Humanitarianism is a moral of kindness, benevolence, and sympathy extended to all human beings. Humanitarianism has been an evolving concept historically, but universality is a common theme in its evolution. No distinction is to be made on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation, race, caste, age, religion, ability, or nationality.
- Social reform
- Early ideas
- Abolition of slavery
- Great Britain
- United States
- Other countries
- Labor conditions
- Criminal punishments
- Prison reform
- Abolition of torture
- Treatment of the mentally ill
- Treatment of women
- Treatment of animals
- Humanitarianism in armed conflict and international humanitarian law
- Formation of the Red Cross
- Geneva Conventions
- Means of war
- Nuremberg Tribunal
- International Criminal Court
- Right of humanitarian intervention
- Humanitarian intervention in situations of urban violence
- Increasing role of regional organisations
- Digital humanitarianism
The historian G. M. Trevelyan viewed humanitarianism as the product of rationalism upon Puritanism. However, in many areas of reform, Christians and rationalists worked together: in the case of slavery, William Wilberforce and the Buxtons, but also Jeremy Bentham and Condorcet; in the case of working conditions, evangelicals such as Lord Shaftesbury, but also Robert Owen and Edwin Chadwick; in the case of punishments, Cesare Beccaria and Samuel Romilly; in the case of the mentally ill, Shaftesbury and Pinel; and in the case of the treatment of animals, Bentham enlisted the aid of Wilberforce. The idea that mankind could be improved by deliberate social change distinct from the conferring of charity was relatively new.
Reform distinguished the humanitarian movement from philanthropy. Christian philanthropy tended to deprecate reform as political. In contrast, the humanitarian movement thought reform essential to remove abuses.
The principle of European individualism upon which the humanitarian movement was based was that all human beings are of equal moral significance and it was the disregard of that significance which constituted the abuses against which the movement was directed. European individualism can be traced to the Greeks. It was the stoics, who like Aristotle, attributed significance to the human soul, but who, unlike Aristotle, considered all human beings equal in that significance. Natural law, as the stoics conceived it, was based upon this principle of spiritual equality. Positive law was subject to the law of nature and, hence, uniquely to the ancient world, the stoics opposed slavery. In 18th century Enlightenment Europe, the individualistic idea of the equal moral significance of the individual in this world re-emerged grounded upon reason and personal autonomy.
Prevention of cruelty to animals involved extension of the principle to non-humans. The stoics had grounded moral significance on capacity to reason.
In the 18th century, conflicting religious belief became tolerated to a degree unthinkable a century earlier. Torture was abolished. In the 19th century, slavery was abolished; women began the agitation that would lead to suffrage; criminal punishments became less severe; laws were passed prohibiting cruelty to children; treatment of the insane was humanised; and working conditions were made more tolerable. In England, pressure on Parliament led to regulation of working hours and amelioration of working conditions. An international dimension was added to humanitarian reform with the founding of the International Red Cross. Finally, cruelty to animals became punishable.
Religious toleration came from above. In contrast, social action in the 19th century was influenced by popular feeling and, in some instances, popular agitation. The initiative remained with small groups of reformers, which set about influencing public opinion, often leading to legislative action. One reason for the change was the advent of democracy - limited though it was until well into the 19th century. Also, communication had become easier. The industrial proletariat crowding into cities made it feasible to hold mass meetings. The population was increasingly literate. Political pamphlets had first circulated in England during the civil war. In fiction, novels like Uncle Tom's Cabin and those of Charles Dickens drew attention to social wrongs. This led to a change in approach which became less philosophical and more emotive, fastening on the inhumanity to which social action was directed.
Abolition of slavery
In 1503, the Spanish Governor in the Indies, Nicolás de Ovando, commenced using Indians in mines. Las Casas, who accompanied him, observed the toll of the work, and suggested the Indians be replaced by Negroes, thus beginning the transatlantic slave trade. Some 900,000 slaves were landed in the Americas by 1600. From the 17th century, demand for African labour expanded greatly with the increased importation of sugar into Europe. The 18th century saw Britains rise to dominance in the trade. By 1770, British traders were exporting 40,000 to 60,000 slaves annually. By the end of the 18th century, more than half the trade was British.
When the nature of the trade became known, it was denounced widely. The Quakers were among the first to take action. In 1754, John Woolman prepared a letter which was distributed by the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, expressing concern at Quaker involvement in slavery. In 1758, the Philadelphia Yearly meeting altered its policy so that all members who traded in Negroes were to be excluded from business meetings or from making contributions to the society. In 1760, the New England Quakers made importation of slaves an offence.
The process of abolition in Great Britain went through stages: the elimination of slavery internally; the abolition of the slave trade from British ports and by British traders; and the prohibition of slavery within the British dominions.
