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Humanitarian principles in practice

The idea of humanitarian principles is that war has limits. The way in which soldiers and politicians choose to wage war should be limited by a concern for humanity.

This research examines what humanitarian principles mean for humanitarian agencies and evaluates the impact field-level experiments in a 'principled approach' have had on agency practice and the behaviour of belligerents.

The study investigates the Joint Policy of Operation (JPO) and the Principles and Protocols of Humanitarian Operation (PPHO) in Liberia, the Agreement on Ground Rules in South Sudan, and the legal basis for the principles of humanitarian action.

The study concludes that the primary responsibility for ensuring respect for humanitarian principles in conflict rests with the warring parties. It is their actions, which primarily determine the framework of respect, and they who decide what the ‘limits of war’ of war will be. International and regional political and economic actors also play a key role in terms of providing incentives and disincentives for abuse. There are thus policy reforms in terms of developing a principled approach in foreign policies, the role of regional powers in conflict, the development of international humanitarian law and the International Criminal Court (ICC), the role of multinational companies, the use of sanctions, the regulation of the arms trade, and the criteria for the use of force that are much more significant in terms of positively influencing the ‘framework of respect’ than the activities of humanitarian agencies. In terms of enforcing greater respect for humanitarian and human rights principles, humanitarian organisations play a relatively minor role.

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