Home Sociology Humanitarian ethics : a guide to the morality of aid in war and disaster
International Lives and National Lives
The idea that agencies might put relative values on different human lives within their organizations seems to be an egregious breach of the radical equality of human life that is central to humanitarian ethics’ foundational values of humanity and impartiality. A humanitarian agency making a routine distinction between national and international lives would indeed be outrageous and racist hypocrisy. It would be profoundly immoral if it were held as a general principle. Tolerating different levels of risk between international and national staff can only make moral sense if the context creates ethical reasons why some staff can and should accept higher levels of risk than others. The only way it can be ethical to make nationality, religion, race or colour an acceptable criterion in differentiations of risk is if these decisions are justified by differences in threat, connectedness and consent. A moral case can then be made for these three exceptions:
It seems fair to respect these particular exceptions made for either national staff or international staff, depending on the particular context. Taking unequal risks can be ethically justified. But it remains vital to support and protect exposed staff as much as possible when they make this choice. The duty of care heightens and does not reduce with distance or "remoteness” in these situations.
This chapter has looked at some of the perennial ethical challenges that routinely appear as strategic moral risks in humanitarian action. The next chapter will focus on the personal ethics of humanitarian workers and how best to cultivate operational virtues in individual humanitarians.
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