In England, slavery was declared unlawful in 1772. No person could thereafter be a slave on English soil and any slave brought to England would immediately be set free. Despite the decision, the slave trade continued. In 1787, William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and a group of friends formed an association to carry forward a campaign for abolition. On 12 May 1787, Wilberforce brought forward the first of many motions in the House of Commons, but was defeated. In 1791, his second motion sought to ban the further importation of slaves into the British colonies in the West Indies, but was also defeated. In 1792, the House of Commons accepted a resolution that the trade should be abolished in stages but this was defeated in the House of Lords. In 1795, Wilberforce would have secured the passage of a bill prohibiting the supply of slaves by English merchants, had not twelve of his supporters gone to the opera. In 1804, Wilberforce's Abolition Bill passed in the Commons again but was thrown out in the Lords. Finally, in 1807, a bill passed both Houses putting an end to British traders engaging in the foreign supply of slaves and prohibiting the importation of slaves into colonies won by Britain during the Napoleonic wars. The departure of any vessel to obtain slaves from any port within the British dominions after 1 May 1807 was prohibited and no slave could be landed in British colonies after 1 May 1808. The Act of 1807 was disregarded as the penalties were insufficient. It was not until a bill was carried through Parliament subjecting offenders to transportation that the slave trade to the British Dominions was extinguished.
By about 1820, although trading in slaves had been widely prohibited, slavery itself had not been prohibited in the British colonies or dominions. Wilberforce took up this cause but he was ageing and so in 1821 he appealed to Thomas Buxton to press Parliament. An anti-slavery body was formed. Because of hostility to the measure in the colonies, its passage proved difficult. Finally, Earl Grey introduced the bill. Wilberforce, dying before its enactment, knew on his deathbed that his long battle had been won. "Thank God I should have lived to witness this day", he said.
The population of the slave states in America on the eve of the civil war was 8,098,000, of whom 4,204,000 were black. There were 385,000 slave-holders. By the 1830s, the North, which had renounced slavery, was increasingly influenced by the abolitionist movement in Britain. In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom's Cabin. It had a powerful effect on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Kansas–Nebraska Act saw an attempt in Congress to move the "slavery – anti-slavery line" north of that which had been agreed. Then followed the Dred Scott decision in the Supreme Court in 1857, which held that Congress lacked the constitutional power to interfere with the property of United States citizens. Slaves were property. The decision provoked a storm in the north.
Lincoln's proclamation emancipating the slaves took effect on 1 January 1863. The thirteenth Amendment came into force after Lincoln's assassination, prohibiting slavery throughout the Union.
The effective prohibition on British ships gave slave traders an advantage which they speedily took up despite intervention to stop them carried out by British cruisers. It became imperative to include other countries in the ban:
Britain was followed by other countries in abolishing slavery within their dominions: in 1848, the slaves in all France's colonies were immediately emancipated. In 1853, the Dutch commenced emancipation of slaves within their possession; in 1858, it was enacted that every slave belonging to a Portuguese subject should be freed within 20 years and, from 29 April 1878, slavery became illegal throughout Portuguese possessions; the government of Buenos Aires enacted that all children of slaves after 31 January 1813 should be free; in Columbia, those born after 16 July 1821 were to be liberated upon attaining 18 and Mexico ended slavery on 15 September 1829.
1750-1760 may be taken as an approximate date for the beginning of the industrial revolution. Mechanization began in the cotton trade. Next came the application of coal in iron smelting. The handicraft industry had gone. People lived and died in sight of the cotton mill, in which they spent 14–16 hours a day. In the factories, children went to work after their sixth birthday. In the chimneys, masters found it cheaper to drive chimney boys up the chimney than to use long brushes. Not only did women work in the mines, but they were forced to do heavy work for extremely long hours.
Justice between capital and labour was achieved by trade unions, parliamentary reform and, in some countries, revolution or the fear of it. Broadly, this was the state of England from 1802 when the Combination Act was passed until the Ten Hour Bill was enacted in 1848.
The movement was led by Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. Others were Michael Sadler; Richard Oastler; Edwin Chadwick and Robert Owen. In 1815, Owen started an agitation for factory reform. He drafted a bill to apply to textile factories to prohibit the employment of children under 10 and night work for children under 18. He also wanted working hours for children restricted to 10 1⁄2 hours per day. The bill was fiercely opposed and rejected. Ultimately, the Factory Act 1819, which was not Owen's bill, passed. It provided that "no child shall be employed for the spinning of cotton into yarn … until he shall have attained the full age of 9 years" and "no person under 18 shall be employed in the spinning of cotton wool into yarn for more than 12 hours, exclusive of the necessary time taken for meals".
