The conference “Beyond Neutrality: The Humanitarian System at a Crossroads” hosted at Columbia University brought together academics, journalists, and practitioners to discuss the nuances of the challenges facing modern day humanitarian actors. The two panels were put together to honor Columbia University’s Professor Dirk Salomons’ practical contributions to the field of humanitarianism.
Michael Doyle, University Professor at Columbia University discussed his work on a model international mobility treaty, which expands on the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees and the Migrant Workers Convention. Opposite Doyle sat David Rieff, author and journalist, who articulated a view that human rights frameworks have their practical limits to facilitating effective humanitarian aid. Rieff is skeptical of the role of law and he portrayed a darker picture, arguing that human rights norms are decaying around the world.
Doyle and Rieff’s differing perspectives highlight alternative views on the role of neutrality and advocacy in human rights and humanitarian action. While working in war zones, do humanitarian actors need to deal with groups that dominate access to isolated area, groups which often don’t follow the rules of war? Is the role of humanitarian actors to provide humanitarian relief or to stand up to human rights violations and advocate on victims’ behalf?
Other panelists Michael Neuman, Director of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) research center, Edem Wosornu, Head of Strategic Planning, UN OCHA, and Aurelien Buffler, Chief of Policy and Planning, UN OCHA discussed global trends in humanitarian financing and international security.