PHAP’s discussion series on the core humanitarian principles starts with a focus on the principle of humanity. Less of an operational tool than other principles, humanity imbues relief activities with their humanitarian character. It defines in broad terms the nature of the work – the saving of lives and alleviation of suffering – with an attention to fundamental human dignity. Humanity thus implicates both assistance and protection. It forms a concept containing at once the sense of compassion that motivates humanitarianism and acts as a reference to its target, the single family of all human beings. Beyond those lofty ideals, though, humanity can be seen as too vague to serve as a principle guiding operational decisions.
This session will examine humanity in terms of its application. How do humanitarian agencies give programmatic meaning to the principle, to the "universality of suffering?" How do agencies resolve tensions between humanity and other principles, such as when the drive to alleviate suffering requires compromises on neutrality or independence? This operational discussion of humanity brings us to the question of ownership – humanitarians often distinguish their actions from other forms of relief on the basis of humanity being the primary motivation (i.e., contrasted against a military distributing food in order to win ‘hearts and minds’). But does the reality of humanitarian action justify such a distinction? When the private sector or military operators deliver aid, can they not claim humanity as a motivation as well?