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How the humanitarian system addressed accountability issues

Early accountability mechanisms

As we have seen, the impact of Rwanda on the humanitarian system was substantial and resulted in a range of initiatives. A brief timeline below summarises the main initiatives and thematic areas in relation to accountability. Some initiatives pre-date Rwanda and highlight the reality that accountability concerns have a longer history.

1991 – Evaluation criteria - The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee establish criteria for evaluating development and humanitarian assistance.

1994 – Codes of conduct – publication of the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Disaster Relief, prioritising humanity and impartiality in humanitarian response.

1997 - Learning – ALNAP (Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action) is established with a focus on supporting learning and accountability across the system.

1998 – Common standards and minimum requirements - The first Sphere Handbook is published, documenting evidence-based, and sector agreed minimum standards for key life saving assistance in areas like health, water and sanitation.

2003 – Donor practice and behaviour – the Good Humanitarian Donorship initiative is established

2003 – Quality and accountability standards – the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) is launched

2003 – Aid personnel - People in Aid launch the ‘Code of Good Practice in the Management and Support of Aid Personnel’.

2005 - Aid effectiveness - the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness is signed by most governments with a range of commitments including to increase local ownership.

(List adapted from CHS Alliance 2018)

A generally consistent theme across all these initiatives, and subsequent mechanisms, are the direct or indirect references to the four humanitarian principles:

  • Humanity

  • Neutrality

  • Impartiality

  • Independence

We will return to the realities of applying these principles in practice throughout the module.

Attached are two of the documents outlined above, the Principles and Practice of Good Humanitarian Donorship outlining the original list of 23 principles from 2003, plus a new one added to cover cash programming (GHD 2003). The second looks at the performance and management of aid personnel as covered by the People in Aid Code of Good Practice (2003).

We will return to some of the more recent developments later in this course.

Your task

Read the following two documents, firstly focusing on the Good Donorship Principles and secondly read the principles outlined on page six of the People in Aid Code of Good Practice.

Answer the following questions:

  • What are the underlying considerations that drive each of these initiatives?
  • Are they the same?
  • Where do you see the voice and agency of affected populations influencing the purpose of these principles?

If you have more time, research further the guidance behind those principles as outlined later in the document.


CHS Alliance (2014) Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability. Geneva: CHS Alliance, Group URD and the Sphere Project

CHS Alliance (2018) Humanitarian Accountability Report. Geneva: CHS Alliance

GHD (2003) 24 Principles and Good Practice of Humanitarian Donorship, [online] available from https://www.ghdinitiative.org/ghd/gns/principles-good-practice-of-ghd/principles-good-practice-ghd.html [10 December 2018]

People in Aid (2003) People in Aid Code of Good Practice. London: People in Aid [online] available from https://www.ghdinitiative.org/ghd/gns/principles-good-practice-of-ghd/principles-good-practice-ghd.html [10 December 2018]

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This article is from the free online course:

Disaster Management and Accountability

Coventry University