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Reclaiming Protection as a Humanitarian Goal: Fodder for the Faint-Hearted Aid-Worker

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image of Journal of International Humanitarian Legal Studies

Humanitarian action is under pressure on two fronts. On one side, western nations seek to use aid as a foreign policy tool, threatening the neutral image of humanitarian actors and placing them under suspicion. On the other, and in partial reaction to this, host states are re-asserting sovereignty and imposing new limits on humanitarian action in their territory. In many contexts, organisations are being limited by law or practice from addressing abuse of the populations they seek to assist. This is not a surprising reaction from states whose actions are scrutinised; but it is making inroads on the confidence of humanitarian actors themselves. Some are beginning to question not only the feasibility but also the appropriateness of the protection work they have taken on since the 1990s. The article seeks to reinforce the importance and legitimacy of humanitarian protection by showing that both assistance and protection are key goals of humanitarian action as defined by international law. It urges organisations to fight for the space the law has granted, in order to most effectively help the victims of armed conflict.


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