Paper: Tacit engagement and the ethics of humanitarian negotiations: constructive and constraining effects of the culture of silence in humanitarian action

Paper details

Paper authors Kristoffer Liden, Kristina Roepstorff, Ayse Bala Akal
In panel on Cultural and gendered contexts of the ethics of humanitarian negotiations
Paper presenter(s) will be presenting In-Person / Online


Except for the question of speaking out about atrocities, tacit engagement is a prominent yet underexamined modality of humanitarian action. On the one hand, this culture of silence allows for strategic manoeuvring and trust building in legally or reputationally high-risk contexts. On the other hand, the extensive confidentiality and fear of repercussions can have a constraining effect on humanitarian actors’ ability to exchange experiences and discuss ethical dilemmas. In the context of humanitarian negotiations, it hampers the alignment of red lines and collaboration on principled compromises. It also forecloses the room for processing experiences and developing best practices through ethical reflection. There is thus a need for disentangling the productive and restraining effects of this culture of silence in order to open for such reflection without undermining the ethical qualities of tacit engagement. In this paper, we do so by drawing on background consultations, interview data collection and extensive literature review on the ethics of humanitarian negotiations.