chapter  7
Neutrality and impartiality
ByLaura Hammond
Pages 11

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 confl ict – 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 justifi cation for warring parties to allow them to work in confl ict 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.