IRRC No. 897/898

Romancing principles and human rights: Are humanitarian principles salvageable?

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"Classical" or "Dunantist" humanitarianism has traditionally been constructed around the core principles of neutrality (not taking sides) and impartiality (provision of assistance with no regard to ethnicity, religion, race or any other consideration, and proportional to need), plus the operational imperative (rather than a formal principle) to seek the consent of the belligerent parties. These principles, whilst never unchallenged, have dominated the contemporary discourse of humanitarianism and have been synonymous with or at least reflections of a presumed essential, enduring and universal set of humanitarian values. This paper offers a more dynamic and changing vision of the content of humanitarian action. It maps the origins and content of the "new humanitarian" critique of the humanitarian sector and principles and argues that this has both misrepresented the ethical content of neutrality and obscured what amount to significant operational adaptations that leave traditional humanitarianism well prepared for the contemporary operating environment.

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