The four core humanitarian principles – humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence – undergird the humanitarian enterprise. They are referenced in UN Resolutions, included in the Red Cross and NGO Code of Conduct, cited in the missions and mandates of various organizations, noted in various best practices documents, and included in a number of donor agreements. Consequently, considerations regarding how to operate in accordance with these principles are of great import for humanitarian organizations.

This session reviewed the four core principles in detail, discussing their definitional scope, the guiding role they play, and give a brief overview of the challenges to their implementation. It also contextualized the principles by examining their relationship to international humanitarian law (IHL), focusing in particular on their significance to those negotiating and conducting humanitarian operations in the context of an armed conflict.

Later in 2015, this session on the basics of the core humanitarian principles was followed by a series of more advanced sessions focusing in greater depth on each principle, as well as challenges, and dilemmas in their operationalization.


Elizabeth Holland Elizabeth Holland Consulting Expert on International Humanitarian Law, International Association of Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection (PHAP)


Angharad Laing Angharad Laing Executive Director, International Association of Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection (PHAP)


Session Recording (YouTube)

Session Recording (Adobe Connect)

You can access a recording of the learning session by clicking on the image below. Note that the recordings do not include the Q&A section of the sessions.

Session recording - Downloadable audio podcast

Prerequisite knowledge

No prerequisite knowledge.

The following online learning session is recommended (recording available):

OLS HLP Session 1: Introduction to IHL and its relevance for humanitarian actors

Recommended readings

For participants wishing to prepare in advance for the event, we recommend the following resources:

PHAP members are also recommended to follow the PHAP Online Course on Essentials of International Humanitarian Law.

For those wishing to learn more on this topic after following the session, we recommend the following resources:

Learning objectives

  • Understanding of the four core principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence and the ways in which they are linked in practice
  • Awareness of other operating principles used by humanitarian actors
  • Understanding of the relationship between the core humanitarian principles and international humanitarian law (IHL)
  • Awareness of the limited scope of humanitarian assistance and access under IHL
  • Ability to analyze the dilemmas faced by humanitarian organizations when operationalizing the humanitarian principles

Target audience

Humanitarian practitioners as well as others with a professional or general interest in humanitarian action in situations of armed conflict.


PHAP members will have the possibility to undergo a two-part assessment after the session as part of the PHAP Continuous Learning Credits framework.

Part 1: Comprehension check

Part 2: Written reflection

To encourage peer learning among members, selected essay responses will also be published on the website, if approved by the writer. As a member, you can comment on the responses and read other members' comments.

Read the written reflections

PHAP Credentialing Program

PHAP Credentialing Program

Applying Humanitarian Principles in Practice

This event will help you prepare for the PHAP Credentialing Program certification in Applying Humanitarian Principles in Practice.

This event will address domain 1, in particular, segments 1.1, 1.4, 1.5, 1.10, and 1.12 of the certification assessment outline. It will also address some aspects of segment 3.1.

Understanding the Humanitarian Ecosystem

This event will also help you prepare for segment 3.4 of the PHAP Credentialing Program certification in Understanding the Humanitarian Ecosystem. See the certification assessment outline

Read more about the PHAP Credentialing Program