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http://soc.sagepub.com/ Constructing Rights and Wrongs in Humanitarian Action: Contributions from a Sociology of Praxis
Dorothea Hilhorst and Bram J Jansen Sociology 2012 46: 891 DOI: 10.1177/0038038512452357 The online version of this article can be found at: http://soc.sagepub.com/content/46/5/891

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SOC46510.1177/0038038512452357Hilhorst and JansenSociology

Article

Constructing Rights and Wrongs in Humanitarian Action: Contributions from a Sociology of Praxis
Dorothea Hilhorst Bram J Jansen

Sociology 46(5) 891905 The Author(s) 2012 Reprints and permission: sagepub. co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0038038512452357 soc.sagepub.com

Wageningen University, The Netherlands

Wageningen University, The Netherlands

Abstract
Human rights entered the language and practice of humanitarian aid in the mid-1990s, and since then they have worked in parallel, complemented or competed with traditional frameworks ordering humanitarianism, including humanitarian principles, refugee law, and inter-agency standards. This article positions the study of rights within a sociology of praxis. It starts from a premise that interpretation and realisation of international norms depends on actors social negotiation. We seek to contribute to the sociology of rights with insights from legal pluralism and to analyse human rights as a semi-autonomous field in a multiplicity of normative frameworks. Based on cumulative research into humanitarian aid in disaster response, refugee care and protracted crises, the article explores how humanitarian agencies evoke different normative frameworks to legitimate their presence and programmes. How aid is shaped through the rights speak of aid workers and recipients alike is illuminated by cases of programmes promoting womens rights against sexual abuse from Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Keywords
human rights, humanitarian action, humanitarian arena, humanitarian principles, humanitarian standards, legal pluralism, refugee law

Introduction
This article explores how actors in the humanitarian community evoke different normative frameworks, including the frameworks of human rights, to define humanitarian
Corresponding author: Dorothea Hilhorst, Disaster Studies, Hollandseweg 1, 6706KN Wageningen, The Netherlands. Email: thea.hilhorst@wur.nl

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crises, shape humanitarian action, and negotiate power relations. Humanitarian aid is primarily constituted by life-saving relief activities in cases of conflict, disaster or starvation. In the course of time, the label of humanitarian aid has also come to be used for broader sets of services provided to refugees and disaster- or conflict-affected people, including education and a range of services associated with development. The agencies delivering these services identify themselves as humanitarian and their activities are funded through humanitarian budgets. With the broadening of humanitarian aid, its normative underpinning has also widened. Whereas humanitarian workers originally found legitimation and guidance for their work in the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality that were derived from international humanitarian law and refugee law, since the 1990s they increasingly adopt rights-based frameworks that are grounded in human rights declarations and conventions. Much literature on rights treats the international legal instruments as a singular body. However, although they are generated from similar western interests and philosophical ideas and appear compatible, their multiplicity nonetheless creates tension and provides room for manoeuvre in practice. The fact that humanitarian aid is governed by multiple normative frameworks allows us to explore how international aid workers and their recipients as major proponents of globalised social relations use normative frameworks such as human rights, the humanitarian principles and other standards to negotiate their identity, roles, status and power positions. We position ourselves in the sociology of rights (Anleu, 1999; Hynes et al., 2010; Morris, 2010; Sen, 2004; Sjoberg et al., 2001; Somers and Roberts, 2008; Turner, 1993) that builds on the basic premise that most internationally designed bodies of rights are not enforceable in a legal sense there is no body to investigate and impose legal sanction in cases of breaches of refugee law and therefore only become alive through interpretation and realisation in everyday practice. There is an emerging literature on how human rights are interpreted locally where they rarely find outright rejection or adoption, but are co-opted or blend into local norms and values (Archibald and Richards, 2002). In a similar vein, we will unravel the dynamics by which actors in the humanitarian arena selectively use human rights and other frameworks, to blend them with their own values, ideologies and interests. As we will argue, the presence of multiple orders results in an ambiguous space that provides humanitarian actors with room for manoeuvre. They use these frames to negotiate and justify their interventions in crisis areas. Our focus is on humanitarian agencies, the staff and clients of these agencies, and their surrounding networks. There are currently thousands of agencies that self-identify as humanitarian and together they employ between an estimated 136,000 and 242,000 humanitarian workers (Borton, 2009). Their habitat is mainly formed by what Mark Duffield (2001) labels the borderlands of western domination. Following discussions and actions of humanitarian actors is therefore invaluable in informing the creation and working of international normative orders. One of the interesting dimensions of practices around international normative orders, in our view, is their implication for the identities and roles of humanitarian agencies. We currently witness a shifting notion in international rights discourse on the question of who constitutes the duty-bearers that have a responsibility in ensuring or protecting these rights. While original human rights thinking addressed the nation-state as the

