Vale the Humanitarian Principles

New Principles for a New Environment


  • Prof Matthew Clarke Deakin University, Australia
  • Brett W. Parris Deakin University, Australia



humanitarian principles, humanitarian action, emergencies


For more than 150 years, the international community’s assistance to those affected by various humanitarian events has been guided by four clear and succinct principles: humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. These principles have guided not only the ways in which the international community has responded to natural and human-induced disasters — they have also shaped the humanitarian system more generally. The geneses of these four humanitarian principles lie within Henry Dunant’s account of the violent Battle of Solferino in 1859. This account led to the establishment of the Red Cross and the first Geneva Convention, which together gave rise to the humanitarian principles. These humanitarian principles were conceived to guide the work of the International Committee of Red Cross, but they have since gained near universal adherence within the humanitarian sector, and have been utilised to justify both action and inaction by those responding to humanitarian crises. Whilst important and necessary at the time of their inception, the maturing of the humanitarian sector, along with the increasing complexity and intensity of humanitarian events, requires a reconsideration of their relevancy and usefulness. This paper argues that these four principles are no longer fit-for-purpose to guide and shape the international community’s humanitarian actions. We argue instead that four new principles would better direct humanitarian action in the current environment: equity, solidarity, compassion and diversity. We discuss the deepening complexity of modern humanitarian emergencies and resulting declining suitability of each of the four original principles, before considering the four new suggested principles.


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Author Biographies

  • Prof Matthew Clarke, Deakin University, Australia

    Head of School and Alfred Deakin Professor,
    Centre for Humanitarian Leadership and Deakin University.

  • Brett W. Parris, Deakin University, Australia

    Research Fellow
    Centre for Humanitarian Leadership


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How to Cite

“Vale the Humanitarian Principles: New Principles for a New Environment” (2019) The Humanitarian Leader, p. Working Paper 001, Aug 2019. doi:10.21153/thl2019volno0art1032.