This paper examines the interface between human rights and humanitarian action in the context of the conflict and tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia, between 1998 and 2007. It looks at the challenges international humanitarian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) faced as they engaged in human rights work in the conflict period and in conflict-related activities in the post-tsunami period. The paper argues that many large NGOs may have compromised what some would hold to be essential principles for humanitarian action because of domestic political concerns, donor restrictions and resistance among certain NGO chiefs. In contrast with the pre-tsunami period, in which NGOs worked for years amid military operations, in the post-tsunami period NGOs were decidedly apolitical, neglecting the conflict in their tsunami response-despite significant developments that permitted greater political engagement in Aceh's post-conflict transformation. The evidence suggests that NGOs are challenged in contextualising humanitarian responses and that there is a need to underscore donor flexibility and independence in humanitarian action.