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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

Humanitarian principles

An aid worker and a person walking on a farm.
© European Union, 2023 (photographer: Oleksandr Rakushnyak)

The principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence are fundamental to humanitarian action.

Humanity means that human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found, with particular attention to the most vulnerable.

Neutrality means that humanitarian aid must not favour any side in an armed conflict or other dispute.

Impartiality means that humanitarian aid must be provided solely on the basis of need, without discrimination.

Independence means the autonomy of humanitarian objectives from political, economic, military or other objectives.

Humanitarian principles are endorsed by 2 UN General Assembly resolutions (46/182 and  58/114). They guide the work of all actors working in the humanitarian sphere, defining what humanitarian aid is: delivering life-saving assistance to those in need, without any adverse distinction.

They distinguish humanitarian aid from other activities, for example those of political, religious, ideological, or military nature. Adherence to the humanitarian principles facilitates access and acceptance and helps humanitarian workers carry out their work.

Humanitarian principles for the European Union

At EU level, the humanitarian principles are enshrined in the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid, signed in December 2007 by the Council of the EU, the European Parliament and the European Commission.

Aid worker talking to a man in a street. In the background a woman in front of a garage.
© European Union, 2022 (photographer: Anouk Delafortrie)

Together with the Humanitarian Aid Regulation, the Consensus sets out the specific nature and mandate of humanitarian aid: it is provided solely on the basis of needs, in line with the principles of good humanitarian donorship.

EU humanitarian aid is not influenced by any political, strategic, military, or economic objective. This is also essential to ensure that aid can be delivered to people affected by crisis in often complex political and security environments.

The EU’s humanitarian response will continue to abide by the principle to ‘do no harm’, which involves not causing further damage to the affected populations and the environment. Our response strives to be conflict-sensitive, ensuring that it does not inadvertently exacerbate conflicts.

Our humanitarian assistance will continue to promote and strengthen effective humanitarian civil-military coordination so that humanitarian space is safeguarded.