The International Committee of the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières are two of the world’s most highly-respected humanitarian aid organizations, each taking a different approach in their use of the humanitarian principle of neutrality. Through three cases studies of conflicts involving famine in Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia in the 1980s and 90s, this paper seeks to examine the potential effects of these differing approaches upon the crises in which these organizations work. It hypothesizes that a strict adherence to neutrality will correspond with a higher number fatalities resulting from the crisis. This is the result of several factors; most significantly that aid provided with strict neutrality—particularly in the case of food provisions—can be used and abused by combatants both to sustain their own people and to starve out those who oppose them. Although each case serves as an example of this use and abuse of humanitarian aid, they fail to demonstrate any correlation between a variation in neutrality and increased fatalities as represented in the crude death rate. This finding is, in part, the result of limited resources concerning fatalities at various points throughout each of these conflicts.


Krain, Matthew


Global and International Studies


International Relations

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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