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Humanitarian work today is characterized by a proliferation of players and, let it be said, by a blurring of the differences between the humanitarian, political and military roles.

Given the growing complexity of crises, the most striking examples of which have been those in the region of the Great Lakes and in the former Yugoslavia, it is essential that the precise nature and limits of humanitarian aid be clearly defined.

Humanitarian aid is not a policy option like any other. Rather, it is the reflection of society’s moral values as embodied in rules of international law, in particular the Geneva Conventions, of which the Red Cross is both the instigator and the custodian. Its purpose is to safeguard the most basic of human rights — the right to life — and to preserve human dignity in times of crisis.

All those involved in implementing humanitarian aid must be aware of their respective roles and keep them separate. Any other course is fraught with danger. The European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO), the largest contributor of humanitarian aid, fully recognizes this and is prepared to take on the particular responsibilities it has towards its partners, and especially towards its beneficiaries.

The principles set out in the Madrid Declaration, which calls on the international community to ensure that:


– the independence and impartiality of humanitarian aid are respected;

– civilians are no longer targeted;

– the right to seek and obtain asylum is maintained for refugees fleeing persecution;

– we are given full access to all those in need;

– humanitarian personnel can carry out their work in safety must find expression in the notion of partnership among donors, humanitarian agencies and beneficiaries, which is a necessary condition, although unfortunately not a sufficient one, for implementing humanitarian aid in such a way that it can save lives and uphold human dignity.

Over and above the letter of the law, the spirit reflected in such a partnership must prevail at all times. Only thus can we ensure the future, and the quality, of humanitarian aid.

Emma Bonino
European Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs



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