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date: 15 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines how contemporary humanitarian institutions interpret and implement their normative responsibilities in international society. It analyses a specific subset of actors—the United Nations and humanitarian NGOs—and the impact of their attempts to privilege a more “individualist,” or cosmopolitan, approach to the mitigation and regulation of armed conflict. The chapter sets out the core values of humanitarian action, including humanity and impartiality, and then illustrates how the process of “individualization”—which challenges the primacy of collective entities such as warring parties or sovereign states —has created both normative and operational dilemmas for humanitarian actors. In the case of the UN, the imperative to protect individual human rights has transformed the practice of peacekeeping, through a robust interpretation of impartiality, while for humanitarian NGOs it has spawned efforts to address not only the immediate suffering produced by armed conflict but also the underlying causes of vulnerability.

Keywords: human rights, humanitarian NGOs, impartiality, neutrality, sovereignty, self-determination, Sri Lanka, Democratic Republic of Congo, MONUSCO, Darfur

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