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Moral dilemmas for humanitarianism in the era of "humanitarian" military interventions

30-09-2004 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 855, by Beat Schweizer

The article deals with the numerous moral dilemmas humanitarian organizations are faced with when they - often unwillingly - become part of political and military strategies to reduce conflict and to build peace, notably in the aftermath of military interventions that have been justified on humanitarian grounds.

   

Beat Schweizer
The author is Deputy Director-General at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone and not necessarily those of the ICRC. 
 
Abstract 
 

In recent years, the " humanitarian " label has been increasingly used by Western governments to legitimize a new and sometimes controversial security agenda. The use of humanitarian reasons to justify international military interventions, combined with the fact that the governments involved in these military operations are usually also the main financiers of the humanitarian system, has led to revived discussions among international humanitarian organizations and NGOs on the ethical principles of humanitarian action. This article deals with a number of moral dilemmas humanitarian organizations are faced with when they -often unwillingly - become part of political and military strategies to reduce conflict and build peace, notably in the aftermath of " humanitarian " military interventions.

While it is in the nature of dilemmas that they have no easy solution, it is important for humanitarian workers an d their donors to recognize and analyze them. Independent and impartial humanitarian action and the organizations that uphold it have to be recognized as an essential part of a system of checks and balances that aims at achieving the best possible result for those affected by violence and injustice.

 

   
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