Principles in Practice

Humanitarian principles in a changing world:Still fit for purpose?
A Dialogue Between States and Humanitarian Actors (June 2014)

Hosted by NRC and ICR
Guest Speakers : the Ambassador of Philippines, the Ambassador of Mexico to the UN in Geneva, the Director General of ICRC and the Secretary General of NRC

With the support of USAID: OFDA

We need humanitarian principles now more than ever before

On Monday the 2nd of June, NRC and ICRC invited donors, government representatives and humanitarian organisations to a high-level dialogue in Geneva between States and humanitarian actors, entitled ‘Humanitarian principles in a changing world: Still fit for purpose?’. This event considered the relevance of humanitarian principles - humanity, impartiality, independence and neutrality - in today’s changing world, and ways in which principled humanitarian action can be preserved and strengthened.

Humanitarian principles – which are grounded in international humanitarian law - are generally considered to underpin humanitarian action and facilitate the delivery of aid by humanitarian actors in complex operating environments. Discussants agreed that humanitarian principles are still fit for purpose and are necessary tools for navigating in today’s humanitarian context. This context is characterised by increased diversification of actors, inter-connectivity among them, growing humanitarian needs and a multiplication and growing complexity of armed conflicts. Humanitarian actors continue to struggle in consistently applying humanitarian principles due to a number of factors. These include insufficient awareness of the principles, inconsistent mandates and actions, pressure to conform to the political and security agendas of State and non-State actors, varying interpretations and applications of the right to national sovereignty and security and risk considerations.

Yves Daccord, Director General of ICRC remarked that “there is a wider gap between our collective ability to respond to needs and direct access to people affected by conflicts”“Humanitarian principles are still the only tool humanitarian actors have to access and assist affected populations and impartiality in any response should be a minimum standard if humanitarian actors want to increase proximity to affected populations”. According to NRC’s Secretary General, “conflicts are fluid but humanitarian principles don’t change. We need them more than ever before”. Remarking that States can be overwhelmed by the number of different actors operating on their territory, Egeland considered that humanitarian organisations need to become more open, transparent, accountable and principled.

Observations were shared in plenary, to preserve and strengthen the application of the principles. These included enhancing transparency, consistency and critical assessments of humanitarian action; prioritising needs-based imperatives and balancing local and international response. According to His Excellency Jorge Lomónaco, Ambassador from the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the UN, “States and humanitarian organisations can overcome some of the challenges in implementing humanitarian principles by strengthening relationships of trust with one another and affected populations”. Drawing on the example of the humanitarian response to Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in the Philippines, Her Excellency Ms Cecilia B. Rebong, Ambassador from the Permanent Mission of the Philippines, considered that “States and humanitarian organisations need to work together to empower affected States to take up their responsibility to protect affected populations”. Ms Rebong encouraged States to support principled humanitarian action and to facilitate access to humanitarian aid.


This event was jointly organised by ICRC and NRC as part of a collaboration since 2012, to strengthen principled humanitarian action through a series of dialogues with States and humanitarian organisations on principles of humanitarian action.

Key Documents

Access the concept note for this event >

The full conference report will be available soon.

Event Chair and Panelists

(from left to right)

Professor Gilles Carbonnier,Graduate Institute Geneva

Yves Daccord, Director General of ICRC

Her Excellency Ms Cecilia B. Rebong, Ambassador from the Permanent Mission of the Philippines

His Excellency Jorge Lomónaco, Ambassador from the Permanent Mission of Mexico

Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the NRC