Roundtable Human Rights and Humanitarianism, 1870s to 1970s

AHA Session 91
Friday, January 7, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Room 305 (Hynes Convention Center)
Michael Geyer, University of Chicago
Michael Geyer, University of Chicago

Session Abstract

This roundtable explores the commonalities and distinctions between human rights, humanitarianism, and laws of war in comparative contexts from 1870s through the 1970s.  Human rights declarations and laws of war have often promoted legal solutions and adopted more juridical frameworks.  The diverse ideologies and activities ascribed to humanitarianism, by contrast, have usually been rooted in emotional or religious justifications, or in a more practically-oriented focus on the efficient administration of institutional relief initiatives.  However, the historical record remains less clear about the relationship among these various means of redressing perceived encroachments upon human dignity.
This roundtable will wrestle with such questions as, have legal responses to atrocities proceeded from humanitarian impulses?  Or has humanitarian intervention signaled a soft retreat from more robust legalistic solutions?  Or does the history of these things beg a more complex, less linear set of explanations?  What are the standards by which the actions of individuals, groups, and nations (as perpetrators and protectors) have been judged?  How successful have these interventions been in offering redress, comfort, and security?  For whose benefit: the aid provider’s moral standing, the wronged victims, or the stability of the international order?  The panelists will discuss conflicts and interventions that include the Franco-Prussian War, World War II, the Korean War and the 1970s’ “war” on terrorism.  The broad audience is research scholars.

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