Aid organizations profess universalist objectives – such as humanitarian principles and human rights – whilst operating in areas in which these objectives cannot be fulfilled. How do they deal with the disparity between the claims they make and what actually happens, how are parts of the story covered up, and what do the stated objectives achieve? This article argues that denial – at a personal, organizational and institutional level – is crucial for sustaining assistance, and is facilitated by the language of rights and principles. Drawing on research from southern Sudan, I explore how aid organizations construct an official version of events that fabricates clarity whilst maintaining a degree of tactical confusion. This establishes a political morality, a seemingly ethical position that has political and psychological returns
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