International humanitarian work operates on the principle of inviolability (Anderson 42). Humanitarian organizations and workers can gain access to states, establish presence through a physical base and local networks, and provide aid and other humanitarian services needed by people without experiencing harm or infringement by claiming inviolability as the moral basis of humanitarian work. This principle finds support from the operation of neutral position, impartial action and independent organization.
Neutral position means that humanitarian organizations and workers take an apolitical stand when providing aid or assistance in another country (Weller par. 10). Impartial action refers to the provision of assistance to populations or groups based on a set of objective criteria designed to meet this purpose. Independent organization pertains to the decision-making and operation of humanitarian organizations and the conduct of their work without any intervention by external parties.
Attacks by terrorist groups on humanitarian workers (Leaning 419) and the bombing of the ICRC headquarters in Iraq shook the inviolability of international humanitarian work (Anderson 42). A justification is the emergence of neutrality issues that affects inviolability. There is need to reassess neutrality and update this concept to represent current developments in international humanitarian work. Concept of Neutrality The origin of neutrality is the Latin term neuter literally translated to mean not either.
This implies the existence of two positions or sides and being neutral means not taking any of the positions or sides. When applied to politics, neutral means abstaining from taking one side or the other such as in the case war between two states. This also refers to the state of not having any feelings or views leaning towards one position relative to the other. In international humanitarian work, neutrality then means the provision of assistance without taking part in conflict or war and siding one power in political disputes.
(Leaning 418) This also means the provision of assistance to the people of a foreign country without doing anything that constitutes support to the cause or position of one party in cases of political conflict or war (Weller par. 10). Another conceptualization of neutrality in international humanitarian work is pure humanitarian relief by not leaning towards any side over political issues (Anderson 42). The clarification of the concept of neutrality in international humanitarian work is not lacking in effort from the United Nations and non-government organizations.
Decades of work in developing a working concept of neutrality continues. This is not an easy task. The idea of neutrality continues to evolve with developments in international humanitarian work. The most compelling development is the involvement of humanitarian organizations and workers in political sides whether this is with their conscious knowing or not. The incident of abduction of humanitarian workers is on the rise with terrorist organizations or dissident groups using humanitarian workers to strengthen their political stand (Leaning 419).
Humanitarian organizations positioned in Iraq supporting the rebuilding of the state received strong criticism from anti-western groups in Iraq for being involved in the political exercise of the United States (Anderson 42). These developments are inconsistent with the existing conceptualization of humanitarian neutrality. These also support the need to reconsider the concept of neutrality and its workings in humanitarian aid. Emerging Issues on the Concept of Neutrality The issues on the concept of neutrality encompass its definition and significance or role in international humanitarian work.
The confusion and uncertainty about humanitarian neutrality requires resolution to strengthen the shaky foundation of international humanitarian work. One issue is the uncertainty in the conceptualization of humanitarian neutrality in the context of conflict situations (Leaning 419). This led to different positions over what humanitarian neutrality means and over its importance to humanitarian work. One position considers humanitarian neutrality as a core value in doing humanitarian work because it provides the framework distinguishing the nature of work and motivation in providing humanitarian aid (Leaning 418).
Without the operation of humanitarian neutrality, organizations and workers providing humanitarian aid lose their purpose as apolitically aiding or assisting victims of humanitarian crisis. The collapse of humanitarian neutrality would make humanitarian organizations and workers agents of state actors or advocates of dissident and terrorist groups. However, even proponents recognize problems in the concept of humanitarian neutrality. This is in conflict with impartiality. While neutrality means inaction, non-involvement, or non-participation, impartiality means action with objective guidance.
Objective action has different implications from inaction. (Weller par. 9-11) This could explain the instability of the inviolability of humanitarian work in the context of conflict. The other position considers humanitarian neutrality as passe in the current context. In the present context of humanitarian work, access and work in a state in conflict with external or internal parties involve conditions that become inevitably political by the conflict. Some organizations no longer use humanitarian neutrality and replace this with non-partisan (Leaning 419) stand to reflect their intention not to participate in conflict or war.
This emerged from the recognition that humanitarian neutrality does not exist in the reality of humanitarian work because the provision of assistance depends on the parties involved in the conflict or war. Another replacement for humanitarian neutrality is civilian protection with components of protection of human rights and provision of relief (Leaning 419). Protection is not neutral because this operates relative to a party or threat. Provision of relief has basis on objective standards that could mean giving more aid to a particular group involved in the conflict. Another issue is the relativity (Anderson 42; Weller par.
12) of perspectives over the humanitarian neutrality of organizations and workers. This caused and constituted an outcome of the uncertainty in the conceptualization of humanitarian neutrality. The uncertain conceptualization of humanitarian neutrality led to the varying definition and incorporation into standards of action for different non-government organizations, with some organizations limiting their work to humanitarian aid in line with neutrality while others expanded their work to civilian protection in recognition of the ineffectiveness in practicing neutrality given changes in the context of humanitarian work (Leaning 419).
This in turn further led to the erosion of the concept of humanitarian neutrality. Many state and non-state actors involved in conflict carry varied views towards humanitarian organizations. The susceptibility of humanitarian organizations to political actions led to the provision of access and inviolability based on the perceived possible political leanings of organizations (Weller par. 12) such as the booting out or the forced leave of American humanitarian organizations in North Korea and Iraq respectively because of ties to the United States.
Conclusion Developments in the environment of international humanitarian work support the need to reconsider the concept of humanitarian neutrality. One is the need to redevelop or even overhaul the concept of humanitarian neutrality to make it align with the current context of humanitarian work. The other is the need to develop a widely accepted and recognized standard of practice to counter relativity. These are difficult and involve the contribution of humanitarian organizations. Works Cited Anderson, Kenneth.
“Humanitarian Inviolability in Crisis: The Meaning of Impartiality and Neutrality for U. N. and NGO Agencies Following the 2003–2004 Afghanistan and Iraq Conflicts. ” Harvard Human Rights Journal 17(2004): 41-47. Leaning, Jennifer. “The Dilemma of Neutrality. ” Prehospital and Disaster Medicine 22. 5 (2007): 418-421. Weller, Marc. “The Relativity of Humanitarian Neutrality and Impartiality. ” The Journal of Humanitarian Assistance February (1998): 54 pars. 29 April 2009 <http://jha. ac/1998/02/28/the-relativity-of-humanitarian-neutrality-and-impartiality/>
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