This piece provides a summary of an article written for the International Review of the Red Cross. Read the original article here.

As we respond to the growing impact of conflict in a wide range of environments, organisations like MAG face complex challenges in responding to need while still adhering to humanitarian principles. It may be tempting to argue that in certain situations these core principles are not relevant or should be discarded. But MAG believes they are more critical than ever and provide an essential framework for decision making and should be seen as an enabling factor rather than a limitation – with space for legitimate adaptation. For this reason, practical implementation of the humanitarian principles is a core commitment of MAG’s 2024-28 Strategy

An article by MAG’s policy team for the International Review of the Red Cross reflects on the application of the four humanitarian principles – humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence – to humanitarian mine action and humanitarian disarmament operations. The article examines the application of the principles through MAG’s operational experience, exploring the core principle of humanity as the “why” of our work, and impartiality, neutrality, and independence as the “how”. It also argues that the principles apply to MAG’s activities beyond traditional humanitarian contexts as a fundamental underpinning of humanitarian mine action, humanitarian disarmament, and the origins of sector practice. 

The substantive principle of humanity – preventing and addressing the threats to life and human dignity caused by conflict and disasters – has always informed humanitarian disarmament, which aims to prevent and address the harmful effects of weapons on people and communities – objectives clearly outlined in the framing preamble of treaties such as the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) and the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM).  


The principle of impartiality operationalises humanity by requiring organisations to operate only according to need, prioritising the most urgent cases without discrimination. Humanitarian mine action and other humanitarian disarmament operations are by definition driven by the needs of people and communities, and, in the case of MAG’s approach, also driven by their perspectives. 

For a variety of reasons, including the sheer scale of the problem, lack of funds and weak coordination, needs identified through the lens of humanity or impartiality often remain and pose significant risk beyond the end of active hostilities. This is why, with some room for flexibility, the humanitarian principles remain a critical guiding framework for MAG even outside active conflict.  

Where life and human dignity are threatened by conflict, some activities can be implemented even during active hostilities – as outlined in a recent article on the ICRC Humanitarian Law and Policy blog focusing on the humanitarian response to IEDs. In these contexts, the humanitarian principles guide MAG’s decision making and engagement. For example, clearance during active conflict is generally prevented by the principle of neutrality, unless solely associated with humanitarian objectives such as facilitating safe routes for movement of displaced people or humanitarian aid. Conversely, actions such as explosive risk education remain in line with the principle of neutrality and are often utilised by MAG as a critical response during crises. 

The principle of neutrality also guides humanitarian actors to avoid engagement in controversies, and so might be applied when controversial stances could risk the obstruction of humanitarian access – which would impede the principles of humanity and impartiality. For this reason, MAG may occasionally decline to take a public position that could compromise its humanitarian action. On the other hand, as a committed advocate and member of civil society, it is important to MAG to highlight critical issues relevant to our work. Behind each public comment, and each lack of public comment, is a nuanced discussion on the balance of these two imperatives. 


Lastly, the principle of independence has often informed how MAG navigates attempts to influence our action in ways that do not reflect the needs of people’s and communities’ needs – and therefore allows us to uphold both humanity and impartiality. In policy settings such as the APMBC and CCM processes, as well as other humanitarian disarmament fora, engagement by operators and other civil society is another important way in which independence can be seen in practice.  

The piece published in the International Review of the Red Cross identifies humanity as a red thread that links the protection of civilians through humanitarian disarmament measures to humanitarian and development actions. Humanity is our North Star, the “why” of humanitarian disarmament operations. First and foremost, we work to eliminate threats to life and human dignity, whether before, during, or after conflict. The principles of impartiality, neutrality, and independence inform what we can do and how we should do it in the given context and in line with the policy frameworks that guide us. In an ever more complex world, there is still space to adapt, while still recognising that there are certain lines that a principled actor can never cross.   

These themes are elaborated further in the article, using practical examples. We hope that it provides a valuable contribution to this debate at an important juncture, bringing them to life and reaffirming their vital role. 

Written by MAG's Director of Policy and Strategic Partnerships, Josephine Dresner, and International Policy Manager, Riccardo Labianco.