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Uses and Misuses of International Humanitarian Law and Humanitarian Principles
Rony Brauman

The rehabilitation of international humanitarian law (IHL) has become a priority for those who think that the horrors of contemporary wars are largely due to the blurring of the distinction between civilians and combatants and for those who think that campaigning for the respect of IHL could result in more civilised wars. Similarly, respect for humanitarian principles is still seen by many as the best tool available to protect the safety of aid workers. In this text, I argue that both assumptions are misled. The distinction between civilians and combatants, a cornerstone of IHL, has been blurred in practice since the late nineteenth century. In addition, humanitarian agencies claiming to be ‘principled’ have been victims of attacks as much as others. History and current practice tell us that neither IHL nor humanitarian principles provide safety or can guide our decisions. Accepting their symbolic value, rather than their unrealised potential to protect and solve operational dilemmas, would free humanitarian agencies from endless speculations.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
A Model for Historical Reflection in the Humanitarian Sector
Kevin O’Sullivan and Réiseal Ní Chéilleachair

This article describes the results of a pilot project on using historical reflection as a tool for policy-making in the humanitarian sector. It begins by establishing the rationale for integrating reflection into humanitarian practice. It then looks at the growing interest in humanitarian history among practitioners and academics over the past decade and sets out the arguments for why a more formalised discussion about humanitarianism’s past could result in a better understanding of the contemporary aid environment. The main body of the article focuses on our efforts to translate that potential into practice, through a reflective workshop on Somalia since the 1990s, held at National University of Ireland, Galway, in June 2017. Drawing on our experience of that event, the article puts forward four principles on which a workable model of reflective practice might be developed: the importance of the workshop setting, how to organise the reflective process, the value of pursuing a single case study and the careful management of expectations and outcomes. This article is not intended to be prescriptive, however. Rather, our aim is to put forward some practical suggestions and to open a conversation about how a model of historical reflection for aid practitioners might be developed.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
A Focus on Community Engagement
Frédéric Le Marcis, Luisa Enria, Sharon Abramowitz, Almudena-Mari Saez and Sylvain Landry B. Faye

Community engagement is commonly regarded as a crucial entry point for gaining access and securing trust during humanitarian emergencies. In this article, we present three case studies of community engagement encounters during the West African Ebola outbreak. They represent strategies commonly implemented by the humanitarian response to the epidemic: communication through comités de veille villageois in Guinea, engagement with NGO-affiliated community leadership structures in Liberia and indirect mediation to chiefs in Sierra Leone. These case studies are based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out before, during and after the outbreak by five anthropologists involved in the response to Ebola in diverse capacities. Our goal is to represent and conceptualise the Ebola response as a dynamic interaction between a response apparatus, local populations and intermediaries, with uncertain outcomes that were negotiated over time and in response to changing conditions. Our findings show that community engagement tactics that are based on fixed notions of legitimacy are unable to respond to the fluidity of community response environments during emergencies.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
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Interpreting Violence on Healthcare in the Early Stage of the South Sudanese Civil War
Xavier Crombé and Joanna Kuper

This article seeks to document and analyse violence affecting the provision of healthcare by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and its intended beneficiaries in the early stage of the current civil war in South Sudan. Most NGO accounts and quantitative studies of violent attacks on healthcare tend to limit interpretation of their prime motives to the violation of international norms and deprivation of access to health services. Instead, we provide a detailed narrative, which contextualises violent incidents affecting healthcare, with regard for the dynamics of conflict in South Sudan as well as MSF’s operational decisions, and which combines and contrasts institutional and academic sources with direct testimonies from local MSF personnel and other residents. This approach offers greater insight not only into the circumstances and logics of violence but also into the concrete ways in which healthcare practices adapt in the face of attacks and how these may reveal and put to the test the reciprocal expectations binding international and local health practitioners in crisis situations.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Zalfa Feghali

This chapter explores lesbian Canadian language poet Erín Moure’s collection of poetry, O Cidadán. A challenging text, the collection offers a critique of established ideas of citizenship and formulates an alternative narrative of citizenship and community building, with Moure’s figure of the cidadán at its core. Embedded within Moure’s narrative are specific writing and reading practices that challenge the reader to act on the text, constituting the reader as a civic subject within this alternative narrative.

in Crossing borders and queering citizenship
Zalfa Feghali

This chapter constructs a relationship between the autobiographical writing of queer lesbian Chicana Gloria Anzaldúa and queer southern writer Dorothy Allison, two queer feminist authors who have not been read alongside each other, despite their work having much in common. Reading these two authors together allows us to begin the recovery of an as-yet unwritten history of radical queer feminism in the twentieth century, mapping linked networks of influence that suggest a burgeoning strand of intersectional feminism that has not yet been examined in existing literary histories of the movement. More broadly, by exposing tangible connections between the experiences of civic marginalisation faced by Chicana and ‘white trash’ communities, this chapter reads Anzaldúa and Allison as having separately but equally theorised feminist spaces and communities for a queered citizenship.

in Crossing borders and queering citizenship
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Yann Martel’s lonely book club
Zalfa Feghali

The concluding chapter begins with an examination of Canadian author Yann Martel’s What is Stephen Harper Reading? book club project, in which he sent literary texts to now-former Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper once a fortnight. This public act of citizenship was intended to expose Harper, who was responsible for CAD 45 million in cuts to arts, culture, and heritage funding, to the importance of literature and the arts. The chapter closes with a reflection of how the texts and authors under study in this book have explored only a few ways in which citizenship can be encountered, acknowledged, critiqued, troubled, and queered by readers who have the power to collaborate in the continuing struggle for recognition, rights, and representation in North America and around the world.

in Crossing borders and queering citizenship
Civic reading practice in contemporary American and Canadian writing
Author: Zalfa Feghali

Can reading make us better citizens? This book sheds light on how the act of reading can be mobilised as a powerful civic tool in service of contemporary civil and political struggles for minority recognition, rights, and representation in North America. Crossing borders and queering citizenship reimagines the contours of contemporary citizenship by connecting queer and citizenship theories to the idea of an engaged reading subject. This book offers a new approach to studying the act of reading, theorises reading as an integral element of the basic unit of the state: the citizen. By theorising the act of reading across borders as a civic act that queers citizenship, the book advances an alternative model of belonging through civic readerly engagement. Exploring work by seven US, Mexican, Canadian, and Indigenous authors, including Gloria Anzaldúa, Dorothy Allison, Gregory Scofield, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Erín Moure, Junot Díaz, and Yann Martel, the book offers sensitive interpretations of how reading can create citizenship practices that foreground and value recognition, rights, and representation for all members of a political system.

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Why queer(y) citizenship?
Zalfa Feghali

This introduction provides a rationale for querying and queering the way state citizenship functions. Beginning from a reading of Indigenous author Thomas King’s 1993 short story, ‘Borders’, the introduction offers a justification for rethinking citizenship. Drawing on border studies, queer theory, and political developments at North American borders since 9/11, the introduction shows how reading can translate into civic action that foregrounds recognition, rights, and representation in North America.

in Crossing borders and queering citizenship
Zalfa Feghali

This chapter examines a range of Canadian Métis writer Gregory Scofield’s poetry, exploring his revisionist treatment of the history of the Métis and other Indigenous people in Canada. As it provides a history of the Métis, the chapter also explores the impact of Scofield’s two-spirit queer identification, his codeswitching, and his community work, on his poetry. Writing in Métis and two-spirit vernaculars, Scofield’s hybrid vernacular texts become vehicles for his critique of Canadian citizenship in the case of the Métis.

in Crossing borders and queering citizenship