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primary or sole duty-bearer, human rights practice has become both the product, and one of the main vehicles, in processes that resituate the nation-state in terms of its powers and duties. Peoples rights increasingly have become the direct concern of international bodies over the sovereignty of states (Chandler, 2003: 332). At the same time, we find increasing reference to non-state entities including multinational corporations and NGOs as responsible for upholding human rights. Gready and Ensor (2005: 6) refer to this as a pattern of rights: a system of claim-duty relationships spanning subjects from international to local to household levels. This means that we must examine not only state power but also the power of multinational corporations and large-scale transnational organisations (and even NGOs themselves) (Sjoberg et al., 2001: 43). Humanitarian NGOs, just like states, are designed to protect people and advocate the rights of their constituency but may transform, in practice, into institutions that use their power to breach these rights. This has the important sociological implication that negotiations over rights in the humanitarian arena about claims and entitlements, turn equally into negotiations over identities, social positions, roles and power. They can implicitly or explicitly be about the legitimation of agencies as appropriate service providers, the legitimation of their clients as deserving aid recipients, the access and protection required by NGOs to serve people, and the abuse of power by humanitarian institutions. In the next section of the article we elaborate the theoretical framework we use for our inquiry into the construction of rights and wrongs in humanitarian action. We then elaborate the different international normative frameworks that pertain to humanitarian action and their implications for the roles of humanitarian agencies. A further section discusses the Afghanistan and Iraq crises in which the encounter between human rights and international humanitarian law became highly politicised. Subsequent sections analyse the use of rights languages outside the global hotspots where humanitarian action is shaped in the routines of everyday practice. We first elaborate some of the mechanisms by which humanitarian workers navigate the normative multiplicity in which they operate and then analyse how humanitarian agencies increasingly use human rights to frame their presence and programmes. We end with a section on how the responses of local people to projects protecting women from sexual abuse affect humanitarian action.

Methodology
This article builds on cumulative research into humanitarian action in the aftermath of natural disaster, during conflict and in refugee settings. Dorothea Hilhorst has done extensive research in Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Angola, Ethiopia, Rwanda and the DRC. Bram Jansen did an 18-month ethnographic study in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya in 2005/6 and is currently studying humanitarian governance in South Sudan. Both authors have been extensively engaged in humanitarian debate in the Netherlands and internationally. Most of the research for this article is based on ethnography in which everyday humanitarian practice is observed to detect the contradictions between the discursive claims of actors and the multiple realities of everyday life. Throughout many periods of fieldwork, supported by literature study and on-going debates, the authors found that negotiations over rights increasingly dominate humanitarian encounters. Aid

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recipients express their needs in terms of human rights, and humanitarians invoke human rights in their representations to and communication with beneficiaries, donors and local governments. This article has come about through retrospective inquiry into these accumulated researches and experiences; the latter part is based on current research in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Social Negotiation of a Plurality of Rights in Humanitarian Arenas


