Discuss Whether it is Possible to Maintain the Neutrality of Humanitarian Aid

Discuss Whether it is Possible to Maintain the Neutrality of Humanitarian Aid

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The provision of humanitarian aid has become an increasingly contentious and complicated issue. A contributing factor has been the expanding numbers of humanitarian actors (Marriage, 2008: 2) and consequentially greater competition for funding and operational field space. Governmental and inter-governmental agencies have blurred the lines of pure humanitarianism by integrating these activities with their own state’s military and political objectives (Rigby, 2001). This is further exacerbated in contexts of conflict. ‘The combatant/noncombatant distinction is also lost when state military forces participate in humanitarian activities.’ (Mills, 2005: 165). International Humanitarian Organisations (IHOs) and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) attempt to combat this perception by declaring (amongst others) their principles of neutrality in the implementation of their mission interventions to alleviate suffering of affected populations they assess to be most in need.

In this essay, the nature of neutrality and its purpose and this principled application in humanitarian aid will be discussed. Furthermore, it will aim to demonstrate that while it may be desirable to seek neutrality of humanitarian aid, in reality on the ground and in constantly and rapidly changing circumstances, this is increasing difficult to achieve and maintain. The growing complexity of the interplay between governmental and inter-governmental agencies, IHOs and NGOs in the humanitarian field and increased politicisation and conditionality attached to humanitarian aid further complicates this position.

The structure of this examination will begin firstly by defining the key terms of ‘humanitarian aid’ and ‘neutrality’. Secondly, there will be an analysis ...


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... of Multilateralism and International Organizations, 11 (2), pp. 161-183.
Plattner, D. 1996. ICRC neutrality and neutrality in humanitarian assistance. International Review-Red Cross, pp. 161-180.
Rigby, A. 2001. Humanitarian assistance and conflict management: the view from the non-governmental sector. International Affairs, 77 (4), pp. 957-966.
Rieffer-Flanagan, B. A. 2009. Is Neutral Humanitarianism Dead? Red Cross Neutrality: Walking the Tightrope of Neutral Humanitarianism. Human rights quarterly, 31 (4), pp. 888-915.
Slim, H. 1997. Relief agencies and moral standing in war: Principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and solidarity. Development in Practice, 7 (4), pp. 342-352.
Wake, C. 2008. An unaided peace? The (unintended) consequences of international aid on the Oslo peace process: Analysis. Conflict, Security & Development, 8 (1), pp. 109-131.

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