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Humanitarian aid should be judged against international humanitarian law (IHL) which gives civilians certain rights, including protection in armed conflicts. Aid agencies should consider the various side-effects of their interventions in order to assess the net impact, and decide whether to work in any given situation. They have no responsibility to provide aid where the net impact is negative, or to those who violate international law. If governments fail in their responsibilities to protect civilians, this does not give aid agencies the responsibility of filling the vacuum, but does mean that they should campaign for governments to act. Current Northern debate on support for the citizens of countries that are in conflict is usually expressed in terms of charity, rather than a response to what people are doing for themselves. Aid agencies should help to change this.

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