The next major effort occurred when, about a decade later, new legislation was proposed to restrict work hours. Lord Shaftesbury put forward a Ten Hour Bill, the first in the long struggle to achieve that basic benchmark. The opposition proved overwhelming. Lord Althorp, an opponent of the measure, introduced an amending bill to accommodate Shaftesbury's position. The Factory Act 1833 provided that no person under 18 should work more than 12 hours a day or 69 hours a week. Manufacturers bitterly opposed the measure and, to circumvent it, introduced the relay system so that one set of children worked from 5.30 to 1.30 and the next from 1.30 to 8.30.
In 1842, a Royal Commission reported on conditions in the mines which profoundly affected public opinion. The Coal Mines Regulation Act 1842 prohibited the employment of girls and women in mines. The crisis in factory legislation came to a head with a renewed attempt at a Ten Hour Bill. The bill was fought at every stage. It became law on 1 May 1848. Employers set about circumventing it and for a time were successful. It was not until July 1850 that the ten hour day became a reality. Shaftesbury secured protection for chimney sweepers in the Chimney Sweepers Act 1877.
On the continent, industrialisation began later. By 1848, the Communist Manifesto had been published with a fully developed theory of revolutionary socialism. The rise of the working class began not with humanitarianism but with the revolution or uprisings of 1848. In France, the regulation of hours of work began that year, in Belgium and the Netherlands around the same time, in Germany somewhat later and still later in Italy and Austria.
Medieval punishments were cruel and, in many respects, remained so in the 18th century: hanging, drawing and quartering, beheading, boiling and lesser punishments designed only to humiliate such as the pillory and placing an offender in the stocks.
Reform was a product of the Enlightenment. The reformer who led in this was Cesare Beccaria, who published his work On Crimes and Punishments in 1764. The work was the first devoted to the question of criminal justice. Beccaria emphasised the importance of certainty and of promptness if punishment were to be effective as a deterrent and proportionality if it was to be just – that is, proportion between the seriousness of the crime and the punishment imposed. That doctrine had been greatly favoured especially in England upon the view that the sole object of criminal punishment was prevention. In Beccaria's view, maximum severity only hardened criminals and bred impunity.
Voltaire was influential in disseminating his ideas. During his lifetime, his proposals were embodied in the laws of Russia, Sweden, Austria, Tuscany and Greece. Becarria influenced Frederick the Great and as a result of Frederick's personal zeal, the Prussian Criminal Code was revised and rationalised. The death penalty in Prussia was greatly reduced. On 22 August 1772, Gustavus III of Sweden abolished torture and thereafter comprehensively revised the criminal code. Maria Theresa of Austria did not accept Becarria's ideas but her sons Joseph and Leopold did. Joseph II who succeeded his mother thoroughly revised the Austrian Code. The revised code was the first to abolish capital punishment for every offence other than treason or murder. Leopold, Grand Duke of Tuscany passed an edict putting Becarria's ideas into effect. In 1791, the French reflected his influence in a new penal code.
England remained the exception, where in 1688, there were about 50 capital offences. Between 1660 and 1819, 187 capital offences were enacted. Death was the only punishment for these offences, although many differed greatly in seriousness. To avoid uncertainty, the Courts were allowed no discretion for extenuating circumstances, even with children. As late as 1831, a boy aged 9 was publicly hanged for arson. During the 18th century, transportation was the only alternative to death for most offences.
There are three explanations for this severity. England was the first country to experience industrialisation, rapid population growth and urban congestion. During the 19th century, London's population increased by 1 million to 6.7 million. Crime festered. Second, England had no organized police force and resolutely refused to have one, until finally in 1829 Peel succeeded in its establishment. Third, the English criminal justice procedures, including the jury system, in the 18th century, were favourable to the accused.
At the end of the century, the "Bloody Code" was still intact. The struggle for its repeal took place between 1808 and 1837. In 1808, when Romilly was contemplating his campaign, the number of capital statutes stood at 220. In 1810, he introduced separate bills to repeal three acts: for stealing privately in a shop for 5 shillings; for stealing in a dwelling house to the value of 40 shillings and for the same amount on navigable rivers. All bills were defeated. In 1811, Romilly re-introduced the three bills and introduced two others, one of which sought the repeal of the death penalty for stealing 10 shillings from bleaching grounds. This bill was supported by 150 bleaching ground proprietors who claimed that juries were refusing to convict where the death penalty would be imposed.
Romilly's bill for repeal of the death penalty for stealing in a shop to the value of five shillings was passed by the Commons, but defeated in the Lords on six occasions. Romilly did not live to see the bill passed. In the course of his life, he succeeded in getting only three capital statutes repealed. Soon after, resistance began to crumble. Petitions from enterprises concerned with the number of acquittals forced a Committee to be set up in 1819.
