A reassessment of humanitarian principles – humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence – and their role in increasingly complicated armed conflicts is well overdue. This paper takes a closer look at different approaches to the principles that can improve outcomes for civilians in conflict contexts. Contrasting interpretations of humanitarian principles, siloed leadership and reporting structures, and the marginalization of local organizations can all worsen the impacts of armed conflict on civilians and even lead to further violence.
International efforts in war-torn countries could achieve better outcomes by responding to demands from local communities rather than those of external actors. Consideration of humanitarian principles in assistance operations must take place within the broader context of bringing a conflict to an end and supporting local communities to survive and thrive.