Thematic area 1: Principled action

Principled humanitarian response builds trust and facilitates access

Organisations involved in humanitarian response rely on humanitarian principles to guide their action not only because it is a matter of ethical imperative. Humanitarian principles also offer – in particular in conflict environments – a framework that makes humanitarian action more fair and predictable to communities affected by crisis and the parties to a conflict. Working with humanitarian principles in mind helps to build genuine trust and acceptance, two ingredients that are essential in order to guarantee access. To build and maintain trust, aid agencies also need to be as transparent as possible in their communication and decision making processes. Failing to do so not only undermines trust, it also makes an organisation more prone to fraud and corruption when humanitarian action is perceived to be biased or unfair.

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Chapter 2: How do humanitarian principles support humanitarian effectiveness?
Humanitarian principles aren’t just an ethical compass for aid delivery in complex and dangerous environments, argues ICRC’s Jérémie Labbé, they provide a pragmatic operational framework that contributes to humanitarian effectiveness too. Download this chapter.

Chapter 9: How can we curb corruption in humanitarian operations?
Nicolas Séris and Roslyn Hees of Transparency International consider how to improve transparency and accountability in the humanitarian aid sector. Download this chapter.

Key recommendations

  1. It is the responsibility of all actors involved in humanitarian response to be more honest about the scope of their ambitions and transparent about their ability or intent to apply humanitarian principles – or, indeed, on the actual relevance of humanitarian principles to achieve their own objectives. (chapter 2)
  2. Humanitarian principles have become a mantra that all humanitarian actors feel obliged to invoke, while not necessarily walking the talk. This inconsistency reinforces accusations of hypocrisy and distrust vis-à-vis aid actors, negatively impacting the ability of others to deliver effective humanitarian assistance and protection. Humanitarian actors should therefore refrain from dogmatic invocation of principles that they do not support through their actions. (chapter 2)
  3. Organisations genuinely committing to abide by and apply humanitarian principles must acknowledge and accept the limitations that doing so entails, and equip their staff with the necessary policy guidance and training to enable them to apply the principles consistently and flexibly. (chapter 2)
  4. When it comes to corruption in humanitarian operations, the first step to take is to increase incentives to openly discuss risks and report corruption cases transparently, together with a more systematic approach to quantifying the scale and impact of corruption in humanitarian operations. Only when we fully understand the scope of the problem will we be challenged to address it, and able to measure how our actions influence its prevalence. To support this drive, we ought to carry out corruption risk analyses as part of emergency preparedness, adopt international collective standards for transparency and accountability but also engage affected communities in monitoring and reporting corruption risks. (chapter 9)

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