You don’t have to be neutral to be a good humanitarian

“You don’t have to be neutral to be a good humanitarian” is the title of a commentary run by The New Humanitarian for Hugo Slim, author of well known works such as “Killing Civilians” (2009). Slim argues that being neutral, in the context of humanitarian action in a conflict setting, is not necessary to be “a good humanitarian”. He does not explain what constitutes effective humanitarian action in contemporary war zones where, frequently, civilians are deliberately made to suffer even as they struggle to cope with the loss of livelihoods, homes and essential services.

It is widely acknowledged that the principle of neutrality is a means to give effect to the first order humanitarian principles of humanity and impartiality. It should also be clear that ‘neutrality’ is not an excuse for being indifferent to well known patterns of harm such as gender-based violence, deliberate starvation, the bombardment of residential neighbourhoods or the criminalization of asylum seekers, acts that threaten the safety, dignity and survival chances of war-affected and up-rooted populations. It should also be clear that not challenging deliberate or incidental harm means being complicit in undermining humanitarian values.  It also means not being an effective or ‘good’ humanitarian. We thought readers should read Slim with this introductory note in mind. You can read Slim’s commentary here.

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