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 of how humanitarian aid operates in contexts of conflict and where neutrality has been implemented and has faced challenges as an approach to effective humanitarian aid provision. Thirdly, humanitarian aid will be reviewed when used as a military or political tool on behalf of governments. Finally before concluding, there will be a brief consideration of the influence that funding may have on humanitarian aid neutrality.
Defining Humanitarian Aid
Humanitarian aid activities particularly in situations of open conflict or directly after the damage caused by a natural disaster; are most commonly associated with the delivery of medical and relief aid materials including non-food items (NFIs). This can be to supplement what is provided by the Government or state authorities or in the absence of such capabilities. The giving of basic material goods identified as needed for survival is at the core of many humanitarian organisations’ objectives.
In addition to providing material assistance, some organisations take up an active role in advocating for human rights issues or when lobbying for military intervention to allow access or to protect populations in need. From a governmental and inter-governmental agency...