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Decolonising humanitarianism: challenging the roots

Presentation Description

Humanitarianism continues to carry perceptions and doctrines born out of a European history, colonialism, World Wars, 20th Century ideologies, and the dominance of a Western worldview. This translates in its description of humanitarian values and principles that continue to govern the ethos and practice of humanitarianism. The most prominent of such is the fundamental principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement which continues to inform a large section of humanitarian action (SPHERE, 2018). However, the a growing debate about the coloniality and decolonisation of humanitarianism necessitate a deeper interrogation of the origins and manifestations of such coloniality to inform the action that will avert it. The fundamental principles should not be immune to such interrogation. While some principles, such as neutrality, have been opened to critique and reinterpretation (Slim. H, 2000), others are still sacralised and held as timeless and universal. Such sacrilisation, I argue, is a hurdle to understanding and averting humanitarianism coloniality. I will examine the principle of humanity, explained by Pictet in 1979 as "ta sentiment of active goodwill towards mankind." I argue that a definition that puts the emphasis on the provider/humanitarian rather than the receiver turn that receiver of humanitarian assistant into an object to be acted upon rather than a sovereign subject and actor in humanitarianism. This in itself is a colonial attitude that requires re-examination to understand the power imbalances inherent in unchanging understandings of humanitarianism and how they need to change for a decolonised humanitarianism to have space to emerge.

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