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DuBois, Marc and Healy, Sean (2024) 'Imperfect Relief: Challenges to the Impartiality and Identity of Humanitarian Action.' International Review of the Red Cross. (Forthcoming)

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One of the four core humanitarian principles, impartiality's substantive ethical and deeply operational nature directs aid agencies to seek and deliver aid on the basis of non-discrimination and in proportion to the needs of crisis-affected people. Designed to operationalize the principle of humanity, impartiality is challenged by a plethora of external factors, such as the instrumentalization of aid, bureaucratic restriction, obstruction by States or non-State armed groups, and insecurity. Less visible and less examined are factors internal to aid agencies or the sector as a whole. Based on a desk review of the literature and the authors’ experience working with Médecins Sans Frontières, this article explores shortcomings in how the humanitarian sector understands and operationalizes impartiality, placing the focus on these internal factors.Beginning with the definition of impartiality, the article focuses on inadequacies in the practice of impartiality's twin pillars: non-discrimination and proportionality in the delivery of aid. Key conclusions include the necessity of an active rather than passive approach to non-discrimination, and the need for greater commitment to proportionality. In extending this analysis, the article looks more deeply at how aid organizations approach the humanitarian principles, identifying shortcomings in the way that the sector operationalizes, engages with and evaluates those principles. Given the sector's limited inclusion of or accountability towards people in crisis, its exercise of impartiality seems particularly problematic in relation to its power to decide the who and what of aid delivery, and to define the needs which it will consider humanitarian. The objective of this article is to reset humanitarians’ conceptual and operational understanding of impartiality in order to better reflect and protect humanity in humanitarian praxis, and to help humanitarians navigate the emergent challenges and critical discussions on humanitarian action's position in respect to climate change, triple-nexus programming, or simply a future where staggering levels of urgent needs vastly outstrip humanitarian resources.

Item Type: Journal Article
Keywords: impartiality, humanitarian principles, inclusion, humanitarian needs, accountability, power dynamics.
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > Department of Development Studies
ISSN: 18163831
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 23 May 2024 07:17

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