Humanitarians are saviours, people employed by organisations that were created to provide neutral and professional help in times of conflict, disaster or other emergencies. We assume that we can trust the humanitarians. This, at least, is the theory of humanitarianism. However, news outlets depict the actions of humanitarians somewhat differently. The accusations levied at humanitarian actors, including Oxfam and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) within the past three years, include that individuals have committed crimes against those they are meant to be helping, organisations have swept said abhorrent behaviour under the rug, and that the consequences for the individuals concerned are, at worst, being ‘let go’ or demoted. These scandals have besmirched the reputation of the humanitarian profession. In some instances, the scandals have undermined perceptions of humanitarian actors and, consequently, mired funding for the important work that they do. Although a multitude of actors’ act in the same spaces and places, including in armed conflict and disasters, only some are subject to accountability and responsibility on the international stage. Our question is what can and could be done at the international level to address the accusations and, in some cases, unlawful behaviour? This article explores avenues within and outside of the international legal system to ensure responsibility of those embroiled in illegal acts.
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