Its recommendations were moderate but the Lords held out. It was not until 1837 that the death penalty was substantially reduced and by 1861, it was imposed for only four offences: treason, murder, piracy and arson in the dock yards. In 1814, the sentence of hanging, drawing and quartering for treason was modified to remove the cutting down and disembowelling. In 1870, quartering was abolished; in 1815, the pillory was abolished for some offences and altogether in 1837; in 1820, the whipping of females was abolished; in 1822, the practice of dissecting the bodies of murderers was banished; in 1857, transportation was abolished; in 1872, the last offender was placed in the stocks. Public executions were not abolished until 1868.
18th century prisons were, in the words of Henry Fielding, "sewers of idleness". Prisons were farmed out to private persons whose only object was to make a profit. "Women were thrown in the same common ward as men; first offenders with hardened recidivists; inoffensive civil debtors with muggers... ten year old boys with homosexual rapists".
The leading reformer was John Howard, whose work, The State of Prisons in England and Wales, was published in 1777. Howard was High Sheriff of Bedfordshire and was shocked by the horrors of prison life. He argued that prisons should be sanitary and secure. The keeper should be the paid servant of Justices. In order to break down the corruption that came from the random aggregation of prisoners, there should be separate sleeping cells. Prisoners should have useful work to do in proper workshops.
From the 1770s to 1791, statutes were enacted designed to give effect to Howard's proposals, but the Justices responsible for their implementation failed to do so. It was not until Peel's Gaols Act of 1823 that the foundation was laid for a humane prison system. After Howard's death, the leading reformer was Elizabeth Fry, who began visiting Newgate, which was particularly infamous for its treatment of women prisoners.
Prison reform has had many vicissitudes. Some of the early theories of reform with their emphasis on solitary confinement in reaction to the earlier congregating of prisoners, were erroneous.
Abolition of torture
Torture, which had been permitted by law throughout continental Europe, was abolished in every European country throughout the 18th century. Beccaria and Voltaire led the movement.
By the 12th and 13th centuries, primitive modes of trial were breaking down. Proof of guilt had been established by magical means such as the Ordeal. In 1215, Pope Innocent III prohibited trial by ordeal. New criminal procedures for determining guilt were needed, precipitating the use of torture on the continent. Innocent III had approved inquisitorial process in ecclesiastical courts and this now became extended to the civil jurisdiction. Torture was applied as a supplement to the new inquisitorial procedure. It came to be the prime method of extorting evidence.
The sense of outrage in France over the case of Jean Calas led to the abolition of torture. Calas had been tortured and cruelly executed – all four of his limbs being broken in two places, and was then strangled and burnt at the stake. He was accused of murdering his son, supposedly in a rage over his son's plan to convert to Catholicism. To the end, he proclaimed his innocence: in fact, his son had committed suicide. Voltaire was approached. He became convinced that Calas had been the victim of judicial murder, and set about to rehabilitate his memory. He engaged lawyers to search out new evidence and press the authorities. He solicited funds to help the Calas family. He wrote moving accounts of the case and mounted a campaign against the French legal system. Finally, three years after the execution, Calas was cleared of the crime.
By the late 18th century, no sovereign could appear enlightened in whose dominion torture was permitted. In France, torture was abolished in 1789. In Tuscany, torture was abolished by the Grand Duke, Peter Leopold in 1786. This was followed by other Italian states. Frederick the Great abolished torture in Prussia in 1740, although this was not formalised until 1805. Other German states followed Prussia. A petition against torture was presented to the Austrian emperor by Joseph von Sonnenfels. Torture was abolished. The Austrian Netherlands and the United Provinces followed suit. Sweden had abolished torture in 1734. One by one, other countries followed.
In England, the abolition of torture was due to different causes. King Henry II had adopted the jury as a means of resolving land disputes. When Ordeal was abolished, English judges cast about for a new mode of trial and turned to the established process of trial by jury. But there was a difference in this procedure much more fundamental than in the kind of bodies determining guilt. The inquisitorial method on the continent was a judicial inquiry to find the truth. The English system was always accusatorial, in which the Crown presented a case to the jury against the accused. It lay upon the Crown to prove that case. The Court's function was not to find the truth but whether the Crown had sustained the allegations.
In such a procedure, there is no place for torture to compel a confession. This was the principal reason that the common law rejected torture quite early. A further factor was that heresy was less common in England and although torture was by no means confined to heresy, it was typical of such an inquiry. But it was only the common law that gave effect to this prohibition and it was only in the common law courts, where the accusatorial mode prevailed, that it applied. The Crown could under its prerogative create Prerogative Courts in which the process was inquisitorial. These courts survived until the English revolution of the 17th century. Torture was used in these courts.
