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Humanitarian principles

Humanitarian principles are a set of statements that provide a foundation for a system of practice and way of working.

Humanitarian practice is shaped by principles that have their origins in those established in 1965 by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Humanitarian principles were formally established by the UN General Assembly in 1991 (UNHCR n.d.). These are presented below:

  • Humanity refers to the provision of aid to all who are in need, wherever the need exists, with the purpose to protect and respect all human beings
  • Neutrality is the responsibility of aid organisations not to choose sides in a conflict or to favour a particular political, religious or ideological bent
  • Impartiality demands that aid be given based on need alone, not on any other distinctions including gender, race, nationality, ethnicity, class, political party or religious belief
  • Independence refers to the requirement that aid organisations are autonomous from any political or military objectives or with those goals in mind

There are an additional six, specified by the IFRC in their code of conduct, and which have been adopted widely across the NGO sector.

Your task

Read OCHA on Message: Humanitarian Principles and the short summary of the 10 IFRC core principles on the code of conduct or The Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NonGovernmental Organisations (NGOs) in Disaster Relief which explains each principle in more detail.

How should agencies and organisations involved in response demonstrate that their practice is aligned to the humanitarian principles? Do the principles apply to all actors in emergency situations?

Discuss your ideas in the comments.


UNHCR (n.d) UNHCR Emergency Handbook [online] available from https://emergency.unhcr.org/entry/250617/humanitarian-principles [10 May 2019].

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This article is from the free online course:

Humanitarian Action, Response and Relief

Coventry University