Jennifer C. Rubenstein, “Between Samaritans and States: The Political Ethics of Humanitarian INGOs” (April 14, 2016)

Jennifer C. Rubenstein, University of Virginia
Between Samaritans and States: The Political Ethics of Humanitarian INGOs
Thursday, April 14, 2016 @ 4:30 pm

Between Samaritans and States: The Political Ethics of Humanitarian INGOs
International non-governmental humanitarian organizations such as Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders regularly face wrenching ethical predicaments.  For example, should they provide aid knowing that some will be stolen and used to perpetuate conflict?  How should they allocate their limited resources?  In this talk, I describe some of these predicaments and ask how INGOs should navigate them.  I argue that making good practical judgments about these predicaments requires recognizing that these seemingly apolitical organizations are in fact highly political.  Indeed, despite their limited capacities, they often end up serving governance functions.  For these reasons, I argue, INGOs should navigate the predicaments they face with an eye toward the overall consequences of their actions and omissions-not their intentions or the intrinsic value of their actions.  However, they should conceive of consequences in a broadly pluralistic way, not one that focuses narrowly on welfare.  I conclude by considering the implications of this account of humanitarian INGO political ethics for our overall assessment of humanitarian INGOs as political actors and for the responsibilities of individual donors to humanitarian INGOs.

 

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