Legislating against humanitarian principles: A case study on the humanitarian implications of Australian counterterrorism legislation

The humanitarian principles – humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence – have come to characterize effective humanitarian action, particularly in situations of armed conflict, and have provided a framework for the broader humanitarian system. Modern counterterrorism responses are posing significant challenges to these principles and the feasibility of conducting principled humanitarian assistance and protection activities. This article explores the origins of the principles, the history behind their development, and their contemporary contribution to humanitarian action. The article then discusses some of the ways in which the principles are threatened, both by practice and by law, in the Australian context, and finally makes suggestions as to how the principles can be reclaimed and protected for the future of effective, impartial humanitarian action.

About the authors

Dr. Phoebe Wynn-Pope

Is the Director of IHL and Movement Relations at Australian Red Cross. Prior to this, she was the Director of the Melbourne-based Humanitarian Advisory Group.

Yvette Zegenhagen
National manager

Yvette Zegenhagen is National Manager of International Humanitarian Law, Movement Relations and Advocacy at Australian Red Cross. In this role she is responsible for the overall operations of the Australian Red Cross IHL programme.

Fauve Kurnadi

Fauve Kurnadi is an International Humanitarian Law Coordinator for Australian Red Cross. She is studying for a master of public and international law at the University of Melbourne.