Principles in Practice

Principled Humanitarian Action

Core humanitarian principles consist of the principles of humanity, impartiality, independence and neutrality. These were promoted by the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement in the 19th century, shape the nature of humanitarian action, and are codified in international humanitarian law. Humanitarian principles reflect shared values on the need for humanitarianism in conflicts, and serve as practical tools to both guide and enable humanitarian action.

Necessary tools for navigating challenges to humanitarian action

Effective and consistent application of the principles is often questioned. While they serve to guide decision-making and enhance acceptance and humanitarian access, their implementation is also increasingly challenged due to constraints on access, insecurity for humanitarian aid workers and political and military strategies which can seek to instrumentalise humanitarian action. Humanitarian actors continue to face political pressure to link aid to non-humanitarian objectives. And whilst many major donors recognize the importance of principled delivery of humanitarian aid, a range of direct and indirect funding conditions can erode adherence to these principles in practice.

Furthermore, humanitarian principles can be misunderstood and are often misinterpreted by humanitarian actors. Enhanced awareness and appreciation of the principles, in terms which are acceptable across actors and stakeholders, is necessary to improve the humanitarian sector's ability to meet growing needs.

NRC's advocacy work to strengthen the implementation of humanitarian principles

NRC works to enhance awareness of and adherence to the principles through ongoing evidence-based dialogue across States and humanitarian actors. Building on the 2012 report entitled 'Tools for the Job: Supporting Principled Humanitarian Action' NRC has organised a series of workshops, roundtables, high-level conferences and meetings with States and non-governmental humanitarian actors, developed practical research and documented main learnings. NRC, through internal assessments and research over the last years, is also developing tools and strategies to reinforce humanitarian access.

Humanitarian Principles

Humanity: This overarching "umbrella" principle seeks the prevention and alleviation of human suffering. The idea of humanity is based on respect for human beings and their dignity, and protecting and assisting those who suffer and ensuring respect for all human beings.

Impartiality: This principle provides for humanitarian action without discrimination, on the sole basis of and in proportion to need.

Independence: Humanitarian action must be independent from the political, economic, military or other non-humanitarian objectives.

Neutrality:This principle refers to abstention from taking side in hostilities and engaging in political, religious, racial or ideological debates or controversies.

Recent Media and Events

NGO Statement on Humanitarian Principles

On 3-4 February, 2015, NRC participated in the 'Europe and Others' Regional Consultation of the World Humanitarian Summit. Ahead of the consultation, NRC contributed to a joint NGO statement on humanitarian principles, initiated by Action Contre le Faim and Handicap International. The statement was endorsed by 32 NGOs.

Code of Conduct Conference

NRC IFRC Event (2014)

This conference brought together government representatives and humanitarian organisations across the world to mark the 20th anniversary of the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Non-Governmental Organizations in Disaster Relief, at the IFRC in Geneva. The conference engaged participants in the central question: Just how useful is the Code of Conduct and humanitarian principles in enabling organisations to meet needs today?

Latest Publications and Analysis

Bridging the Needs-Based Funding Gap

NRC Report (2014)

Principled humanitarian aid means providing protection and assistance without discrimination and in proportion to needs. NRC, drawing from the experiences of actors, and particularly those of NGOs on the ground, provides an overview of the humanitarian financing landscape and practical ways in which the humanitarian system can be adapted to support key actors, so that aid reaches those affected by conflicts and natural disasters, who need it most.

Tools for the Job Report

NRC ODI Report (2012)

Based on NRC case studies conducted in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan and South Sudan, this 2012 report provides an analysis of key challenges to principled humanitarian action from the perspectives of NGOs and donors.