Humanity is what really counts

by Liana Ghukasyan | May 13, 2024 | Thought Pieces

In an area dominated by discussions about devastating wars and humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality on social media, Liana Ghukasyan makes the case that it is the principle of humanity that matters most of all. 

During my recent travel to Israel, Gaza, Lebanon, Ethiopia, and witnessing firsthand the devastating impact of a protracted conflict on my own home country, I have been convinced of one thing- The principle of humanity towers above all other principles as the purpose and passion of humanitarian action.

As the landscape of humanitarian aid grows more complex, the traditional principles of neutrality and impartiality face increasing scrutiny. These principles, foundational to humanitarian organizations, aim to deliver aid without bias towards any party involved in a conflict. However, as conflicts become more personal, protracted and devastating, with humanitarian aid workers often hailing from the conflict affected contexts, a pressing question arises: Can one truly remain neutral when one’s own home and loved ones are affected?

Bulgaria, 2014 – © Jacob Zocherman

Evolution of the principle of humanity 

The principle of humanity centres on preventing and alleviating human suffering, prioritizing the most urgent cases of distress, and promoting human dignity. This principle compels us to act in the service of others, driven by a profound sense of compassion and solidarity, rather than the detached neutrality that has traditionally guided humanitarian efforts.

This principle has been a central tenet of humanitarian work since its formal articulation in 1955 by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. This declaration—”The Red Cross fights against suffering and death. It demands that people shall be treated humanely under all circumstances”—captures the essence of what drives humanitarian efforts globally. It underscores a universal commitment to alleviate suffering, protect life, and maintain human dignity in all circumstances, irrespective of the context or complexity of the crisis.

Since its inception, this principle has guided countless humanitarian missions around the world. It has shaped the development of international humanitarian laws and norms, influencing how aid is delivered in conflict zones, disaster-stricken areas, and other crises. Importantly, it serves as a reminder that the core mission of humanitarian aid is not just to save lives but also to preserve the human spirit.

Egypt, 2008 – © IFRC / Alex Wynter

The strain on neutrality and impartiality

The ideal of neutrality means not taking sides in hostilities or engaging in controversies of a political, racial, religious, or ideological nature. However, for humanitarian aid workers from conflict-affected areas, the line between observer and victim can blur. As they witness their communities being torn apart, neutrality can feel less like a principle and more like a compromise. 

Impartiality, which mandates that aid must be provided based on need, without discrimination, faces its challenges too. In practice, it demands that humanitarian aid workers suppress their personal grief and biases to deliver aid. However, when the crisis hits close to home, maintaining this impartial stance is not only psychologically burdensome but can sometimes seem morally questionable. 

Conflicts are no longer confined to battlefields but span cities and villages and often violating the very essence of human dignity these principles seek to protect. In such environments, maintaining neutrality and impartiality can sometimes hinder effective aid delivery or conflict with personal convictions of those delivering aid.

Refocusing on humanity

In response to these challenges, there is a growing need for centering the principle of humanity in our humanitarian work. This shift recognizes the need for a more compassionate approach that resonates with the realities of today’s conflicts. It calls for an approach that recognizes the shared humanity in all people and insists on their treatment as dignified individuals, not just as victims of circumstance.

The principle of humanity, with its emphasis on alleviating suffering and maintaining dignity, offers a framework that is both morally compelling and practical. It encourages humanitarian aid organizations to prioritize human well-being and supports the psychological health of humanitarian aid workers by aligning their professional obligations with their natural empathetic responses.

Lebanon, 2006 – © ICRC / Marko Kokic

To center humanity more in their response, humanitarian organizations can take several steps:

1. Train humanitarian aid workers in emotional resilience and ethical decision-making to better navigate the challenges of working in conflict zones and other crisis areas where their personal and professional lives overlap.

2. Engage local communities in planning and delivering humanitarian aid, ensuring it meets the actual needs and respects the cultural context of those affected.

3. Ensure that empathy guides the planning and implementation of aid, recognizing the suffering of individuals as a shared human experience that calls for a compassionate response.

Moving forward, it is crucial for humanitarian aid organizations to embrace this paradigm shift, ensuring their work not only meets physical needs but also upholds the dignity and worth of every individual they serve.

Special Advisor to the President at IFRC | + posts

1 Comment

  1. masumamiss31

    Humanity is a beautiful side of human nature. I think without humanity one one person shouldn’t be called human being.
    So I believe humanity makes a man most beautiful and different in this world.


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