Respect for culture and customs in international humanitarian assistance : implications for principles and policy
A concern with respect for local culture, practices and customs emerged in international humanitarian assistance in the 1990s. This concern is clearly necessary as humanitarian assistance operations have frequently suffered from an inadequate appreciation of the local context, which has negatively affected the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian aid, as well as the security of aid workers. The emergence of respect for culture, however, also raises questions about the relationship of this norm to the traditional humanitarian principles, and in particular of the possibility that some cultural norms and practices may run into an irresolvable conflict with the normative framework underpinning international humanitarian assistance. The issue of culture in the humanitarian context has thus far been under- researched. The purpose of this thesis is to clarify the conceptual and practical implications of the commitment to respect culture for international humanitarian assistance both at the level of principles and policy. First, the existing normative framework underpinning international humanitarian assistance is described through an examination of international legal documents, and aid organisations' statements of principle and professional guidelines. Second, the emergence of the norm of respect for culture in international law, in the principles and guidelines of aid organisations, as well as in academic research is discussed. Third, the conceptual tools of normative political theory are applied in order to examine the interaction between the existing normative framework, on one hand, and the norm of respect for culture, on the other. In particular, types of potential conflict between the two, and possible ways of addressing such conflicts are discussed. Fourth, the implications of respect for culture for gender issues in the humanitarian context are also examined. Finally, the findings from the conceptual analysis are brought onto an operational level through a discussion of their implications for humanitarian policy and practice.