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The political involvement in the context of war: A moral dilemma for NGOS

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  1. Introduction
  2. Why NGOs may want to be impartial
  3. Impartiality may be leading to inefficiency
  4. An impossible neutrality and the problems it raises
  5. Conclusion

Nowadays, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are subject to ethical dilemmas when it comes to accomplishing their goals. When helping people, irrespective of the approach used, it is important to consider both the environment, to adapt oneself to it and the consequences of the aid provided. NGOs have understood the concept of non-neutral humanitarian aid after the end of Cold War. In fact, the end of the Cold War created the issue of armed conflicts. Previously a conflict could rapidly degenerate into a nuclear war and the conflicts in 1990s have been more on an intra-state basis than on an inter-state one. During this period, there has been an explosion of inter-ethnic conflicts that would be too long to enumerate, for example, the issue of Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Therefore one can raise the question of the political involvement in the functioning of the NGOs.

[...] In sum, despite their theoretical refusal of political involvement, NGOs had a political influence and were quite dependent upon the political and military authorities. To use a concrete example, the NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) had to set up a health center in the Afghan region of Bamyan. During this mission, the NGO get involved in a local dispute with political parties over the management of the hospital. The one leading the region wanted to have a monopoly of power over the hospital whereas other factions wanted also to get some power over the hospital. [...]


[...] Finally, in this introduction, one can draw a first conclusion from the definitions of neutrality and impartiality, i.e., the choice among different attitudes and the question of political involvement are not limited to war contexts. NGOs working under dictatorships may face the same dilemmas and issues; if the dictator does not accept the NGO's positions, he/she may expel its members as well as a government in a war. However, this paper will not focus on the question of NGOs' engagement outside of contexts of conflict, because NGOs under dictatorship is a slightly different question Why NGOs may want to be impartial: some arguments in favor of impartiality and the context of development of this notion Originally, at the time of their birth and development, NGOs were willing to be impartial. [...]


[...] In sum, the goods and aid provided by NGOs are one of the resources of the war and also a source of power and control for political and military officers. As a result, not only can create humanitarian aid a dependency of the suffering people, they will have a hard time living when the NGOs will leave the field, but also it can lead to a longer conflict. basic moral question is that of ends and of means'[6], writes Pierre Hassner. [...]

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