Skip to main content
Concern employee Socrates distributing soap to Health Surveillance Assistants in Malawi. Photo: Concern WorldwideConcern employee Socrates distributing soap to Health Surveillance Assistants in Malawi. Photo: Concern WorldwideConcern employee Socrates distributing soap to Health Surveillance Assistants in Malawi. Photo: Concern Worldwide

The humanitarian principles: everything you need to know

The humanitarian principles: everything you need to know

Concern is a humanitarian organisation and seeks to adhere to the four fundamental humanitarian principles. These principles guide our everyday work and help us achieve our goal of ending extreme poverty, whatever it takes, independently and objectively.

Our core values remain the same, whatever the context. And wherever we are, we put these principles into practice.

What are the humanitarian principles?

The humanitarian principles are derived from the Geneva Conventions which, in turn, have informed the principles that have long guided the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross. They are also are set out in UN General Assembly Resolutions. A UN General Assembly Resolution is a decision or declaration voted on by all member states of the United Nations.

In our humanitarian responses, we are committed to upholding and promoting these fundamental humanitarian principles, which are: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence.

Here, we break them down.


The principle of humanity requires that everyone must be treated humanely and equally in all circumstances. Human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found. The purpose of humanitarian action is to protect life and ensure respect for human beings. The term ‘the humanitarian imperative’ is used to describe the obligation of humanitarian organisations to meet the needs of disaster and conflict affected people.




Humanitarian responses often take place in conflict contexts in which adherence to the fundamental principles is critical to distinguish humanitarian action from the activities and objectives of political, military and other actors.

We believe that adherence to these principles is essential in ensuring that we can deliver our programmes safely and effectively in places that need them most.

How do the humanitarian principles influence Concern’s work?

In all of our humanitarian responses, and consistent with the humanitarian principles, we seek to ensure that the dignity of the people we work with is respected and protected. Adherence to these principles is a key way in which do this.


Adherence to the principle of humanity means that Concern must seek to address human suffering wherever it is found, paying particular attention to those who are most vulnerable. In the Red Cross Code of Conduct - of which Concern is a signatory - the obligation to respond to those in need is described as the humanitarian imperative. For Concern, this means:

  • All country programmes must ensure that they are prepared to respond to emergencies in a timely and effective manner;
  • All of our responses seek to save lives and protect livelihoods.


Meeting the humanity imperative does not mean that we must always provide assistance ourselves. It does, however, require us to properly assess situations to determine if there are unmet needs and, if we can, to respond to them. Where appropriate, we should support others - including local government, local or national civil society organisations, and suitably established and placed international organisations - to respond.


Adherence to the principle of impartiality means that our responses must be provided without discrimination. This principle requires us to assess the impact of disasters and to design programmes to support those most affected by them. Moreover, our responses should never adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Therefore, this principle means we must break down identified needs, considering - as a minimum – gender, age and disability.


In adhering to the principle of neutrality, we must ensure that our responses do not favour any side in a conflict. As with the other humanitarian principles, adherence to the principle of neutrality is essential in trying to gain acceptance from all parties to allow our programmes to operate as effectively and safely as possible.


Respect for the principle of independence means that the sole purpose of our humanitarian activities is the relief and prevention of suffering of people affected by crises. It requires us to respond in a manner that is not influenced by political, economic, military or other objectives, and to formulate and implement our own policies independently of government policies or actions.


Today, the challenges posed by an unpredictable and rapidly changing global landscape have never been greater. However, our principles remain the same so that the people we help can trust us.

Share your concern