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.