In the 17th century, there was a reaction against inquisitorial procedures. This reaction was upon constitutional grounds in which the common law asserted paramountcy over the prerogative, but there was too a revulsion against the use of torture. This came to a head in what was almost the last case of torture in England, the case of John Felton in 1628. Felton had murdered the Duke of Buckingham and on arrest admitted the crime. Before trial, he was urged to confess who had incited him to commit the murder. He denied that anyone had done so. The Council debated whether the law would justify putting Felton to the rack, and the King directed that the advice of the Judges be sought. The next day, the judges agreed unanimously that Felton ought not to be tortured "for no such punishment is known or allowed by our law". There were one or two cases of torture after this, but in 1641 the Court of Star Chamber was abolished and with it torture.
Treatment of the mentally ill
The medieval understanding of mental abnormality was ignorant and superstitious. More than 1500 years had elapsed since the Greek doctors had examined illness as a natural process. In the 5th century, St Augustine ascribed disease to demons. The behaviour of the psychotic often suggested that the soul is possessed by some alien force and thus because the mentally ill were thought to be afflicted by the devil they were treated by exorcism.
The treatment of the insane in the Middle Ages was not deliberately cruel, or at least not invariably so. The use of St Mary of Bethlehem hospital for the insane from the 14th century indicates a concern and "Poor Mad Men of Bethlehem" received an increasing number of bequests for their maintenance from the 15th to the 17th centuries. Even in early English criminal law, "absolute madness" was a legal defence. Theologically, the church never denied that the insane (except certain monsters at birth) possessed a soul. But the notion of diabolical infection dominated attitudes, and if "the mad proved to be troublesome they could expect to be beaten or locked up." The 17th century scientific revolution influenced physiology with such notable discoveries as the circulation of the blood and the existence of microbes.
Around 1800, attitudes towards the insane began to change. It became accepted that insanity was not diabolical, but fell within the realm of medical explanation. This led to the insane being recognized as needing care and compassion, and to the assumption of responsibility by the state for the provision of organized care. Before the end of the 18th century, the Society of Friends opened a hospital for the insane at York, the first one in England to treat the insane with humane methods. Lunacy Commissioners were to be appointed. The House of Lords obstructed the passage of the Improvement Bill, but in 1828, a bill was enacted providing for supervision by Metropolitan Commissioners. Legislation placed the care of the insane on an organized and humane basis. In England, the Lunacy Act 1890 provided that, subject to a limited number of exceptions, no lunatic could be detained except by order of an authorised person. Provision was made for asylums and for their frequent inspection.
It was discovered that isolation of the insane was not a sound way to treat them. Successful treatment required a friendlier environment and, in some cases, involvement in the community. Gradually, asylums were dismantled. The pejorative description "lunatic" was replaced by "a person of unsound mind" in 1930 and a "mentally disordered person" in 1959.
Treatment of women
In England, in 1800, the rights of a woman devolved to her husband upon marriage. She could not make a will or be party to a contract or appear in court. The wife's personal chattels automatically became the property of her husband. The husband's authority to chastise her physically had been modified somewhat but she had almost no legal redress even if treated brutally. For all practical purposes, divorce was unobtainable. The only decree available was judicial separation, which left the parties married but physically separated. In that event, her husband had an almost absolute right to the custody of the children. In John Stuart Mill's description, a married woman was "the actual bond servant of her husband."
The first stirrings of feminism occurred at the time of the French Revolution. Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792. It was a clear and articulate rejection of the subordination of women, a protest against the assumption that "women were only the plaything of men". It was the first feminist work and its publication caused an outcry. In 1838, the Chartists included suffrage among their proposals. In 1857, the Matrimonial Causes Act was passed, allowing for divorce by the wife on the grounds of a repeated act of adultery (the husband would be entitled in the event of a single act by the wife). In 1869, Mill published The Subjection of Women, a protest at the inequality suffered by women. The book was ridiculed, yet it became the philosophic base of the women's movement. Mill called for the removal of disabilities imposed upon women and "the opening to them of all honourable employments, and the training and education which qualifies for those employments".
In 1869, Sophia Jex-Blake was allowed to attend medical lectures at Edinburgh University. Cambridge began admitting women in the 1870s. Oxford was slower, but was the first to allow women to take degrees. Primary and secondary education had been denied to women, but the Education Act 1870 imposed compulsory education for girls as well as boys. In 1882, with the enactment of the Married Women's Property Act, married women became able to own their separate property. In divorce and maintenance, the wife remained in an oppressively unequal position.
Adultery was the only ground for divorce in the 1857 Act. Desertion or cruelty by the husband provided no grounds, nor did insanity. Maintenance was difficult to obtain and for 30 years after the Divorce Act, payment of maintenance would be ordered in favour of an innocent wife only so long as she remained chaste. Only in the last quarter of the 20th century were these inequalities removed.
