is an active belief in humanism
(the idea of the value of human life) whereby humans
practice benevolent treatment and provide assistance to other humans, in order to better humanity
for both moral and logical reasons. It is the philosophical belief in movement toward the improvement of the human
race in a variety of areas, used to describe a wide number of activities relating specifically to human welfare.
An informal ideology
Humanitarianism is an informal ideology
of practice, ; it is ''the doctrine that people's duty is to promote human welfare.
Humanitarianism is based on a view that all human beings deserve respect and dignity and should be treated as such. Therefore, humanitarians work towards advancing the well-being of humanity as a whole. It is the antithesis of the "us vs. them" mentality that characterizes tribalism and ethnic nationalism. Humanitarians abhor slavery, violation of basic and human rights, and discrimination on the basis of features such as colour of skin, religion, ancestry, place of birth, etc. Humanitarianism drives people to save lives, alleviate suffering and promote human dignity in the middle of man-made or natural disasters. Humanitarianism is embraced by movements and people across the political spectrum. The informal ideology can be summed up by a quote from Albert Schweitzer: "Humanitarianism consists in never sacrificing a human being to a purpose."
A universal doctrine
Jean Pictet, in his commentary on The Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross points out the universal characteristics of humanitarianism:
- The wellspring of the principle of humanity is in the essence of social morality which can be summed up in a single sentence, Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. This fundamental precept can be found, in almost identical form, in all the great religions, Brahminism, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism and Taoism. It is also the golden rule of the positivists, who do not commit themselves to any religion but only to the data of experience, in the name of reason alone..
Historically, humanitarianism was publicly seen in the social reforms of the late 1800s and early 1900s, following the economic turmoil of the Industrial Revolution
in England. Many of the women in Great Britain
who were involved with feminism
during the 1900s also pushed humanitarianism. The atrocious hours and working conditions of children and unskilled laborers were made illegal by pressure on Parliament by humanitarians. The Factory Act of 1833
and the Factory Act of 1844
were some of the most significant humanitarian bills passed in Parliament
following the Industrial Revolution.
In the middle of the 19th century, humanitarianism was central to the work of Florence Nightingale and Henry Dunant in emergency response and in the latter case led to the founding of the Red Cross.
Today, humanitarianism is particularly used to describe the thinking and doctrines behind emergency response to humanitarian crises
. In such cases it argues for a humanitarian response
based on humanitarian principles
, particularly the principle of humanity.
Nicholas de Torrente, Executive Director of MSF-USA writes:
- "The most important principles of humanitarian action are humanity, which posits the conviction that all people have equal dignity by virtue of their membership in humanity, impartiality, which directs that assistance is provided based solely on need, without discrimination among recipients, neutrality, which stipulates that humanitarian organizations must refrain from taking part in hostilities or taking actions that advantage one side of the conflict over another, and independence, which is necessary to ensure that humanitarian action only serves the interests of war victims, and not political, religious, or other agendas.
- "These fundamental principles serve two essential purposes. They embody humanitarian action’s single-minded purpose of alleviating suffering, unconditionally and without any ulterior motive. They also serve as operational tools that help in obtaining both the consent of belligerents and the trust of communities for the presence and activities of humanitarian organizations, particularly in highly volatile contexts.
- Dictionary.com: Humanitarianism
- de Torrent, Nicholas: "Humanitarian Action Under Attack: Reflections on the Iraq War" Harvard Human Rights Journal, Volume 17, Spring 2004 Retrieved 2007-07-13
- Minear, Larry (2002). The Humanitarian Enterprise: Dilemmas and Discoveries. West Hartford, Conn: Kumarian Press.
- Pictet, Jean The Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross: a commentary. Retrieved on 2007-07-13..
- Walter, J. (2003). Focus on ethics in aid. World disasters report, 2003. Geneva, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Retrieved 2007-07-13
- Waters, Tony (2001). Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan: The Limitations of Humanitarian Relief Operations. Boulder: Westview Press.