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This chapter investigates the shifting politics of humanitarianism, and the way that decolonization processes and related ideologies influenced the evolution of human rights and humanitarian norms. It explores these issues by returning to the debates of the Diplomatic Conference on the Reaffirmation and Development of International Humanitarian Law Applicable in Armed Conflicts, which took place in Geneva in four sessions from 1974 to 1977, resulting in Additional Protocols I and II to the Geneva Conventions and the elevation of wars of national liberation to the status of international conflicts. The Conference was remarkable for the participation of thirteen national liberation movements. Their participation attests to the importance of decolonization ideologies and the influence of supporters of decolonization – both those seeking independence and, crucially, newly independent states themselves – in international forums. The chapter assesses how concepts of national liberation were deployed and understood during the Conference, in order to elucidate how humanitarian and human rights ideas and practices interacted with the politics of decolonization.
This is a major new account of how modern humanitarian action was shaped by transformations in the French intellectual and political landscape from the 1950s to the 1980s. Eleanor Davey reveals how radical left third-worldism was displaced by the 'sans-frontiériste' movement as the dominant way of approaching suffering in what was then called the third world. Third-worldism regarded these regions as the motor for international revolution, but revolutionary zeal disintegrated as a number of its regimes took on violent and dictatorial forms. Instead, the radical humanitarianism of the 'sans-frontiériste' movement pioneered by Médecins Sans Frontières emerged as an alternative model for international aid. Covering a period of major international upheavals and domestic change in France, Davey demonstrates the importance of memories of the Second World War in political activism and humanitarian action, and underlines the powerful legacies of Cold War politics for international affairs since the fall of the Iron Curtain.
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