Despite this progress, women in England still had no vote in 1900. Certain European countries, New Zealand, South Australia and Western Australia and a number of American states had allowed women to vote. After Mill's death in 1874, suffrage bills continued to be introduced but were just as regularly defeated.
The Women's Social and Political Union founded by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903 was a militant movement. What followed was a succession of protests, more or less violent. Lloyd George's house was damaged by a bomb. Women chained themselves to Parliament, sat opposite 10 Downing Street and interrupted the King's speech to Parliament. Emily Davison lost her life when she threw herself under the King's horse on Derby Day.
During the First World War, women rallied to the war effort, becoming nurses and drivers, and replacing men in factories. In 1916, Asquith, overwhelmed by the evidence of feminine capacity, agreed to legislation. Legislation assented to on 6 February 1918 women were granted the vote and allowed to sit in parliament and by related legislation in 1919 became entitled to hold office. Other western countries followed a different course but the result was similar.
Treatment of animals
Throughout history, humans have treated animals in ways that are sometimes considered cruel by proponents of humanitarianism.
Maltreatment of animals was due partly to cruelty and partly to indifference. Nevertheless, it was encouraged, or at least, not discouraged by European thought. The stoics who advanced European ethics so much in the idea of the spiritual equality of human beings taught that this did not apply to non-humans.
The French essayist Montaigne condemned cruelty to animals. In the 18th century, David Hume argued that human and animal intelligence functioned in the same way. Hume led to Bentham. More than anyone else, Bentham's philosophy and persistence resulted in changed attitudes. "The question" said Bentham in his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, "is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But, can they suffer?"
In 1821, Richard Martin, a landowner in Galway, proposed a law to prevent ill-treatment of horses. The bill was laughed out of the Commons. The next year, he secured passage of the Ill-treatment of Cattle Bill, which prohibited the cruel treatment of cattle and provided for the imposition of a fine of 5 pounds or imprisonment for 3 months for any person who wantonly and cruelly beat, abused or ill-treated any horse, mare, ox, sheep or other cattle.
There was, however, nobody to enforce the legislation. In 1824, Martin and a number of other humanitarians formed a society to gather evidence of the maltreatment of animals. This society later became the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It was the leader in campaigns against brutal sports, experimentation and other forms of cruelty to animals and became active in the prevention of cruelty to children and the enactment of Prevention of Cruelty to Children legislation in 1884.
The Animal Prevention Society campaigned for improved prevention of cruelty to animals legislation building on the 1822 Act. In 1849, the Cruelty to Animals Act imposed forfeiture and penalties for the ill-treatment of animals. This law, together with the 1854 amendment, became the foundation of future legislation in England and the model for other common law countries. In 1876, further legislation extended the Cruelty to Animals Act to experimentation upon animals for scientific purposes, where the animal was alive and the experiments were calculated to inflict pain. Subsequent legislation regulated vivisection, requiring it to take place at a registered place and for an approved purpose. Over the course of the next century, there was a revolution in social attitudes to the treatment of animals throughout Europe.
Humanitarianism in armed conflict and international humanitarian law
In the context of armed conflict, humanitarianism refers to efforts to alleviate the suffering of certain groups. These efforts are regulated and protected by international humanitarian law, which seeks to limit the effects of armed conflict by protecting persons who are not or no longer participating in hostilities, and by restricting the means of warfare available to combatants. In the context of international humanitarian law, "humanitarian" is a legal term of art, and has several precise definitions.
International humanitarian law consists of a set of rules, established by treaty or custom, which seek "to protect persons and property/objects that are (or may be) affected by armed conflict" and limit "the rights of parties to a conflict to use methods and means of warfare of their choice."
Notably, the four Geneva Conventions establish protection for the wounded or shipwrecked, medical personnel and others carrying out humanitarian work and humanitarian institutions during an armed conflict, for prisoners of war, and for civilians. International humanitarian law also includes the Hague Conventions, as well as subsequent treaties, case law, and customary international law."
Formation of the Red Cross
The formation of The International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863 is claimed to be "the world's first humanitarian organisation", but is not the first instance of organized humanitarian action internationally. The Red Cross was also largely responsible for developing the other strand of international humanitarianism, international humanitarian law.
During the Crimean War, the British Army went to Crimea without a medical corps or medical service. In the barracks hospital at Scutari the spread of cholera, gangrene and dysentry raged uncontrolled. The Secretary for War persuaded Florence Nightingale to organize a corps of nurses to go to the Crimea. She did so and brought the death rate down by 40%. Her nursing corps became the foundation of modern nursing.
