A Matter of Principle(s): The Legal Effect of Impartiality and Neutrality on States as Humanitarian Actors
International Review of the Red Cross (Forthcoming)
Posted: 15 Sep 2015 Last revised: 22 Oct 2015
Date Written: September 14, 2015
This article examines the legal nature of the principles of impartiality and neutrality of humanitarian action, focussing on States as humanitarian actors. It argues that international law does not provide a general legal basis for the universal applicability of these principles, contrary to a common interpretation of the ICJ’s 1986 judgment in the Nicaragua case. Nevertheless, impartiality and neutrality may have significant legal effect on the conduct of States. They may be directly binding on States through the operation of Security Council resolutions drafted in mandatory language. In addition, they may have indirect effect due to the States’ obligation to respect the adherence to the principles by humanitarian organizations. On the basis of this argument, the article pleads for increased conceptual clarity and, in turn, effectiveness of humanitarian action.
Keywords: humanitarian action, humanitarian principles, impartiality, neutrality, international humanitarian law
JEL Classification: K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation