Principles and ethics

Actors responding to humanitarian crisis employ numerous principles to guide their actions and decisions. Among these, four have come to represent the core principles of humanitarian action: humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. These four enjoy a complex relationship, forming an integral set that can be both mutually reinforcing and in tension with one another. These principles hold a theoretical value, defining key distinctions between humanitarians and other actors, as well as a pragmatic value in guiding operational decision-making. Much debated, there is broad accord as to their definition (with the exception of neutrality), but little definition of what they look like in practice. Research has shown that consistent adherence to these principles can improve the access and security of an organization, and also shows that humanitarians must frequently compromise principles if they are to overcome operational challenges.

Children at school in Barlonyo, Uganda July 2011

Photo: Jeannie O'Brien for Trócaire

Key references

Overview of the core humanitarian principles from the perspective of the ICRC

Article maintaining that the humanitarian principles are to be used as an ethical compass for aid delivery, as well as a pragmatic operational framework that contributes to humanitarian effectiveness

Issue focusing on the principles guiding humanitarian action, how they are understood by different actors, and how they are used in contemporary field realities

Brochure focusing on the seven fundamental principles of the RCRC Movement, and how humanitarian practitioners can integrate them in their work

Learning resources

Session focusing on the operational implications of the four core humanitarian principles

Briefing and discussion on the practical dilemmas and tradeoffs organizations face when following the core humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence

Session focusing on the four core humanitarian principles and their relationship to international humanitarian law (IHL)

PHAP certifications

Certification badge for Applying Humanitarian Principles in Practice (AHPP)

The Applying Humanitarian Principles in Practice (AHPP) certification provides a verified professional credential for demonstrating that you have a comprehensive understanding of how the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence are implemented in practice and the dilemmas faced by humanitarian organizations as a result.

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