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The humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence offer a common basis to underpin all humanitarian action. They remain so relevant because they are a concrete expression of the shared values of dignity, integrity and solidarity. The first ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) is a chance to shape the humanitarian system and equip it to meet the challenges faced in a world where 125 million people are seriously affected by humanitarian crisis in 37 countries [1]. We hope that the summit will ensure that humanitarian principles are kept firmly at the heart of humanitarian action.

But there are challenges for the humanitarian community as explained by Mark Simmons, CEO of EU-CORD Member Cord who specialise in peace-building and reconciliation.

Humanitarian principles are too often perceived to be at odds with the reality of assisting conflict-affected populations.  Humanitarian assistance is only truly impartial when it provides non-partisan support to all those who seek to meet the needs of all affected populations and to foster inclusive and peaceful societies in which future humanitarian need is mitigated.                      – Mark Simmons, Cord CEO, April 2016

This perspective suggests that the principles of neutrality and impartiality can deter humanitarian actors from expressing any political views. Conflict however, drives 80% of humanitarian needs [2] and most conflict-affected populations are suffering from politicians’ choices; we must also therefore engage with political leaders to work for peace, help them to be more inclusive and more responsible. A commitment to the principles of impartiality and humanity also means that more work is required to foster inclusive approaches to humanitarian action as too often vulnerable people are faced with difficulties in accessing appropriate humanitarian aid [3]. (For more on this please see our post on disability-inclusive humanitarian action here.)

EU-CORD have supported VOICE (the platform of European humanitarian NGOs) in calling for the EU and its Member States to work to ensure that the WHS “outcomes are driven by the humanitarian principles and the needs of the beneficiaries” [4]. The importance of the humanitarian principles must not be taken for granted at the WHS and they should be emphasised at every opportunity. One reason for this is that there needs to be a globally shared understanding of humanitarian action and humanitarian principles help to achieve this.

At the WHS, and beyond, the common basics underpinning humanitarian action must be confirmed: these include the values of dignity, integrity and solidarity; and the humanitarian principles. It is through affirming these, and understanding what they truly mean, that the WHS will be able to succeed in reforming the humanitarian system to be better able to meet the challenges faced today.


Photo credits: EU-CORD member archive

  1. UN
  2. Ban Ki Moon WHS report
  3. VOICE
  4. VOICE

For more information on the World Humanitarian Summit and what EU-CORD have been doing in the run-up to it please see our article on disability-inclusive humanitarian action here and on the role of faith actors here and for an overview see our article here.

EU-CORD has also been featured in a UN OCHA publication for the World Humanitarian Summit, you can see a digital copy by clicking here.

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Leaders photo at WHS

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