This article interrogates the practice of humanitarian diplomacy by focusing on the history of the Red Cross Movement. It approaches humanitarian diplomacy beyond its technical understanding as a neutral tool for advocating and negotiating on behalf of vulnerable people. It suggests that by flagging high moral purpose, diplomacy can employ the humanitarian logic to also pursue parallel objectives and ethically ambiguous goals. Specifically, the article examines the parallel diplomatic initiatives and business-colonial projects of the founding father of the Red Cross, Henry Dunant. It then assesses the Swiss legacy of neutrality and discreet diplomacy of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) vis-à-vis the advocacy of more vocal humanitarian organisations. It looks at the decolonisation of the Movement and pursuit of national objectives and assesses the shift from humanitarian to human rights diplomacy, and the moral tensions of pursuing one or the other, or approaching them as a continuum.

Humanitarian Diplomacy

Jan 2019 - Dec 2022