Challenging Humanitarian Principles and Practice

Jon Harald Sande Lie, NUPI

This postdoctoral project explores changes and challenges to the humanitarian field as seen from the vantage point of the Protection of Civilians (PoC) discourse and its multiple and contextual renderings in Northern Uganda. It addresses contemporary changes and challenges to the humanitarian field: the interlinkages between presumably ‘new’ wars, the expansion of the humanitarian scope and the inclusion of new actors and policies into the humanitarian space represents changes that together challenge the operational side of humanitarian action as well as the principles on which it rests.

The project seeks to describe and analyse PoC renderings at different analytical levels; international policy, among humanitarian organisations at home and in the field, and in practice among the intended beneficiaries in Northern Uganda. The project addresses changes and challenges to the instituted orders and structures of humanitarianism. It puts attention to how its traditional dominant form – drawing on the core humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence – increasingly is being questioned by scholars, practitioners and beneficiaries as a result of, amongst others, what has been described as a humanitarian mission creep.

Northern Uganda is a case in point where the erstwhile humanitarian crisis has moved into a post-conflict, recovery and development phase; and while some humanitarian actors have withdrawn others have stayed on and assumed new tasks. But: what happens to those who still receive or need protection, and how sustainable are the protection efforts put in place by the withdrawing agencies? Or, conversely: what happens to humanitarianism and its asserted neutrality – so crucial for humanitarian organisations legitimacy and access to those affected by conflict – when humanitarian actors originally mandated to do protection stay on and engage in the politics of development?