Australia: The "costs" of principled humanitarian action

Humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence are the guiding principles for humanitarian action for most organisations operating in complex emergencies. But how easy are they to put into practice? And what are the costs of adhering to these principles, in terms of resources, access, security and reputation?

To explore these costs and how they are managed, Deakin University's Humanitarian Assistance team and the International Committee of the Red Cross brought together a roundtable of academics and humanitarian practitioners from Australia and overseas in November 2015.

Under Chatham House rule, participants discussed and debated the costs of principled humanitarian action and topics of concern that are common to many humanitarian organisations and actors. The report derived from the roundtable details the themes and questions of the discussion, and aims to serve as inspiration for further dialogue.

The principles can come up against resistance or unintended consequences, and are even sometimes in conflict with each other. There can be external causes or forces that require humanitarians to strike an appropriate balance and compromise when applying the principles of humanitarian action. Although the principles, such as independence and neutrality, are designed to facilitate the delivery of aid, their uncompromising observance can sometimes lead to tensions between humanitarian organisations and States, non-State groups and affected populations themselves, resulting in limitations to humanitarian action.

The roundtable was part of the ICRC's Conference cycle on Principles Guiding Humanitarian Action, a series of public events and experts' meetings aimed at fostering a global discussion around neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian action.

Download the Principled Humanitarian Action roundtable report

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