On the eve of the World Humanitarian Summit’s Global Consultation in Geneva, leaders of Governments and international organizations gathered to discuss some of the challenges in upholding humanitarian principles in today’s changing humanitarian landscape.
The discussion – which included the participation of the Government of Sweden, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) – took place only days after the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement celebrated the 50th anniversary of the adoption of its seven Fundamental Principles, and reaffirmed them as the foundation of its work to support vulnerable people around the world.
The importance of the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence has been reaffirmed during the consultation process for the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, and was emphasised in the Synthesis Report that was published this month.
“We are very pleased with the focus on humanitarian principles in the Synthesis Report on the World Humanitarian Summit’s consultations. We hope that there will also be increasing emphasis on protection”, said Hugo Slim, Head of Policy for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
From their different perspectives, panellists shared a common view about the need for all humanitarian actors to continue to uphold and act upon these principles in their work, in order to ensure trust and access, and help save lives. They also shared some of the challenges of operating in an increasingly politicized humanitarian context at a time when these principles are increasingly put to the test.
“The principles underpinning humanitarian action have been tested repeatedly by history, but they have stood the test and they will continue to do so,” said Secretary General Elhadj As Sy, who represented the IFRC at the panel.
Mr Sy recalled the peak of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa last year, when “travel bans were issued, borders closed, flights cancelled, and stigmatization thrived”.
“During such challenging times, we can see the best and worst of humanity,” said Mr Sy. “Those who stood for humanity remained to help their fellows who had been infected by Ebola, even if that could put them at risk too, because ‘If we don’t do it, who will?’ The fact that we see these principles challenged today is further proof that we need them now more than ever.”
“Humanitarian principles have inspired and guided the dialogue that is leading us to the World Humanitarian Summit next year. They remind us to be humble about what the scope of what our work can be. But, even with all their limits, they will continue to help us save lives,” concluded Mr Sy.
Held in the ICRC’s Humanitarium in Geneva and organized by HERE Geneva, the panel discussion “Universal Humanitarian Values and Principles: accuracy or fallacy?” was moderated by Ambassador Tania Dussey-Cavassinni, Swiss Ambassador for Global Health Issues, and saw the participation of Ms Ulrika Modéer, State Secretary, International Development Cooperation, Sweden; Mr Jan Egeland, Secretary-General, Norwegian Refugee Council; Ambassador Hesham Youssef, Assistant-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Mr Elhadj As Sy, IFRC Secretary General.