This third event in PHAP's series on the core principles focuses on impartiality. If the principle of humanity drives humanitarians towards crisis to alleviate suffering, impartiality steers programmatic choices more directly. In fact, impartiality can be seen as carrying a triple function: creating an ethical prohibition against aid being given on a discriminatory basis; determining that operations must identify and address the needs of the most vulnerable; and building trust/ acceptance within a conflict context. By virtue of its obligational nature, impartiality warrants particular attention on the part of humanitarians. The Geneva Conventions codify the duty of non-discrimination as a necessary quality of humanitarian assistance, and humanitarian law provides a right of initiative to impartial humanitarian organizations.

The capacity of humanitarian action is limited, neither the sector nor individual agencies can meet all the needs of all those who suffer. In crisis situations, where the unmet needs – often serious – are many, how do humanitarian actors differentiate, or not, between people in need versus those most in need?  How does impartiality affect specialized agencies when the most urgent needs on the ground do not correspond with this specialization? What does impartiality mean for an organization long working in a community or region in need when there are other communities or regions in more urgent distress? What happens when needs are greater in remote or less secure areas that might be less efficiently addressed?

The event began with a lecture on the topic by Jérémie Labbé, Head of Project for Principles Guiding Humanitarian Action with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). This was followed by a moderated discussion among a panel of experts, bringing together different points of view on the issue.


Jules Frost Jules Frost is the Senior Advisor for Civil-Military & Police Relations for WVI, in which role she provides leadership and oversight for strategy and policy development and operational guidance pertaining to engagement with state and non-state armed actors. She has 21 years experience in management, operations, fundraising and advocacy for a child-focused agency including from complex humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters across Africa, Asia, and Middle East.
Jérémie Labbé Jérémie Labbé works for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as the Head of Project for Principles Guiding Humanitarian Action. Prior to this, he worked for the International Peace Institute (IPI) in New York, where he developed a new program on humanitarian affairs. His work has focused on the adaptation of the international humanitarian system to a changing world, the relevance of humanitarian principles, protection of civilians and international humanitarian law, and the relation between humanitarian action and UN integration. Before joining IPI in 2010, he has spent several years with the ICRC, both in its headquarters in Geneva and in different field missions in India, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and Iraq.
Toby Porter Toby Porter is Chief Executive Officer of HelpAge International. With undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from Oxford University, Toby has worked his whole career in humanitarian and development assistance, including with Merlin, Oxfam, and the USAID project FEWS NET, and has held senior positions with Save the Children UK and Save the Children India.


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).


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