Without negating the importance of the legal properties of international instruments, we view them primarily as constituting social claims. It is not the universal possession of rights that counts, but their always selective enactment through uneasy mixes of the chicanery of international politics, the struggles of social movements and the commitment of rights advocates. The socially constructed nature of rights argues for examining the way in which specific cultural and historical conditions shape the emergence of rights claims or rights discourse (Anleu, 1999: 205). As rights gain meaning in specific conditions, the production and materialisation of rights need to be studied in the everyday practices where they acquire meaning. We view humanitarian action as an arena where actors socially negotiate the outcomes of aid (Hilhorst and Jansen, 2010; Hilhorst and Serrano, 2010). Note that social negotiation encompasses any kind of strategy, including coercive violence, written statements, formal interactions, schemes deployed in the shadows of official processes and gossiping or rumour. The realities and outcomes of humanitarian action depend on how actors along and around the aid chain donor representatives, headquarters, field staff, aid recipients and surrounding actors interpret the context, the needs, their own role and each other. The sociology of everyday practice breaks through a binary that separates principles and policy from implementation and practice. It observes how principles and policies get translated, altered, co-opted or circumvented in everyday practice. This perspective derives from the structuration theory of Giddens (1984) about how routinised action constitutes institutionalisation and an understanding of the agency of actors in and around humanitarian arenas to act upon their interpretation of the principles and implementing conditions of humanitarian aid (Long, 1992, 2001). Language and especially its normative elements plays an important role in this. Rights languages are discourses that contain certain ways of understanding society, including its organisation and the distribution of power (Foucault, 1978). In a humanitarian arena, notions like the humanitarian principles of impartiality and neutrality and the body of human rights gain or lose meaning through interactions of humanitarians and their surrounding stakeholders. Norms only become real through the ways in which service providers and surrounding actors interpret them and use them in their everyday practice. The social life of rights (Wilson, 1997) cannot be reduced to a single ordering principle, such as cultural prepositioning or geopolitical interests. This can be illustrated by the Stop Genocide Now movement for Darfur, where the imaging of conflict and disaster by the media played a large role in labelling this crisis. Mamdani (2009) describes how media imagery of militias on horseback who attacked villages of innocent farmers

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engendered a movement which turned Darfur into an important domestic issue in the USA. The images were devoid of references to specific times and locations, and essentialised the conflict to an evil Arab government versus its black people. A powerful human rights advocacy movement in the USA became a protagonist of violent intervention in Darfur. Darfur became subject to a diffuse, popular and domestic appropriation of human rights issues. The consequences for humanitarian action were nonetheless very real. The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant in 2009 for President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. In retaliation, the Sudanese government expelled 13 humanitarian organisations from Darfur. Redhead and Turnbull argue for the importance of studying human rights practitioners, to seek out how they engage with human rights, how they employ its terminology and how these actions redefine human rights itself (2011: 177). The model of a humanitarian arena concurs with this position and adds to it by also according importance to aid recipients as social actors. Whereas aid recipients often disappear from conventional analysis as an amorphous body of victims, we consider their constituent role in shaping the conditions and practices of aid. Social negotiation between aid providers and recipients implies an explicit or implicit negotiation of normative orders. To enable our analysis of interfacing normative orders, we draw on the tradition of legal pluralism, which refers to the presence in a social field of more than one legal order (Griffiths, 1986: 1). Legal pluralism originates from studies of the interface between modern law and traditional or customary law in colonial and post-colonial societies. It distances itself from legal centralism, where law is uniformly applied state law administered by a single set of state institutions. Instead, legal pluralism speaks of semiautonomous fields. This concept, introduced by Sally Falk Moore, denotes a field that can generate rules and induce compliance to them (in Griffiths, 1986: 29). Semiautonomous fields are interdependent: they generate rules yet are also set into a larger social matrix which can, and does, affect and invade it (1986: 29). A consequence of legal pluralism is that the same situation and the same people are subject to more than one legal order. Each of these is inscribed into the status of different persons and institutions. The ways in which each of these becomes relevant in specific situations can only be established empirically (Von Benda-Beckmann, 2002: 66). The notion of the semi-autonomous field is highly appropriate for our interest in the interfaces between different international normative frameworks. Although the frameworks we introduce originate from similar cultural and philosophical western pedigrees, they constitute semi-autonomous fields that each generate their own rules and have developed different sets of mechanisms, constituencies and jurisprudence to induce compliance. From the point of view of a distant spectator, they all look the same, but close to the ground one perceives differences in legitimation, operation and effects. Human Rights Watch and Mdecins Sans Frontires (MSF) may both be subsumed under the generalised label of NGO, yet in the field they often clash in terms of their interpretation of situations and chosen strategies to act on behalf of the same vulnerable population. The grand claim of an actor-oriented, legal pluralist approach is that the ways in which actors negotiate different normative frameworks in everyday practice accumulate

