Paper: Negotiating Red Lines in Humanitarian Grey Zones: The Ethics of Humanitarian Negotiations in Syria 2011-2021

Paper details

Paper authors Kristoffer Lidén, with Carsten Wieland, Emanuela Chiara-Gillard, Lars Christie and Mohamad Kharita
In panel on The Nexus Between Humanitarian Actors and Authoritarian Practices in Times of Crisis
Paper presenter(s) will be presenting In-Person / Online


Critics of humanitarian aid to government controlled areas during the war in Syria since 2011 highlight how the assistance was instrumentalised by the regime by controlling staff and operations, witholding aid from opposition controlled areas and supporting the war economy. Agencies that cooperated with the regime in spite of such instrumentalization argue that it would be civilians in government controlled areas and not the regime that would truly suffer if assistance was withdrawn. Their critics nonetheless argue that the humanitarians cooperating with the regime became complicit in its policies and that unless a line is drawn under such circumstances it will set a precedent for similar violations elsewhere. In this paper, we will disentangle the premises of this debate and relating them to underlying philosophical positions in the ethics of humanitarian action. By zooming in on the negotiations between humanitarian agencies and the regime over access to besieged areas, we will gain a better understanding of the room for compromise in this ‘humanitarian grey zone’ between the options of unconditional cooperation and withdrawal.