Notable strides have been made in recent years to develop codes of conduct for humanitarian intervention in conflicts on the part of international NGOs and UN organisations. Yet engagement by the academic and broader research communities with humanitarian crises and ongoing complex political emergencies remains relatively ad hoc and unregulated beyond the basic ethical guidelines and norms developed within universities for research in general, and within the governing and representative bodies of particular academic disciplines.
This paper draws on a case study of research on humanitarian assistance to Liberia during that country's civil war from 1989 to 1996. The difficulties faced by humanitarian agencies in Liberia led to the development of two key sets of ethical guidelines for humanitarian intervention: the Joint Policy of Operations (JPO) and Principles and Policies of Humanitarian Operations (PPHO). This paper seeks to address what lessons, if any, these ethical guidelines, together with different experiences of conducting research in war-torn Liberia, can provide in terms of the role of academic researchers — and research itself — in humanitarian crises.