FEEDBACK – The Foundation’s Talks and Debates : On Principled Humanitarian Action | June 15, 2015
Handicap International is perceived by its peers, and rightfully perceived, as an organization that strives for and encourages principled humanitarian action. But what principles are we talking about exactly? And what does it entails ? Maureen Magee, Interim Director of NRC in Geneva, discussed these issues, and much more, during one of the Foundation’s Talks […]
Handicap International is perceived by its peers, and rightfully perceived, as an organization that strives for and encourages principled humanitarian action. But what principles are we talking about exactly? And what does it entails ? Maureen Magee, Interim Director of NRC in Geneva, discussed these issues, and much more, during one of the Foundation’s Talks and Debates.
Interact with our peers, expand our horizon, foster internal debate, innovation and critical thinking in the fields of ethics and politics, all fall within the mandate of Handicap International Foundation. To this extent, the Foundation regularly invites experts in their respective line of business to discuss an issue during one of its Talks and Debates.
Held at Handicap International’s headquarters in Lyon, the Foundation’s Talks and Debates are for each and everyone to enjoy whether they are permanent staff members, volunteers, interns, working at headquarters level, within one of our National Associations or in the field. Therefore, each Talk and Debate is recorded, either subtitled or dubbed in English, and made available to all on this blog (ENG version – FR version).
On June 15, 2015 the Foundation’s Talks and Debates were organized around the venue of Maureen Magee, Interim Director of NRC Geneva and Humanitarian Policy. With more than ten years of experience working in the field, Ms. Magee discussed principled humanitarian action, what it means and entails, assisted by Nathalie Herlemont-Zoritchak, Handicap International Foundation’s Director of Operational Development.
Both organizations are indeed very much involved in the defense of principled humanitarian action, ensuring their organization abides by them but also advocating before international entities for their respect by the greatest number, if not by all.
What are the principles in question?
There are four principles acknowledged by the bulk of the international community:
– The principle of humanity, according to which one has to meet the needs of those suffering.
– The principle of impartiality, according to which emergency relief operations should be organized around meeting the needs of those who suffer the most, not according to race, gender or else.
– The principle of neutrality, according to which these same emergency relief operations should not take side or favour any side in an armed conflict or other dispute.
– The principle of independence, according to which these same emergency relief organizations should determine their humanitarian action apart from any political agenda. This is at least the definition put forward by the UN. Others, such as NGOs like Handicap International, would also argue that abiding by the principle of independence also means being financially independent.
For some organizations, respecting these principles only amounts to adopting a moral posture but at Handicap International, it has operational consequences. If there are no hierarchy between these four principles, one could say nonetheless that the first two, the principle of humanity and impartiality, are guiding our humanitarian action whereas the last two, the principles of neutrality and independence are tools that enable our staff to fulfill their mandate.
Yet, at times, it can be hard not to give preference to one or two of these principles over the others. Building on her experience in the Central African Republic, Iraq or Côte d’Ivoire, Maureen Magee provided the audience with various examples where principles had to be balanced with one another, adapted to the reality on the ground (from a cultural point of view for instance) and conducted a lively debate on the practical use of the principles. According to many indeed, some actors, such as states, the UN or the EU, are not providing principled humanitarian action; yet, they appropriate the language of humanitarian actors, sometimes even claiming to provide humanitarian aid in a principled manner.
To watch Maureen Magee’s presentation, please, click here.
Pour visionner l’intervention de Maureen Magee (en français) et en apprendre davantage sur l’action humanitaire respecteuse des principes humanitaires, cliquez ici.
For further information
- IFRC/ICRC,”The Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement”, 20th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, 1965; adopted during the 25th International Conference of the Red Cross, Geneva, 1986.
- IFRC/ICRC, “The Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief”, 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, Geneva, 1995.
- United Nations General Assembly, “Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian emergency assistance of the United Nations”, 78th Plenary Meeting,A/RES/182, 19 December 1991.