Introduction to Conference

More than 150 people gathered at Chatham House in London on 14 November 2017, for an event titled ‘Winning back the human race: a conference on the legacy of the Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues (ICIHI)’. The conference also provided an important opportunity to remember the Commission’s dynamic Secretary-General, Zia Rizvi, who had passed away one year earlier.

HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, who was Co-Chair of the ICIHI, served as Patron of the conference, which was chaired by Lord Malloch-Brown, former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. Other high-level speakers included Lord Owen, former UK Foreign Secretary and a Commissioner of ICIHI, Mark Lowcock, the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Josette Sheeran, former Executive Director of the World Food Programme, and Baroness Frances D’Souza, former Lord Speaker in the House of Lords.

The one-day conference examined the progress that has been made over the past three decades in relation to three major global issues, examined by ICIHI during its work from 1983 to 1986: humanitarian action and the laws of war; refugees and the dynamics of displacement; and the persistence of famine and food insecurity. The conference concluded with a discussion of the past, present and future of humanitarianism.

The conference was kindly sponsored by Riaz Rizvi, Chatham House, the Humanitarian Leadership Academy, Overseas Development Institute and Refugee Studies Centre.

At the time of writing, two ongoing initiatives have emerged from the conference. The first is a growing movement of protest and outrage at the callous disregard for international law by parties to many of today’s conflicts, where the UN Security Council seems powerless to intervene to stop the slaughter of civilians, or to hold the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes to account. That movement is titled ‘United Against Inhumanity’. Those interested in being included on a mailing list for updates can write to Audrey Sala at the journal Alternatives Humanitaires,

The second initiative emerged from the discussion in the first panel of the conference and is a proposal for a book, to be co-edited by Martin Barber and Emanuela-Chiara Gillard, on the principles of impartiality and neutrality, as they apply to humanitarian organizations seeking to undertake humanitarian action in favour of civilians in situations of ongoing armed conflict. Updates on the progress of this project will be posted periodically on the conference website at”

This report was prepared by Jeff Crisp and Martin Barber, two members of the Organizing Committee established for the conference. The report represents their interpretation of the day’s proceedings.