ABSTRACT: With the end of the Cold War, both the concept and practice of humanitarian action have significantly changed. The emergence of the so-called ‘complex humanitarian crises’ made it clear that traditional humanitarian responses based on the classical principles of impartiality and neutrality were not sufficient nor the most appropriate to respond to such complex [...]
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.