Neutrality and Impartiality

Authored by: Laura Hammond

The Routledge Companion to Humanitarian Action

Print publication date:  March  2015
Online publication date:  March  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415844420
eBook ISBN: 9780203753422
Adobe ISBN: 9781135013936


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Of all of the humanitarian principles, neutrality and impartiality form a bedrock of sorts, a foundation upon which judgments can be made about whether a given action or actor is truly upholding the spirit of humanitarianism. Neutrality – the refusal to take sides in a conflict – and impartiality – providing aid solely according to need – are widely celebrated as the hallmarks of humanitarian action. They are espoused as essential for maintaining access to populations in need, and those providing relief frequently refer to these principles as justification for warring parties to allow them to work in conflict zones. However, despite the seeming sacrosanct nature of the two principles, there is a wide range of interpretation about exactly what the two principles mean, how and in what cases they should be applied or set aside, and what the value of applying them may be.

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