Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Applied Ethics in Humanitarian Action

UM LEVEL 05 - Postgraduate Modular Diploma or Degree Course



DEPARTMENT International Relations

DESCRIPTION The study unit starts by examining the complex relationship between security and humanitarian action from an analytical perspective. It moves on to examine the ethics of humanitarian action, also from a more theoretical vantage point. It then takes a thematic and case study approach, taking a series of key questions as points of departure: How have security concerns affected humanitarian responses in different contexts such as Rwanda, DRC, and DPRK? How have humanitarian responses affected the security of the recipient population? Why has humanitarian action in some instances led to increased insecurity?

Ethically, if the raison d’etre of humanitarian assistance is to assist and protect those disenfranchised through conflict, poverty or disaster how can we think about some of the contradictory aspects of such laudable activities?

How for instance can international organizations and NGOs justify paying large proportions of humanitarian budgets to well-paid and privileged international officials whose understanding of the latest crises into which they are thrust is often minimal and their ‘intrusion’ sometimes resented by the local population? How can the UN prevent peace-keepers and humanitarian officials engaging in non-licit activities that range from engaging in local parallel markets through to prostitution and smuggling?

Students will thus gain knowledge of relevant theories, concepts and debates about the relationship of humanitarianism to security. By examining ‘theories’ we explore the ways that knowledge is constructed. What assumptions do we make? What concepts do we employ? What explanations do we propose? What normative judgements do we make? The debates generated through various responses to these questions will help students to critically interrogate and analyse the empirical material on humanitarian organisations and humanitarian crises.

Study-unit Aims:

The aims of the Humanitarianism and Security study unit are as follows:
- To convey knowledge and understanding of international humanitarianism in the context of global human, national and international security challenges
- To facilitate understanding of the ethics of international humanitarianism
- To develop students’ understanding of the relationship between theory, policy and practice
- To develop students’ skills in the effective collection and interpretation of information from diverse sources
- To develop students’ abilities to argue cogently, concisely and critically

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding: By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- Demonstrate an advanced knowledge of the theoretical, conceptual and ethical debates germane to international humanitarianism in the context of human, national and international security analysis
- Evaluate critically the institutions, processes, policies and activities of the international humanitarian system
- Demonstrate an ability to locate the study of international humanitarianism within broader debates in the disciplines of International Relations and/or Security Studies
- Demonstrate in-depth knowledge of history, actors, issues, dynamics, and ethics of contemporary humanitarian emergencies

2. Skills: By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- draw links between academic political analysis and policy practice
- use the Internet as a tool in political communication and policy evaluation
- develop sophisticated arguments in written form

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Ethics of Humanitarian Action


1. Anderson, Mary. Do No Harm. How peace can support peace or war.. Lynne Rienner Publishers. 1999.
2. Ethics in action. Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-68449-8 Edited by Daniel A. Bell and Jean-Marc Coicaud.
3. Making the tough calls:
4. The ethics of war and Peace (Nigel Dower).
5. Global poverty ethics and Human Rights.
6. Ethics of global development. David A. Crocker.
7. Moral Relativism: Big Ideas/Small Books by Steven Lukes.
8. Do ethics Matter in Humanitarian studies. article at
9. Hard ethics in humanitarian work. Article at
10. Humanitarian and development aid in the times of economic crisis; times of great need and reduced resources. Article at
11. Revisiting the meaning of some humanitarian principles in new contexts. Article at
12. Hugo Slim. Humanitarian Ethics.A Guide to the Morality of Aid in War and Disaster. Hugo Slim. Hurst 2015.
13. Larry Minear and Hazel Smith (2007) Humanitarian Diplomacy: Practitioners and their Craft United Nations University Press.
14. David Rieff, Roy Gutman and Kenneth Anderson (eds.), Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know (New York; London: W.W. Norton & Co., 2007).
15. Daniel A. Bell and Joseph H. Carens, ‘The Ethical Dilemmas of International Human Rights and Humanitarian NGOs: Reflections on a Dialogue between Practitioners and Theorists', Human Rights Quarterly, Vol.26,No.2 (2004).
16. Michael Doyle and Nicholas Sambanis, Making War and Building Peace: United Nations Peace Operations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).
17. S. Neil MacFarlane, Humanitarian Action and Conflict (Providence: Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies, 2001).
18. Mary B. Anderson, ‘You Save My Life Today, But for What Tomorrow? Some Moral Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid’, in Jonathan Moore (ed.), Hard Choices: Moral Dilemmas in Humanitarian Intervention (Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), pp.137-56.


19. Pobreza y Libertad (Adela Cortina y Gustavo Pereira).
20. Almansa, F. (1999), Reflexiones sobre ética y Cooperación para el desarrollo, Cuadernos de Cooperación, intermón Oxfam.
21. Camps,Victoria, Virtudes públicas, Colección Austral, Espasa Calpe (A-310).
22. Cortina, Adela, La ética de la sociedad civil,
23. Etxebarria,X. (1999), Ética de la Acción Humanitaria , Serie Ayuda Humanitaria, Textos básicos, vol. 4, Universidad de Deusto, Bilbao.
24. Martínez Navarro, E. Ética para el desarrollo de los pueblos, Ed. Trotta.
25. La respuesta ética desde las Organizaciones Humanitarias. Artículo en


26. Militaires Humanitaires, À chacun son rôle, MSF,GRIP, Editions Complexe 2002.

Codes of conduct Professional Standards:

27. Code of Conduct for The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief.
28. Video of Code of Conduct in Disaster Relief.:
29. SPHERE Project: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response, Video en
30. Code of conduct on images and messages relating to the third world. General Assembly of the Liaison Committee of Development NGOs to the EC.
31. Education in Emergencies, Standards
32. The Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International (HAP-I):
33. The good enough guide (Impact Measurement and accountability in emergencies) )
34. Humanitarian Exchange . HPN. Various publications. (Nº 24 on Accountability, …)
35. Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against Refugees, Returnees and Internal Displaced Persons. Guidelines for Prevention and Response. May 2003. UNHCR.

ADDITIONAL NOTES Co-Requisite Study-units

As prescribed within MA in Humanitarian Action

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture and Seminar

Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Sept. Asst Session Weighting
Research Paper SEM2 Yes 20%
Essay SEM2 Yes 80%

LECTURER/S Lars Lfquist


The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2023/4. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.