PHAP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct


The ethical framework of the International Association of Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection (PHAP) begins with recognition of the value of all human life. During crisis situations in which normal systems are not functioning, there is a need for humanitarian action to protect and uphold human life and dignity. It is for the sake of all crisis-affected people, now and in the future, that we uphold this Code.

In additional to myriad practical challenges, humanitarian action continually faces obstacles resulting from other powerful interests. Achieving humanitarian aims in this complex world depends on the credibility and reputation of humanitarian work, which is shaped by the collective conduct of the individuals involved in it. This provides the incentive for us to attain and maintain the highest possible degree of consistent ethical conduct.

Humanitarian action is inherently confronted with ethical considerations and dilemmas at every turn – often with life or death implications. Furthermore, even with the best of intentions, humanitarian action has the potential to cause harm if assistance and protection are misused, politicized, or coopted by other interests, or if dependencies are inadvertently created. This Code does not aim to provide specific guidance for all, or even most, of these issues, but it provides a common basis for ethical deliberation. Questions related to ethical dilemmas are best answered by thoughtful consideration of fundamental principles, rather than reliance on detailed regulations.

This Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct must be embraced and upheld by all members of the Association, as well as those applying for or holding certifications issued by the Association, whether they are practitioners, supporters, facilitators, or partners of humanitarian action. Members and certificants promise to uphold this Code and act ethically and professionally above and beyond the baseline requirements of law.

Without violating the Code, each member and certificant also supplements the values and rules specified in the Code based on guidance drawn from personal values, culture, and experience.

Shared understanding of humanitarian action

Members and certificants have and promote a shared understanding of the core principles, central focus, limits, and duties of humanitarian action.

Core principles

Members and certificants recognize that the practice of humanitarian action is rooted in a set of core principles, which form the foundation of the unique role and value of humanitarian action and distinguish it from other forms of assistance and protection. These principles define and guide, but must also be balanced within the context and complexity of the human experience.

Humanity: Human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found. The purpose of humanitarian action is to protect life and health and ensure respect for the human being.

Impartiality: Humanitarian action must be carried out on the basis of need alone, giving priority to the most urgent cases of distress and making no distinctions on the basis of nationality, race, gender, religious belief, class, or political opinions.

Neutrality: Humanitarian actors must not take sides in hostilities or engage in controversies of a political, racial, religious, or ideological nature.

Independence: Humanitarian action must be autonomous from the political, economic, military, or other objectives that any actor may hold with regard to areas where humanitarian action is being implemented.

Central focus

Members and certificants recognize that the principle of humanity, which defines the purpose of humanitarian action, underscores that people are at the heart of humanitarian action and that respect for the dignity of crisis-affected people underpins all humanitarian activities. They recognize that upholding human dignity requires supporting the agency of crisis-affected people in all respects.


Members and certificants recognize the limits of humanitarian action as an extraordinary activity in situations when the authorities responsible for addressing identified needs are unable to do so.


Members and certificants recognize the duty of humanitarian action to avoid jeopardizing lasting improvements of a situation or bringing about any other negative effects. Humanitarian action should avoid creating dependencies and other impediments to recovery and development efforts, and should where possible facilitate such efforts.

Furthermore, while a commitment to neutrality endeavors to ensure that humanitarian action is not driven by positions of a political, racial, religious, or ideological nature, this does not mean that humanitarian actors should be disengaged from policy discussions in general. On the contrary, members and certificants recognize the duty of humanitarian actors to understand and engage in the discussion and formation of policies that affect their ability to pursue humanitarian aims, and through doing so seek to maintain and expand space for humanitarian action to be carried out.

Shared standards of professional conduct

Regardless of whether they are themselves directly engaged in humanitarian activities as defined above, members and certificants adhere to the following general standards of professional conduct:

  1. Handling power responsibly
    I am conscious of the power I have and use it responsibly.
  2. Supporting the agency of others
    I recognize the fundamental equality of all people.
    I strive to support the agency of others in all aspects of my work.
    I do not unnecessarily or inappropriately impose my will on others.
  3. Having high standards for myself and others
    I adhere to the highest possible standards according to the situation, whether I am engaged in a volunteer or paid capacity.
  4. Being conscious of the commitments I make
    I recognize the limitations of my expertise and, to the extent possible, only undertake tasks that I am confident I can adequately fulfil.
    I accept responsibility for my work.
    I follow through on my commitments.
  5. Improving my own capacities and those of people around me
    I take responsibility for continually acquiring needed knowledge, skills, and abilities for the local and international contexts of my work.
    I assist colleagues to strengthen their capacities when needed.I strive to use all appropriate resources available, including consultation with peers.
  6. Respecting others and promoting ethical behavior
    I take measures to discourage, prevent, and correct any unethical conduct of colleagues.
    I value the diversity of actors within and supporting the humanitarian sector and show respect for others in the professional community even when I disagree.
    I strive to be collegial, but I do not allow collegiality to outweigh shared responsibility for ethical behavior.
  7. Avoiding conflicts of interest
    I avoid having my professional judgment compromised by conflicts of interest.
  8. Avoiding bias
    I strive to be aware of my own biases and work to overcome them.
    I strive to make judgments based on evidence and objective analysis rather than assumptions.
  9. Promoting awareness and understanding of principled humanitarian action
    Whether or not I am engaged in humanitarian work myself, I promote public awareness and understanding of principled humanitarian action.




Last updated 2 March 2017