Masters of disorder : rituals of communication and monitoring at the International Committee of the Red Cross
Host item entries:
Social anthropology, Vol. 28, no. 1, 2020, p. 96-111
Bibliography : p. 110-111
The mandate of the ICRC as granted by the Geneva Conventions is to act as a ‘guardian of International Humanitarian Law’ on the frontlines of conflicts. While its humanitarian relief operations have contributed to its international reputation, this monitoring function is rather unknown to the public. In this paper, I pay specific attention to activities carried out by ICRC delegates to protect various categories of victims in times of war. By focusing on the ways in which delegates interpret the principles (‘neutrality’, ‘impartiality’, ‘confidentiality’) that guide their actions, I seek to decipher the organisation’s ethos and worldview. I highlight the hopes as well as the frustrations and disappointments generated by myriad administrative techniques devised to engage parties to a conflict in a ‘confidential dialogue’ on the conduct of hostilities. Finally, I examine how these techniques, built on the hope in the possibility of communication, are changing as a result of external sources of pressure for ‘evidence‐based programming’, turning personalised case‐based monitoring into a new form of ‘audit culture’ based on statistical evidence. Paradoxically, relying on numbers to realise the utopia of ‘humanising war’ makes the very ‘humans’ who are supposed to benefit from it disappear from view.