7aad5e9a46?vid=536399&disposition=inline&op=view.
5 WHS, “Restoring Humanity: Global Voices Calling for Action. Synthesis of the Consultation Process for the World Humanitarian Summit,” 5 October 2015, accessed 13 December 2015, https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/iasc-and-world-humanitarian-summit/news/whs-release-synthesis-report.
7 Barnett, MichaelEmpire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2011); Barnett and Weiss, “HumanitarianismGoogle Scholar.”
8 This is acknowledged in the WHS Synthesis Report. WHS, “Restoring Humanity.”
9 United Nations Development Programme and UNHCR, Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan 2015–2016, 28 July 2015, accessed 15 December 2015, http://www.arabstates.undp.org/content/rbas/en/home/library/CPR/regional-strategic-overview/.
13 UNHCR, “Statement by General Commissioner,” 20 November 2015, accessed 20 December 2015, http://www.unhcr.org/564f4f609.html.
14 Barnett, Empire of Humanity; Barnett and Weiss, “Humanitarianism,” 25.
15 WHS, “Restoring Humanity,” 3.
16 UNHCR, “Statement by General Commissioner.”
17 Niamh Fleming-Farrel, “Benefits of Camps for Syrian Refugees Questionable,” 2 November 2013, accessed 15 December 2015, http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/refdaily?pass=52fc6fbd5&id=5119e5415.
19 WHS, “Restoring Humanity.”
20 Hanafi, Sari, Hilal, Leila, and Takkenberg, Lex, eds., UNRWA and Palestinian Refugees: From Relief and Works to Human Development (New York: Routledge, 2014)Google Scholar.
22 UNRWA staff, interviews with the author, Amman headquarters, March 2015.
23 Comments made by Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, in a Huffington Post op-ed, echo this assessment. Egeland argues that emergency aid, by itself, is no longer an effective response to refugee crises. Jan Egeland, “This is the Worst Refugee Crisis Since World War II: It's Time for Us to Rethink Our Response,” 15 September 2014, accessed 2 January 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jan-egeland/refugee-crisis-wwii-aid-_b_5791776.html.
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