Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE)

Reader 1

Jennifer Taw

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© 2017 Fiona Bare


This paper analyzes humanitarian assistance to complex humanitarian emergencies to understand why suboptimal outcomes result even when humanitarians have ethical principles and good intentions. It focuses on the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations, and Médecins Sans Frontières to understand their core principles before looking at how these principles operationalize during emergencies. Challenges arise due to complex relationships with donors, local actors, and recipients, along with issues of marketization and competition. This paper’s case studies of the post-genocide Rwandan refugee crisis and post-9/11 Afghanistan explore how humanitarian principles clash with such dilemmas. In the end, humanitarian organizations are often unable to adhere to principles in the midst of crises and make compromises of competition and complicity that lead to suboptimal outcomes for the people they are trying to help. Looking to modern emergencies in Syria, Yemen, and South Sudan, it is critical to understand these dynamics and seek to improve institutions of humanitarian aid to make assistance actually beneficial for those in need.