As humanitarian organisations, we are bound to the principle of impartiality. This means that our actions must be carried out on the basis of need alone. They must be focused on the neediest, regardless of their ethnicity or political or religious beliefs. In theory, this is clear and logical – but humanitarian workers experience on a daily basis how difficult it is to apply this principle in reality. Because in practice, other factors play a role in humanitarian work: Conflicting parties hinder or prevent access to the most vulnerable people, as has happened in Syria and Myanmar. Humanitarian workers are themselves attacked, as in Yemen or South Sudan. Or humanitarian assistance is exploited for security or migration policy interests – as we can currently see in some European countries.
This collection of texts examines how the core humanitarian principle of impartiality is dealt with in theory and in practice, and each author develops the theme in a different way. The essays seek to build a bridge between research and practice on the one hand, and between the international discussion and the debate in Germany on the other. We are very pleased to have the opportunity to undertake this attempt together and we have found the collaborative work on this project to be an enriching experience. We would like to express our deep gratitude to the authors who have worked with us on building these bridges. In particular we want to thank our colleagues who are working with humanitarian organisations, who have given their time and expertise.
The articles are not intended to conclude the discussion, but rather to stimulate a more intensive debate. They will no doubt raise many questions that will require more in-depth investigation. It is our view that we should analyse and discuss such questions more thoroughly and systematically in Germany. Together with other organisations and actors in the field of humanitarian action, we would like to encourage such analyses and debates. As German organisations, we need a closer involvement with academic research and stronger connections to international debates. At the same time, we aim to deepen the interaction between humanitarian practice and academic discourse. We hope that this collection of essays will inspire you to join us in developing and consolidating the critical discussion of humanitarian action.
Antonio Donini is Visiting Fellow at the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University in Massachusetts, USA.
Jolina Haddad is Trainee with the Berlin Advocacy Unit at Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières in Berlin, Germany.
Katherine Haver was until 2017 a Partner with Humanitarian Outcomes in London, UK.
Eva Hinz is Project Officer for the Democratic Republic of the Congo at Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe in Berlin, Germany.
Sabrina Khan is Head of Programmes for Islamic Relief in Cologne, Germany.
Inez Kipfer-Didavi is National Association Director of Handicap International Germany. Until July 2018 she was Senior Policy Advisor at Johanniter International Assistance in Berlin.
Birgit Lembke is Project Communications Officer at Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe in Berlin, Germany.
Martin Quack is a political scientist and freelance consultant with a focus on humanitarian policy and peacebuilding based in Reutlingen, Germany.
Gernot Ritthaler is Coordinator Humanitarian Assistance at Caritas Germany in Freiburg, Germany.
Ed Schenkenberg van Mierop is Executive Director of the Humanitarian Exchange and Research Centre (HERE) in Geneva, Switzerland.
Julia Steets is Director of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, Germany.
Andrij Waskowycz is President of Caritas Ukraine in Kyiv, Ukraine.