Attention became focused on the plight of the wounded. A terrible battle took place at Solferino in 1859 during the campaign by France and Piedmont against the Austrian empire. 6000 were killed and 30,000 wounded in 15 hours. A Swiss banker, Henry Dunant, witnessed the scene. He saw the dead thrown into huge pits and was told some of the men were alive when buried. Castiglione, the little town to where the wounded were taken, was overwhelmed. Dunant later published A Memory to Solferino, suggesting that what had happened was not due to lack of compassion but simply that there was no organization to cope. He put forward the idea which led to the formation of the Red Cross. He also proposed that international principles be codified to regulate the treatment of the wounded. These proposals were taken up by Gustave Moynier. As a result of their efforts, 16 European states met in Geneva on 16 October 1863 and established the Red Cross.
It proposed an international convention for the care of the wounded. The First Geneva Convention was adopted in 1864 and within three years was ratified by 21 nations. It specified that the wounded be accorded humane treatment, that medical personnel, whether military or civilian volunteers, should be considered neutral and that those helping the wounded should be "respected and remain free". Red Cross societies multiplied. The project resonated well with patriotic sentiments that were on the rise in the late-nineteenth-century, and national societies were often encouraged as signifiers of national moral superiority.
In the first World War, the Red Cross transmitted two and a half million letters for prisoners of war. It re-united families. It arranged for the accommodation in neutral countries of combatants and for their subsequent repatriation. It visited the internment camps of the warring parties and, after the war, was responsible for repatriating 450,000 prisoners of war.
After World War II, the United Nations Refugee Relief Administration (UNRRA) was established to help refugees and assist in their resettlement. Non-government organizations such as Oxfam, formed during the war to alleviate distress in Greece, Save the Children and Médecins Sans Frontières have also carried out humanitarian tasks.
The international protection of refugees barely existed before World War I and people faced difficulty providing proof of identity but also there was no internationally agreed definition of "refugee". Two early treaties of a limited character were entered into during the thirties. The aftermath of World War II made the problem of refugees more urgent. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was established in January 1951 and, in July of that year, the Status of Refugees Convention was opened for signature and ratification.
The international conventions protecting the wounded and sick members of armed forces, as well as prisoners-of-war, were replaced by the four Geneva Conventions of 1949.
The first and second Geneva Conventions provided for the care of sick and wounded combatants, on land and sea respectively. Immunity was granted to hospitals, medical personnel and army chaplains and also to hospital ships. Provision were made for recognition of the Red Cross emblem. The third convention protects prisoners-of-war and in doing so revises the 1929 convention. Use of prisoners of war for military labour, for medical experiments or as objects of public insult or curiosity was forbidden. All prisoners-of-war are immune from prosecution for their behaviour as combatants unless they committed war crimes. Torture or any form of coercion to extract information are prohibited.
The fourth Geneva Convention provided for the protection of civilians during war. Its aim was to secure the humane treatment of persons in occupied territories. They are entitled to respect for their customs and religion and for their family ties. Women are guaranteed protection from rape and forced prostitution. Civilians must not be used as hostages or for reprisals; nor may they be used for forced labour or subject to mass deportation. Article 3 is common to all conventions. It prohibits murder, hostage-taking, "outrages upon personal dignity" and extrajudicial executions. In 1977, additional protocols sought to apply protection to armed conflict not of an international character.
Means of war
A second strand of international humanitarian law prescribed the means by which war could be conducted. Early steps had begun in the late 19th century, following the American Civil and Crimean wars, prompted by fear of the loss of life and destruction caused by improvements in weaponry. These efforts came together in the Hague Convention. They were based upon two principles: that war should be restricted to combatants and any means adopted which offended that principle should be proscribed; and that the means to attain victory in war were not unlimited. This negative proscription became increasingly important as new weapons with increasing destructiveness were invented and developed. The inter-war period consolidated these developments but initiated only the proscription of poison gas. The attempt to control the aerial bombing of civilians was unsuccessful.
Between November 1945 and October 1946, 22 high-ranking Nazis were tried at Nuremberg before an International Military Tribunal. The Charter of 8 August 1945, which established the Tribunal specified the offences to be tried. It distinguished between "war crimes" (i.e. violations of the laws and customs of war) and "crimes against humanity". Crimes could be committed by governments or approved by governments and these could occur before or during the war. The Nuremberg Tribunal did not, however, sever the link with war completely. Although the conduct might have taken place before the war, it needed to be connected with another specified crime within the jurisdiction of the tribunal i.e. a "war crime" or "crime against peace". However, in what became known as the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials of lesser officials, the Law of the Control Council, which established these tribunals, allowed for trials of crimes against humanity committed before and unconnected with the war and jurisdiction was exercised in regard to offences not linked to the war.