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into a renewed understanding of the content and relative importance of these frameworks (Falk Moore, 2001:107). At the same time, we are aware that, in the life-worlds of humanitarian actors, the multiplicity of normative orders presents itself as a context to be confused by, to cope with, to suffer from or to take advantage of. The claim of this article is therefore more modest. We want to inquire into the working of these multiple orders to highlight the presence of ambiguity and the space this allows for manoeuvring and negotiation (Von Benda-Beckmann and Pirie, 2007: 12). As we will show, at some point the ambiguity becomes such that normative frames lose their ordering or prescriptive character and become tools for humanitarians to frame whichever intervention they deem relevant.

Two Bodies of Law and a Bundle of Norms


International humanitarian law (IHL) and refugee law are primarily addressing warring parties and governments, yet also govern humanitarian action and grant humanitarian agencies the right to access and assist victims. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has a special status in IHL, with the important implication that signatory parties must protect the humanitarian space that ICRC needs to access people in need. To live up to its designated role, the ICRC has formulated four basic principles that guide humanitarian action: humanity (the desire to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found); impartiality or the principle of non-discrimination; neutrality; and independence (Leader, 2000). These four principles continue to be associated with humanitarian aid. They are recognised in important UN resolutions and policies of humanitarian donor states. As for ICRC under humanitarian law, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a special mandate in refugee law. The organisation is not directly responsible for refugees, but must guard the fulfilment of the rights of refugees by states, advocating and lobbying governments to comply with their responsibilities. Since the 1980s, and specifically since the end of the Cold War, UNHCR has increasingly started to implement assistance programmes, outside its task as a guardian of refugee rights (Kourula, 1997; Loescher, 2003). ICRC and UNHCR thus have designated roles. They work according to humanitarian principles, and may themselves be seen as right-holders in the sense that they can command state protection. Signatory states to IHL and refugee law are obliged to safeguard the access of ICRC and UNHCR and protect humanitarian workers from assault so that they can follow their humanitarian principles without hindrance. There are, however, many more agencies engaged in humanitarian work. Mdecins Sans Frontires was formed in 1971 in the aftermath of the Biafra crises. A number of UN agencies, including WFP, UNICEF and FAO, were mandated to take on aspects of humanitarian assistance, while numerous charity and development agencies have expanded their domains to incorporate humanitarian action. In the context of the big African famines of the 1980s, humanitarian agencies multiplied to number into the hundreds, expanding to thousands in the post-Cold War era. Discussions about the unruly nature of aid and concerns about the political abuse of aid during the 1991 US military intervention in Somalia led to the initiating of a Code of Conduct for Disaster Relief Situations (Walker, 2005). The Code makes reference to the classical humanitarian principles along with modern principles

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derived from the development aid sector: accountability, partnership, participation and sustainability. Soon after, the Code was followed by the Sphere Standards1 initiative which defines minimum standards to which disaster-affected people are entitled. The Sphere Standards, and the numerous inter-agency norms that have followed since,2 have brought about a new positioning of humanitarian agencies vis-a-vis rights. Whereas humanitarian assistance sets out as an expression of the desire to save lives, a voluntary gesture, humanitarians are increasingly called upon to account for the professional delivery of services, turning them into duty-bearers. Because agencies raise funds on behalf of people in need, they can be held to account to deliver relief (Hilhorst, 2002). More than a set of internal procedures, these norms have become referents for donors and international organisations in the regulation of aid. Humanitarian funding, for example, is increasingly becoming conditional upon adherence to the NGO Code of Conduct or the Sphere Standards, which elevates the status of these norms, in our view, to something akin to international customary law (Hilhorst, 2005). The Code of Conduct and Sphere Standards apply to all agencies that sign up to them, enabling an ever larger array of organisations that identify themselves as humanitarian and make a claim to protected access to crisis-affected people in need. They also signal a broadening of the normative base of humanitarianism where the needs-based principles are complemented with principles and standards that are easily translated into rightsbased approaches. The introduction of rights-based language alters the conception of recipients of aid, away from vulnerable and needy victims to rights-holders entitled to a decent level of services. Many agencies engaged in direct service delivery now profess the importance of rights-based approaches. While this can be interpreted as an evolution of norms, it can also be viewed as the de-centring or even dismantling of the classic principles (Stockton, 2003).

