As global leaders get set to meet in Istanbul for the first World Humanitarian Summit on 23-24 May 2016 to deliberate on ways of reducing suffering and reshaping humanitarian response, we offer you a closer look at the history of the humanitarian principles and the contemporary political challenges in applying them.

7-principles (2)The last one in our series of three blogposts ahead of the Summit, this is an article* from the latest issue of the International Review of the Red Cross authored by Jérémie Labbé, Head of the Principles Guiding Humanitarian Action project at the ICRC, and Pascal Daudin, Senior Policy Adviser at the ICRC. It examines the recurrent concrete operational challenges faced by the ICRC, reflects on best practices and gives examples of the ways in which the organization itself has approached the application of the principles in different contexts. In conclusion, it shares some reflection on the relative utility of humanitarian principles to different brands of humanitarianism, from a relatively classic understanding limited to alleviating the suffering of people affected by crises to more transformative approaches that aim to address the root causes of vulnerability.


Applying the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence in a relevant manner in concrete operational settings is a constant challenge for humanitarian organizations. Bound by this set of norms, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has incrementally developed over the years a rational framework that allows its leadership and staff on the ground to act according to these principles while developing adapted solutions and pragmatic approaches. This article begins by describing the history and development of the humanitarian principles; it then explains how the strategic choices of the ICRC are informed by these principles, and what the consequences are for the organizations capacity to act in favour of victims of armed conflicts.

Download the article:

Applying the Humanitarian Principles – Reflecting on the Experience of the ICRC


Earlier Posts in this Series:

Peter Maurer Speaks on Migration…

“Even the Most Basic & Fundamental Rules of IHL are being Violated”


On the World Humanitarian Summit:

An opportunity to reduce human suffering: An ICRC perspective of the World Humanitarian Summit

World Humanitarian Summit: ICRC’s comment on the UN Secretary General’s Report