In December 1946, the United Nations General Assembly confirmed that the Nuremberg Charter and the reasoning of the Tribunal reflected the principles of international law. The Genocide Convention 1948 finally severed this aspect of international humanitarian law from "war crimes" and from the need for a link with war. The offence is constituted by conduct committed with the intention, to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. The Convention was ratified by a large number of states and now, independently of treaty, forms part of customary international law.
International Criminal Court
On 17 July 1998, an International Conference at Rome adopted the Rome Statute for the establishment of an International Criminal Court. The statute came into force on 1 July 2002. By 2008, more than 100 states had become parties to the statute. Notable non-parties are the United States, China and Israel. Nevertheless, the degree of international consensus is such that the offences specified reflect customary international law. The Court is an independent, international body. It may, however, only exercise jurisdiction where the relevant national court is unable or unwilling to proceed.
The statute sets out the most serious crimes internationally: "genocide", "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity". It also includes the "crime of aggression" which will become operative when defined in accordance with the procedures provided for in the statute. The statute consolidates many of the concepts of international humanitarian law.
Right of humanitarian intervention
An inchoate development in the 19th century was the international right of humanitarian intervention. The right presupposed that one or more states could intervene to prevent inhumane behaviour in another state. This was inchoate, because it was inconsistent with state sovereignty. Suggestions of such a right date back to Grotius and Vattel in the 17th century. William Ewart Gladstone secured parliamentary approval to send ships to protect Christians from slaughter by Turks in Bulgaria in the late 19th century. In 1898, the United States declared war on Spain because its oppressive rule in Cuba "shocked the conscience of mankind." In 1904, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt claimed the right and duty to intervene in the case of crimes committed "on a vast scale".
There were, however, difficulties in carving out an exception to the principle of sovereignty without undermining the rule of non-intervention. It was difficult to assess the degree of inhumanity which would justify intervention or to decide who could determine that.
The issue arose acutely because of the shame felt by the international community over the failure to take action over the massacre of the Tutsis by the Hutu in Rwanda. The right of intervention was invoked in the Kosovo War, when Serbs used terror to drive the ethnic majority from their homeland. Consideration of the right under international law at this time required that it be consistent with the provisions of the United Nations Charter.
Between 14 and 16 September 2005, a United Nations Summit brought together 170 countries to discuss the question. The concept was renamed – "the right to humanitarian intervention" being replaced by "the responsibility to protect". It was agreed that "each individual state has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity". When a state fails to do so, "the international community, through the United Nations, also has responsibility".
Humanitarian intervention in situations of urban violence
Urban violence, even though it may not qualify as warfare, can involve large numbers of people who are killed, injured, raped, kidnapped, tortured and forcibly displaced. Violence is sometimes short-lived, but can also become chronic. Urban violence is a particular and challenging context for humanitarian organisations. Researchers have begun helping these organisations to establish criteria for engagement in situations of urban violence and to improve responses which specifically address the effects of violence.
Increasing role of regional organisations
Regional organisations are increasingly involved in a wide variety of humanitarian issues. International organisations are hopeful that regional organisations may help to share the work involved in responding to disasters, mediating conflicts and undertaking peacekeeping operations. There have been a number of prominent examples where they have been increasingly active in humanitarian action, developing specialised policies and institutions to tackle issues such as emergency response, disaster risk reduction and conflict management.
Research has found regional institutions most engaged with humanitarian issues when not seen as a threat to state sovereignty, when financed by donors from out of the region, when framed in technical terms, and when part of broader global processes. Regional organisations received credit for signing international agreements and establishing institutions regardless of how those agreements are enforced or how effective those institutions are. The research calls for those studying or working with these organisations to consider the impact of their activities on crisis-affected people wellbeing and institutions.
Patrick Meier, first started using the term 'digital humanitarianism' after crowdmapping for the 2010 Haiti earthquake. In 2011, Paul Conneally gave a TED talk on digital humanitarianism in which he states that humanitarianism's "origins are firmly routed in the analogue age" with "a major shift coming". In 2015 he authored the book Digital Humanitarians: How Big Data Is Changing the Face of Humanitarian Response.
Vincent Fevrier notes that "social media can benefit the humanitarian sector [...] by providing information to give better situational awareness to organisations for broad strategic planning and logistics" and that "crisis mapping really emerged in 2010 during the Haiti earthquake" with "software and digital humanitarian platforms such as Standby Task Force, OpenStreetMap, and many others" being active during many disasters since then.
Within digital humanitarianism, big data has featured strongly in efforts to improve digital humanitarian work and produces a limited understanding of how a crisis is unfolding. It has been argued that Big Data is constitutive of a social relation in which both the formal humanitarian sector and victims of crises are in need of the services and labor that can be provided by digital humanitarians.
Earlier in 2005 there has been raised a question if Wikipedia can be seen as digital humanitarianism.