On 8 September 2015, PHAP hosted the first of four discussion and consultation events on practical dilemmas of principled humanitarian action. The event began with a lecture on the topic by Dr Hugo Slim, Head of Policy at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). This was followed by a moderated discussion among a panel of experts, featuring Sir John Holmes, Director of the Ditchley Foundation and was previously the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator; Andy Hill, Civil-Military Adviser in the UK Department  for  International  Development  (DFID); and Karen Welsh, the founder and CEO of Blue Glass Development. The event provided the opportunity for participants to provide their perspectives on the topic discussed, through the live chat, through posing questions to the panelists, and through live polls.

Event description

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?


Sir John Holmes Sir John Holmes GCVO, KBE, CMG, is Director of the Ditchley Foundation and was previously the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator from 2007 to 2010. He was educated at Preston Grammar School and Balliol College, Oxford. He joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1973 and served in a wide range of diplomatic roles in London, Moscow, Paris, New Delhi and Lisbon. In 1995, Sir John joined Prime Minister John Major in Downing Street as his Private Secretary (Overseas Affairs) and diplomatic adviser. He continued this role with Prime Minister Tony Blair from 1997 to 1999, becoming Principal Private Secretary, and was a key figure in the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. In 1999, Sir John was appointed as British Ambassador in Lisbon, moving to Paris as Ambassador from 2001 to 2007. He then served as UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator from 2007 to 2010, before taking over his present post as Director of the Ditchley Foundation. He is currently also chair of the Board of the International Rescue Committee – UK.
Andy Hill Andy Hill has worked in the UK Department for International Development (DFID) for three years and is the Civil-Military Adviser within the Conflict Humanitarian and Security Department’s Humanitarian Response Group, which is responsible for UK Humanitarian Response. He is the main point of contact for Civil-Military issues with an actual or likely UK military involvement for DFID. Andy ceased full-time reserve service in the army in 2011, he had spent the majority of his service specialising in Civil-Military Coordination (CIMIC) and Stabilisation activities which included a period in the Stabilisation Unit where he received his first exposure to cross-Whitehall working. Immediately prior to joining DFID, Andy worked in the Civil Military Planning Support section within the civilian staffs’ Operations Directorate in NATO HQ in Brussels, focussed mainly on the Libya crisis. Andy has extensive operational experience that includes the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Mali, the Philippines and recently Sierra Leone. As well as being DFID’s representative on UN OCHA’s Military and Civil Defence Assets Consultative Group, he has been a member of the NMCG for many years and became a member of the Steering Group two years ago. Andy remains a member of the Army Reserve and is currently the Assistant Commander of the Military Stabilisation Support Group
Dr Hugo Slim Dr Hugo Slim has recently been appointed as Head of Policy at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva where he leads the policy development for ICRC’s global humanitarian diplomacy. Hugo started his career as a frontline humanitarian worker for Save the Children and the United Nations working in Sudan, Ethiopia, Morocco, Israel, and the occupied Palestinian Territory. Before joining ICRC he was Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict at the University of Oxford. Previously he been Chief Scholar at the Centre of Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva and Reader in International Humanitarianism at Oxford Brookes University. He has been on the boards of Oxfam GB and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD). Hugo’s books include: Humanitarian Ethics: A Guide to the Morality of Aid in War and Disaster (2015), Essays in Humanitarian Action (2012), Killing Civilians: Method, Madness and Morality in War (2007), and Protection: A Guide for Humanitarian Agencies (2005).
Karen Walsh Karen Walsh is the founder and CEO of Blue Glass Development, an international development solutions provider. She brings more than 20 years of comprehensive project management expertise including team leadership, spearheading initiatives, interagency relations, operations, business development, financial, administrative, and program management experience. Through leadership, technical direction, capacity building and program management Ms. Walsh has worked most recently in Libya, South Sudan, South Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Colombia and Yemen. She has worked with the DoD, DoS, USAID, UN (UNHCR, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF), IOM, World Bank and other donors. She is the development expert for the Center for the Study of Civil Military Operations at the United States Military Academy and is the current development expert for the U.S. Army's John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School's UW Operational Design Course. She has guest lectured at the United States Military Academy and provided capacity building partnership training courses for USCAPOC, AFSOC, 95th and 97th Civil Affairs Command and the U.S. National Defense University. She is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Senegal. She holds an MPH from Yale University.


Marc DuBois Marc DuBois currently an independent humanitarian consultant/researcher/blogger, was the Executive Director of MSF-UK from March 2008 until March 2014. He joined MSF in 1999, landing as a project coordinator in Khartoum, Sudan, where he managed a basic healthcare program. Following Sudan, Marc went to Angola as a Humanitarian Affairs Officer and then moved to Amsterdam, spending over six years in the Humanitarian Affairs Department of MSF-Holland, first as an advisor and later as head of department and researcher. Marc has a degree in philosophy from Yale University (BA 1981), an MA in development studies from the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague (1988) and a degree in law from Columbia University in New York (JD 1994).


Event recording (YouTube - faster loading time)

Event recording (Adobe Connect - higher quality)

Event recording (downloadable audio podcast)

Event report

Event supported by

This World Humanitarian Summit consultation event is made possible with the support of the Federal Foreign Office of Germany