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: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


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
Title of host publicationEmergency research ethics
EditorsA. M. Viens
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor and Francis Group
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781315256634
ISBN (Print)9781409446811
Publication statusPublished - 2 Mar 2017

Publication series

NameThe library of essays on emergency ethics, law and policy

Bibliographical note

First published in 2006 in Global Public Health, 1(3), pp. 264-77. DOI: Book first published by Ashgate in 2012.


  • Complex emergencies
  • Conflict
  • Refugees
  • Research ethics
  • Vulnerable populations


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