The Introduction of Human Rights in Humanitarianism


Human rights and international humanitarian law are different frameworks that both have a role in global governance, but until well into the 1990s there was little interpenetration. After the end of the Cold War, humanitarian assistance started receiving more critical attention and concerns were raised about the effect of humanitarian action on peoples human rights in the context of national statesociety relations. Alex de Waal, for example, posited in Famine Crimes (1997) that humanitarian agencies effectively enabled the violation of human rights by governments. In his analysis, the availability of international assistance contributed to the de-politicisation of governments neglect of human rights, with the consequence that people did not hold their governments accountable for their misdeeds. Similar arguments have been made in the course of time with regard to humanitarians role in the warehousing of refugees in camps, which legitimises the states seclusion of refugees, often with severe limitations on basic human rights (Verdirame and Harrell-Bond, 2005). In the course of the 1990s, rights-based concepts and instruments like human security and the Responsibility to Protect norm gave the international community increasing leeway to act for the protection of people suffering from violence. Human rights also entered

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the vocabulary of humanitarian agencies. In the first years, this went by without much controversy (Macrae and Leader, 2000). If anything, rights activists lamented the lack of international military engagement on account of human rights, most notably during the Rwanda genocide. A convergence of human rights and humanitarian action seemed increasingly acceptable, where humanitarian agencies were prepared to engage in rightsbased peace-building to contribute to resolving crises instead of only bringing comfort to the victims. The happy coalition between human rights and IHL was short lived and changed dramatically with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq following the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York. Since the start of the global war on terror, the other face of human rights (Morris, 2010) as an opportunity for western powers to intervene in the Third World under the auspices of the United Nations (Turner, 1993: 499) resurfaced in more raw and naked forms. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were partly legitimated with human rights arguments, to protect women from Taliban oppression and Iraqi people from Saddams atrocities. These wars triggered intense debate among humanitarian NGOs. In the absence of a UN Security Council mandate, they were considered by many to be breaching international humanitarian law. This had vast consequences for the humanitarians, whose headquarters are based in these countries and whose financial survival in most cases depends on their governments. They were associated with the war, which gravely affected their reputation and hence their security on the ground. The bombing of the UN office and the ICRC office in Baghdad, in August and October 2003 respectively, were read by many as a signal that people in war-affected countries perceived humanitarians as part of the politics of war. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq engaged humanitarians intensely and the meaning of their principles for once were not taken for granted but became essential to their identity and continuation. A number of humanitarian agencies and observers advocated a return to the fundamental principles of neutrality and impartiality. Other agencies were more lenient in accepting their role in advancing western values or reasoned that the allied forces were actually occupying powers and hence responsible for the well-being of the populations involved. These arguments legitimated their acceptance of funding for relief and reconstruction programmes (De Torrente, 2004; Donini et al., 2004; Slim, 2004). At no moment did a unified voice appear and NGOs of different vocation simply went their own way, with some withdrawing from the areas and many others taking on tendered projects in the war-affected areas. The intense debates over human rights and humanitarianism have subsided in the course of the decade, yet this episode shows how they may indeed compete in specific times and conditions.

Humanitarian Workers and the Negotiation of Multiple Orders


While at times rights discourse is openly contested, subtle but equally meaningful challenges may result, almost unnoticed, from everyday practice (Hilhorst, 2001). The multiple international frameworks present themselves to humanitarian workers primarily as context, an often confusing reality they have to deal with. This does not mean that principles are unimportant for humanitarians. Principles, rights and standards carry

