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Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response

Protection Principle 1: Avoid exposing people to further harm as a result of your actions

Those involved in humanitarian response take steps to avoid or minimise any adverse effects of their intervention, in particular the risk of exposing people to increased danger or abuse of their rights.


This principle includes the following elements:


Guidance notes

Assessing context and anticipating the consequences of humanitarian action for the safety and well-being of the disaster-affected population

  1. Avoid becoming complicit in abuse of rights. There may be difficult judgments and choices, for example when faced with the decision whether to provide assistance to people who are detained in camps against their will. Such judgements must be made on a case-by-case basis, but they should always be reviewed over time as circumstances change.
  2. Checklist: When analysing activities, regularly reflect on the following non-exhaustive list of questions, which could serve as a checklist, in terms of both the overall humanitarian response and specific actions:
    • What does the affected population gain by our activities?
    • What might be the unintended negative consequences of our activities for people’s security, and how can we avoid or minimise these consequences?
    • Do the activities take into consideration possible protection threats facing the affected population? Might they undermine people’s own efforts to protect themselves?
    • Do the activities discriminate against any group or might they be perceived as doing so? Do the activities protect the rights of people who have historically been marginalised or discriminated against?
    • In protecting and promoting the rights of such groups, what will be the impact on the relationships within and beyond the community?
    • Could the activities exacerbate existing divisions in the community or between neighbouring communities?
    • Could the activities inadvertently empower or strengthen the position of armed groups or other actors?
    • Could the activities be subject to criminal exploitation?


  3. Consult different segments of the affected population – or organisations in their trust – in assessing the positive and possible negative consequences of the overall response and specific activities.
  4. The form in which assistance is provided may render people more vulnerable to attack. For example, valuable commodities like dry food rations may be subject to looting and so can put the recipients at risk of harm and deprivation. Consider providing alternative forms of assistance (e.g. provision of cooked food at kitchens or feeding centres) where this is a significant risk. Affected communities should be consulted on their preferred form of assistance.
  5. The environment in which assistance is provided should, as far as possible, be safe for the people concerned. People in need should not be forced to travel to or through dangerous areas in order to access assistance. Where camps or other settlements are established, these should be made as safe as possible for the inhabitants and should be located away from areas that are subject to attack or other hazards.  

    Self-protection of affected populations

  6. Understand the means by which people try to protect themselves, their families and communities. Support community self-help initiatives (see Protection Principle 3, guidance notes 13–14). The ways in which humanitarian agencies intervene should not compromise people’s capacity to protect themselves and others – including moving to safer areas and avoiding contact with armed groups.
  7. Subsistence needs: Help people find safe options for meeting their subsistence needs. This might include, for example, the provision of goods such as water, firewood or other cooking fuel that helps people meet their daily needs without having to undertake hazardous and arduous journeys. This is likely to be a particular issue for older people, women, children and persons with disabilities.

    Managing sensitive information
  8. Protection-related data may be sensitive. Humanitarian agencies should have clear policies and procedures in place to guide their staff on how to respond if they become aware of, or witness, abuses and on the confidentiality of related information. Staff should be briefed on appropriate reporting of witnessed incidents or allegations.
  9. Referring sensitive information: Consider referring information concerning abuses to appropriate actors with the relevant protection mandate. These actors may be present in other areas than where the information is found.
  10. A policy on referring sensitive information should be in place and should include incident reports or trends analysis. It should specify how to manage sensitive information and the circumstances under which information may be referred. As far as possible, agencies should seek the consent of the individuals concerned for the use of such information. Any referral of information should be done in a way that does not put the source of information or the person(s) referred to in danger.
  11. Information on specific abuses and violations of rights should only be collected if its intended use is clear and the detail required is defined in relation to the intended use. Such protection information should be collected by agencies with a protection mandate or which have the necessary capacity, skills, systems and protocols in place. Collecting this information is subject to the condition of informed consent and, in all cases, the individual’s consent is necessary for the information to be shared with third parties.
  12. The possible reaction of the government or other relevant authorities to the collection and use of information about abuses should be assessed. The need for the continuation of operations may have to be weighed against the need to use the information. Different humanitarian agencies may make different choices in this regard.