The principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence are grounded in International Humanitarian Law. All EU Member States have committed to them by ratifying the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
Humanity means that human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found, with particular attention to the most vulnerable.
Neutrality means that humanitarian aid must not favour any side in an armed conflict or other dispute.
Impartiality means that humanitarian aid must be provided solely on the basis of need, without discrimination.
Independence means the autonomy of humanitarian objectives from political, economic, military or other objectives.
Humanitarian principles define what humanitarian aid is: delivering life-saving assistance to those in need, without any adverse distinction. They distinguish humanitarian aid from other activities, for example those of political, religious, ideological or military nature. Adherence to the humanitarian principles facilitates access and acceptance, and helps humanitarian workers carry out their work.
At EU level, the humanitarian principles are enshrined in the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid, signed in December 2007 by the Council of the EU, the European Parliament and the European Commission. The Consensus is the core framework which guides EU humanitarian aid policy, providing a common vision and principles, as well as a practical approach. It ensures that the actions carried out by the European Commission's Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) comply with the humanitarian principles and provide humanitarian assistance to those who need it most.