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importance beyond their essence as social claims on behalf of vulnerable populations. They help to interpret situations, in a similar way to that referred to by Clifford Geertz as law as one way of imagining the real (1983). It has been observed that humanitarians use their principles to add higher meaning to otherwise tedious and tense work (Walkup, 1997). Principles are also identity markers that help humanitarians to feel distinct compared to other actors engaging in humanitarian crises (Rokebach, 1973: 159), and they work as glue, binding members of an organisation together (Barnard and Walker, 1994: 57). These added meanings of principles may be more important than their function in prescribing humanitarian action. The latter may become secondary or even non-existent in everyday practice. Principles find translation in decision-making patterns in the field teams of humanitarian organisations. Due to the intense experience of humanitarian action, far removed from normal lives, relatives and friends, the team frequently forms the only social network of aid workers and starts to resemble what Goffman (1961) called closed communities. When Hilhorst and Schmiemann (2002) asked former MSF volunteers how they dealt with the multitude of principles in practice, two patterns evolved of ways in which humanitarian field teams circumvent policies and principles when they consider these inappropriate. In the first place, aid workers referred to the pragmatic requirements of the situation: they weighed the need to get the job done against the harm they anticipated that breaching of principles would entail. In this way they sometimes decoded, bent or broke rules; for instance by allowing military personnel to join a ride to an airport, knowing full well that offending them and leaving them at the side of the road would result in endless bureaucratic delays later. The other way in which volunteers negotiated principles was by justifying their actions by referring to higher or parallel principles. For instance, while witnessing an unhygienic and dangerous female circumcision, an aid worker decided to provide clean tools, despite the neutrality-oriented hands off circumcision policy of the organisation. She justified this with reference to her medical ethics, which she placed above the humanitarian principles. The ways in which humanitarians selectively draw on the different bodies of law, norms and standards happens sometimes heatedly and explicitly as detailed above for the cases of Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet it also happens unnoticed, implicitly and routinely in everyday humanitarian action. In the following sections, we describe the ways in which humanitarian agencies have come to incorporate human rights, and then how local people affect the dynamics of current gender programmes in humanitarian action.

Humanitarian Agencies and Human Rights


Many agencies, NGOs and the UN involved in the provision of humanitarian aid have, over the last two decades, adopted a rights-based approach in the story they tell about themselves. The twinning of humanitarianism and human rights has become most explicit in the case of UNHCR. This agencys humanitarian identity is enshrined in refugee law, yet it has explicitly adopted a rights-based approach. This has mainly found expression in education and advocacy programmes (Bakewell, 2003). Ironically, crisisaffected people and encamped refugees who live in situations where their rights are highly restricted are made aware of their rights by agencies that cannot bring about the

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realisations of these rights, leading to increased frustration on the part of the refugees (De Waal, 2010; Muggah, 2005). UNHCR and international NGOs act as advocates of human rights and educate refugees about their rights to travel, work and engage in political association. These same actors, however, act as the principal authorities in the camps, where they enact rules and regulations that severely restrict these rights in practice. In post-independence South Sudan we find a different situation. The presence of hundreds of organisations in the new country, where the role of the humanitarian agencies in the new country is less clearly defined, leads to what Wilson (in Miller, 2010: 920) refers to as the ideological promiscuity of rights talk. Human rights are a major frame of reference for agencies to legitimate their presence and define their role vis-a-vis the government. Miller (2010) views the adoption of human rights in development programmes not as a rights-based approach, but as a rights-framed approach. NGO programmes, in this view, are not driven by their normative understanding of rights, but on the contrary, their rights speak is driven by their policy and used to legitimate their action (2010: 924). Consider, for example, the NGO with the name Right to Play. Its name suggests that playing is a right, while the agency operates in South Sudan where it educates beneficiaries on legally existing rights. Miller concludes that rights-based approaches in development are understood to represent a mantle, slogan or metaphor that covers a variety of organisations, programmes, commitments, set of values, trends, and initiatives in development practice (2010: 918). Humanitarian principles can be used in similar ways. As researchers, we frequently encounter NGOs hiding behind the principle of independence in order to withhold information or to refuse to discuss their policies. In the humanitarian arena of South Sudan, the smaller NGOs especially depend for their access and room for manoeuvre on local power-holders. Negotiations are part of the aid game and shifting between different sets of rights and frameworks is one way of doing this. Missionaries of evangelical organisations claim they are working on human rights, and in addition adopt a humanitarian veneer. Local authorities reverse the human rights arguments to steer programmes in desired directions. Humanitarian workers in South Sudan often complain in interviews how government officials demand that they provide services in places determined by the authorities, and the role of duty-bearer is played out between authorities and NGOs. The language of human rights is thus used to legitimate aid and to negotiate the roles and responsibilities of agencies leading to highly negotiated settlements on the ground.

