Room for Debate: Can humanitarian aid uphold the principle of neutrality in times of conflict?

A recent crisis brief from IRIN news, “Crisis Brief: Unexpected aid in eastern Ukraine” describes the complicated humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine, and the legal and moral issues that collaboration with local humanitarian actors can raise in a contested environment. The article explains a large component of the aid delivered in eastern Ukraine is funded through oligarchs and outside powers. Collaboration with these actors makes it difficult for neutral aid groups to both aid those in need and maintain their neutrality. The Ukrainian, Russian and local unrecognized governments all utilize aid for political or military objectives, further confusing the situation. The report raises the question of how humanitarian aid organizations should co-exist with non-neutral aid providers as the primary aid groups in the area.

The article poses timely questions: is humanitarian aid ever completely neutral? Can international NGOs collaborate with local organizations without compromising their values? In a politicized environment, how can international groups best negotiate access to victims of conflict in a frozen conflict zone?

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