Rethinking the role of humanitarian principles in armed conflict

Think tank: Chatham House

Author(s): Martin Barber OBE; Mark Bowden CMG

December 15, 2023

This report from UK think tank Chatham House looks at rethinking the role of humanitarian principles in armed conflict.

The international humanitarian system frequently acts as a substitute for the lack of political effort to bring armed conflicts to an end. As a result, humanitarian organizations often must contend with dilemmas that they are ill-equipped to resolve. This is particularly true in settings where belligerents prevent aid actors from operating in accordance with humanitarian principles – humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence.

Current accountability practices within the international humanitarian system tend to focus on the targets of humanitarian organizations rather than on those affected by a conflict. Processes that utilize structured ethical decision-making frameworks could improve the decision-making capacity of humanitarian organizations and ensure that critical factors influencing possible outcomes are considered.

This final paper of the Chatham House Sanguine Mirage project looks at how the international humanitarian system should respond to rejections of the humanitarian principles, the implementation of ethical decision-making processes and the development of better systems of accountability.