Human Rights and Gender at the Aid Encounter


One of the most striking observations we have made in recent years is the rapid adoption of rights language among aid recipients in different contexts. Recipients of aid increasingly become what Sally Engle Merry (2003) calls rights-defined selves, to denote how people start to define themselves and their problems in terms of human rights. We like to illustrate this with two cases where humanitarian agencies take up the promotion of womens rights by protecting women against sexual abuse. Triggered by the high prevalence of sexual violence during conflict, aid agencies increasingly take up gender issues as part of their rights-based approaches. Gender programmes of NGOs may generate

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resistance among men and women who feel threatened or disrespected. In South Sudan, we interviewed NGOs working on the prevention of sexual violence, whose expatriate staff never went to the field because the programme caused resistance among men, which resulted in threats to their security. While local staff went out to educate the communities, the managers of the programme stayed inside their protected compounds. In the case of Kakuma refugee camp, after the sensitisation that domestic violence is against womens rights, women massively started to claim resettlement on the grounds of sexual abuse. After the well-known resettlement of the so-called Lost Boys from Sudan, the USA and other countries have welcomed resettlement from Kenya for refugees that are particularly vulnerable. With their womens rights education, agencies produced a category of vulnerability that made abused women eligible for resettlement. Once this became known, women started to find ways to claim sexual abuse in order to get access to resettlement. Resettlement is highly desired among refugees and competition to become eligible for resettlement is fierce. Even though the staff were convinced that almost all cases were fictitious, they felt powerless to stop this practice. They are just creating insecurity, one informant said. In some cases, the husband of the violated wife, who was accused of sexual abuse, later successfully applied for resettlement to join his wife on the grounds of family reunification (Jansen, 2011). In the DRC, the shocking reports of sexual atrocities as a routine of war have led to numerous programmes to provide services to victims and bring sexual abuse cases to court. These programmes have many unintended side-effects. Reproductive health has become mainly available to rape victims, leaving women with health problems as a result of child delivery little choice but to present themselves at a rape clinic. A surgeon of such a clinic reported that only one out of 350 operations of 2011 was related to rape, but as he rightly said: What should I do, it hurts me to see that those women suffer, sometimes already for over 20 years. Should I send them away because they were not raped? (Douma and Hilhorst, 2012: 43). Legislation and court cases that have been heavily invested in by the international community in order to combat war-related sexual abuse are now often used by parents to sue men not necessarily the father to pay for the upbringing of children born from pregnancies of unmarried daughters. A woman in Bukavu in South Kivu stated: In our neighbourhood, nearly all pregnancies of unmarried girls are sooner or later transformed into a sexual violence case (2012: 53). The numbers of people seeking services or financial compensation by acting as victims of sexual abuse adds to the statistics of rape victims in DRC. Ironically, this legitimates, in turn, further programmes on sexual violence. The attention to gender shows how the selection of specific rights-based approaches implies changes in identity and roles of involved actors. Increasingly, we see human rights work in refugee camps and humanitarian crises focus on those rights that are primarily breached in private, by husbands or other males. The effect is that rights are relocated away from international duty-bearers, and from the agencies as proxy authorities, towards individual men as violators of womens rights. As our examples illustrate, gender issues cast dilemmas in rights-based approaches into sharp relief as the (western) human rights standards in these cases invade cultural domains. The use of these standards in programmes evokes strong responses from local people and demonstrates clearly the role of aid recipients in shaping humanitarian realities.

