Humanitarians are required to be impartial, independent, professionally competent and focused only on preventing and alleviating human suffering. It can be hard living up to these principles when others do not share them, while persuading political and military authorities and non-state actors to let an agency assist on the ground requires savvy ethical skills.

Getting aid to vulnerable populations in armed conflicts and disasters is only the first step in responsible humanitarian action. Once on the scene, aid workers are usually and immediately presented with practical and moral questions about what to do next. For example, when does working closely with a warring party or an immoral regime move from practical cooperation to complicity in human rights violations? Should one operate in camps for displaced people and refugees if they are effectively places of internment? Do humanitarian agencies inadvertently encourage ethnic cleansing by always being ready to ‘mop-up’ the consequences of scorched earth warfare? What is humanitarian neutrality? How can an agency be impartial when its movement is restricted? What does it take to be an ethical humanitarian worker?

This book has been written to answer these questions and to enable humanitarian workers to develop a practical understanding of the principles that govern their profession. It aims to help humanitarians around the world to respond effectively and in good conscience to the many ethical dilemmas that face them in their vital work to save and protect human life.

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