Placing ethics in the centre: negotiating new spaces for ethical research in conflict situations

A. B. Zwi*, N. J. Grove, C. MacKenzie, E. Pittaway, D. Zion, D. Silove, D. Tarantola

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Issues of power and consent, confidentiality, trust, and benefit, risks to researchers, and potential harm to participants, are all contested when working with different cultures and within environments marked by violence and insecurity. Difficulty resolving these dilemmas may paralyse ethics committees, may fail to give the guidance sought by researchers, and will not help populations who are among the world's most vulnerable. Even where efforts are made to respond to ethical guidelines and to improve practice, considerable impediments are present in many developing countries, including lack of formal ethical review structures in unstable settings, lack of required skills, limited political and institutional recognition of ethical issues, competing interests, and limitations in clinical and research practice (Elsayed 2004, Macklin 2004). In conflict settings, these limitations are more marked, and the responsibilities of the researcher for ethical practice are greater, but the mechanisms for oversight are weaker. Moreover, the constant focus on vulnerabilities and problems, and the often almost total lack of recognition of strengths and resilience, can further disempower already exploited groups and individuals. The capacity of refugees and communities in conflict to take an active role in the research process is seldom acknowledged, and undermines the potential for more innovative research which can help generate the evidence for better policy and practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)264-277
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal Public Health
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes

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