The Moral and Legal Obligations of Battlefield Neutrality
“If a body of enemy troops is repulsed, give to the wounded the same care as you would give your own men; treat them all the forbearance due to the one who is stricken…After the battle, restrain the fury of your troops; spare the vanquished…People should say of you: they fought courageously when they had to, but remained generous and humane throughout.” –General Guillaume Henri Dufour (Moorehead, 1998)
No truer words have ever been spoken by a General to his men before battle. General Dufour not only understood the nature of war but also that of being humane. The General agreed with Henri Dunant, the founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that certain basic rules should be in place to protect all sides in conflict. This argument is based on the idea that certain human rights should always be protected; that even in the worst of conflicts a sliver of hope should prevail. To distribute this hope evenly on the battlefield, there must be an organization to provide this aid impartially. For an organization to be truly neutral, it is never an easy path. Said organization will continually be pulled in all directions in a conflict by the interests of all sides. An impartial organization must answer the question of how to render aid, protect basic human rights, and yet not to become part of the conflict. Perhaps the answer to that very question is this: For the Red Cross to truly maintain battlefield neutrality they must offer training, medical aid, and support to friendly combatants, enemy combatants, and people on the battlefield who are not connected to either side. Some would argue that providing aid to each side would cause the conflict to be prolonged by allowing those healed to return to the battlefield, and then inflicting more suffering. Others would also argue that Dunant’s dream of neutrality should in some cases be ignored; that in some cases one side of the conflict is not worthy of aid. These questions regarding battlefield neutrality have most recently come up in the war in Afghanistan; should the Taliban receive aid, medical training, and support?
In June 2010, the debate of what role the Red Cross should play in the war in Afghanistan arose after an unidentified official in Kandahar’s local government was quoted saying the Taliban did “not deserve to be treated like humans.” (Jordans, 2010) This quote ran in several newspapers around the world, stirring up feelings of anger against the Red Cross and its mission of providing medical training and aid in Afghanistan, even to the Taliban. The debate in the newspapers raged on so far as to even include parents of two Canadian soldiers who had died in the conflict to debate the practice, with divergent views, in the CanWest news Service. (Foot, 2010) Within this latest flair of debate lies the long standing question of what the role of the Red Cross should be in conflict, and why it should...