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Conclusion
Human rights-speak has rapidly turned into one of the constituent elements of humanitarian action. Humanitarian crises are framed with reference to rights. Humanitarians and their clients find self- and ascribed identities through normative labels and choices of activities and target-groups are justified with references to specific rights and categories of vulnerability and victimhood. As our vignettes show, human rights languages get appropriated by all parties concerned with humanitarian action: media, international political actors, UN agencies, the Red Cross movement, NGOs, local authorities, religious groups and affected populations. In their everyday evocations, rights have different faces. Rights can stand for a genuine desire to protect, or a just claim to protection. They can also stand for different kinds of political use ranging from geopolitical master games, to mundane organisational politicking on the part of agencies looking for a greater piece of the donor-funds pie, or a woman seeking money to raise her child. In a lot of cases, claims to assert, protect or promote human rights have the simple commercial subtext: give me your money. More often than not, the different faces of rights are entangled; for example, when a humanitarian bends the norms to be better able to perform an act of assistance, or when seeking justice for a serious breach of rights evolves into a scheme to make money for real and unreal victims of rights abuse. The cumulative observations this article is based on lead us to the conclusion that the working of human rights eludes a single grand theory of their meaning. For us, the sociology of rights is primarily a sociology of praxis. Humanitarian action is important in the making of human rights and in the competing frames of global governance. The mechanisms by which this happens involve at times explicit and dramatic clashes of different orders, as during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Yet, more significantly, these mechanisms are found in the everyday routinised encounters between aid givers and recipients in humanitarian crises within and outside of the global spotlights. Much more independent empirical research is required to unravel the micro-elements of rights and power in the expanding global roles of humanitarian action. Our article provides several pointers that can help sociologists make sense of the labyrinths of rights and wrongs in humanitarian action. Leaning on insights from the field of legal pluralism, we suggest viewing the different international normative frameworks, including humanitarian principles, refugee law and inter-agency codes and standards as semi-autonomous fields where each of these frameworks is embodied in different sets of institutions and practices. This allows us to follow empirically how actors in and around humanitarianism negotiate norms and find room for manoeuvre in their ambiguity. We further point to the crucial importance of negotiating normative frameworks for the identity and legitimation of different actors. While a number of humanitarian agencies find legitimation in international humanitarian law and refugee law, we find that an increasing number of agencies frame their identities and programmes in a language of human rights to claim their right to be there and intervene in other peoples crises. This brings the study of normative frameworks to the heart of the sociological domain of studying organisation, status, roles and power.

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Negotiating different normative frameworks allows actors to navigate their position visa-vis rights. Gready and Ensor (2005) refer to the current human rights culture as a pattern of rights: a system of claim-duty relationships spanning subjects from international to local to household levels. Humanitarian agencies make themselves right-holders when they call on international humanitarian law to claim protection and access to crises-affected populations. In their protection activities, they promote and advocate peoples rights vis-a-vis different duty-bearers, ranging from international actors to a current upsurge of interest in addressing rights at the interpersonal level of gender relations under the humanitarianism label. While humanitarians are quick to claim their roles as right-holders and advocates, it is time for them to make more sense of their roles as duty-bearers and seek to reflect and act on the intended and unintended consequences of their work for human rights. Funding
These researches are financed through the Netherlands WOTRO Science for Development.

Notes
1 2 http://www.sphereproject.org/ http://www.humanitarianinfo.org/iasc/

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Dorothea Hilhorst is Professor of Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction at Wageningen University. Her research concerns the aidnography of humanitarian crises and fragile states. Her publications focus on the everyday practices of humanitarian aid, disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation, reconstruction and peace building. She coordinates research programmes in Angola, DRC, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Sudan, Mozambique and Uganda. Thea Hilhorst completed her dissertation on a Philippine development NGO and its surrounding networks, clientele and donors (The Real World of NGOs. Discourses, Diversity and Development, Zedbooks, 2003). http://www.disasterstudies.wur.nl Bram J Jansen is an anthropologist specialising in refugee, conflict and humanitarian studies. He has done extensive field research in East and the Horn of Africa in the past 10 years. In 2011 he obtained his PhD, entitled The accidental city: violence, economy and humanitarianism in Kakuma refugee camp. Bram Jansen is currently working on a post doc research focusing on humanitarian decision-making processes in relation to insecurity in South Sudan. He is affiliated to Wageningen University as Assistant Professor of Disaster Studies.
Date submitted August 2011 Date accepted May 2012

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