"Masters of Disorder": Monitoring violations of International Humanitarian Law at the International Committee of the Red Cross
Julie Billaud (Graduate Institute in Geneva)
Paper short abstract:
This paper focuses on the monitoring practices of 'International Humanitarian Law' carried out by the delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross. It analyses how ICRC humanitarian principles ('neutrality', 'impartiality') are translated in everday practices.
Paper long abstract:
The mandate of the ICRC as granted by the Geneva Conventions is to act as a "guardian of International Humanitarian Law" on the frontlines of conflicts. While its humanitarian relief operations have contributed to its international reputation, this monitoring function is rather unknown to the public. In this presentation, I pay specific attention to activities carried out by ICRC delegates to protect various categories of 'victims' (prisoners, wounded, civilians) in times of war. These protection activities, designed to remain a minimal response to human suffering, are conducted in circumstances considered temporary and exceptional. Their aim is not to provide a basis for a new governance regime but rather to maintain humanity in the midst of a dystopian present: to "master disorder" and contain its overflows. By focusing on the ways in which delegates interpret the principles ('neutrality', 'impartiality') that guide their monitoring practices, this presentation seeks to decipher the organization's ethos and worldview. It highlights the hopes as well as the frustrations and disappointments generated by myriad administrative techniques devised to engage parties to a conflict in a "confidential dialogue" on the conduct of hostilities. Deliberately formal, repetitive and predictable in order to build and maintain the trust of interlocutors, these techniques include making lists of prisoners or of 'disappeared persons', recording 'cases of violations', writing letters and submitting reports to concerned authorities. I place this bureaucratic mode of intervention in the longer history of the organization and the broader audit regime triggered by the emergence of international law.
Investigating accountability: practices and performances [LAW NET]