This year is the 150th anniversary of the battle of Solferino. It was the suffering witnessed at that battle which gave rise to an idea which, for many, has brought a little light to counter the darkness of war. This idea - that the wounded should be provided with protection - subsequently grew to incorporate the protection of prisoners and civilians in conflict situations. It led to the elaboration of a corpus of rules for the conduct of hostilities which attempt to preserve a modicum of humanity amid the unspeakable horrors of war. A century and a half after the publication of 'A Memory of Solferino', Henri Dunant's original idea is still as important as it ever was.
Recent events, however, have shown how complex the issue of protecting conflict victims can be. Having remained powerless in the face of repeated violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in places like Gaza or the less visible conflict in RDC, humanitarian actors are trying to find new ways of reacting. Meanwhile, the expulsion of NGOs from Darfur following the issuing of an arrest warrant for Omar al Bashir by the International Criminal Court has shown that the time for justice does not necessarily coincide with the time for humanitarian action.
There is an urgent need to clarify roles and responsibilities, to re-affirm the front-line role of signatory states in the application of IHL and to promote diplomatic efforts to ensure the protection of civilian populations while protecting humanitarian space. President Obama's decision to close Guantanamo prison, which has become the symbol of the Bush administration's violations of Human Rights and IHL, has shown how action can lead to positive change.
Véronique de Geoffroy