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Humanitarian Aid on the move # 15, special issue: The Quality of Aid

Contrasting views – including ‘Neutrality’ in the CHS
Anne de Riedmatten & Nigel Timmins

Key word: Point of view /

 What could the longer term implications be of including/ not including neutrality in the CHS?


Anne de Riedmatten: as previously mentioned, working in accordance with the core principles is not always an easy task. Yet, it is by definition what humanitarian assistance and protection is all about: a constant challenge that requires effort, persistence and investment to make it happen.

In today’s increasingly complex and polarized humanitarian environment, we believe that a principled humanitarian action continues to make a difference in accessing and serving populations in need. The promotion of the principles, including Neutrality, is even more critical when considering the serious deterioration of the security environment the humanitarians have to operate in. The fragmentation of armed groups is a reality, and only increases the risk of confusion between humanitarians and other stakeholders. Neutrality, as one of the guiding principles, contributes to maintaining access and proximity to populations in need, which – in return – are significant elements for humanitarians’ security.

Those last years, we witnessed emerging new actors, who chose different operating modes and do not necessarily recognize the added value of principles, while their track records demonstrate good access to beneficiaries. We now have to reflect and ponder on how those different models can coexist, while keeping some of the values that we hold dear. For instance, an interesting initiative is the workshop on Humanitarian Principles and the Code of Conduct which was jointly organized by ICVA and the ICRC in Amman in June 2014. The objective of this workshop was to compare the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs with other existing codes used by Islamic organizations in order to explore similarities among principles.


Nigel Timmins: the long term implications are that we risk losing the trust of new actors in the humanitarian sector and that they in turn bypass the established coordination architecture and fail to learn from hard-earned experience about what does and does not work.

The “Traditional” or “Western” humanitarian movement comes in for a lot of criticism from those outside the West. Many articulate the view that it is hypocritical, espousing one set of values but behaving differently (e.g. Responsibility to Protect, which was developed to protect civilian populations, is now seen by some as a pretext by the West to justify armed intervention).

Whilst many INGOs actively strive to be independent, an analysis of funding flows shows that many humanitarian organisations are dependent on a relatively small number of States for their financing which opens up the space for criticism that they are being co-opted into foreign policy objectives. Similarly, claiming to be neutral but taking up policy positions and conducting advocacy campaigns risks accusations of hypocrisy.

Unless our actions match our rhetoric we risk a future of ever shrinking humanitarian space.

A further risk is that some authorities use this commitment to silence humanitarian organisations. They may use the commitment to not "... engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature" as reason to permit the provision of assistance but not permit any public statements they choose to consider “controversial”.