Should aid agencies enter Syria without consent?

20 June 2013

Oxford Martin School senior research fellow Dr Hugo Slim talks to the International Committee of the Red Cross

Since March 2013, UN humanitarian agencies have submitted three official requests to the Syrian Government to allow access.

An estimated 6.8 million people have been affected by the current conflict in the country and are in need of humanitarian assistance. Around 1.6 million people have fled the country, and internally 4.3 million have been displaced.

In an interview last week to mark the 150th anniversary of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dr Hugo Slim, Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict set out the case for entering a country without government permission.

“I would expect the ICRC always to work with full transparency with all parties,” he said. “But I do think it’s OK and acceptable for NGOs to go cross-border when there is not clear government consent.

“There’s a long tradition of this and I think ethically if you’re neutral, if you’re impartial, if your goal is strictly humanitarian then you can take the initiative to meet needs without specific consent.

“There is a strong ethical argument that if you’ve offered your help, and people need help but this is being refused, then you can take humanitarian initiative.”

Last week also saw Dr Slim also take part in a web seminar with the Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research, with Dr Mego Terzian of Médecins Sans Frontières and Balthasar Staehelin of the International Committee of the Red Cross.