The present article takes a critical look at the new humanitarian ideal and attempts to outline some of the predicaments the ‘new humanitarianism’ rhetoric is facing today. The first part of this paper gives a brief overview of classic and new humanitarianism, humanitarian practice and theory. The second part of the article takes Rwanda as a case study and examines some possible reasons for non-intervention by the international community during the unfolding tragedy in Rwanda in the spring and early summer of 1994. More precisely, it will explore three main views: indifference to what was happening in Rwanda; the psychological phenomenon of diffusion of responsibility and the slippery slope argument. The aim of this paper is to illustrate the pitfalls of humanitarianism, in a changing world, as well as encourage a re-conceptualization of humanitarianism, and of some of those indeterminate rules and ‘slippery’ concepts it is working with.
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