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Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response

Protection Principle 2: Ensure people’s access to impartial assistance – in proportion to need and without discrimination

People can access humanitarian assistance according to need and without adverse discrimination. Assistance is not withheld from people in need, and access for humanitarian agencies is provided as necessary to meet the Sphere standards.


This principle includes the following elements:

Guidance notes

Maintaining access

  1. Where the affected population is unable to meet their basic needs and the relevant authorities are unable to provide the necessary assistance themselves, the latter should not deny access for impartial humanitarian organisations to do so. Such denial may be in violation of international law, particularly in situations of armed conflict.
  2. Monitor access: Carefully monitor the access of the affected population to humanitarian assistance, especially of the most vulnerable people.
  3. Access to humanitarian assistance and freedom of movement are closely linked (see Protection Principle 3, guidance notes 7–9). The monitoring of access should consider obstacles, such as checkpoints, blockades or the presence of landmines. In situations of armed conflict, the parties may establish checkpoints, but these barriers should not discriminate between categories of affected people or unduly hinder people’s access to humanitarian assistance. Special measures should be taken to ensure equality of access for affected people in remote or inaccessible regions.
  4. Special measures to facilitate the access of vulnerable groups should be taken, while considering the context, social and cultural conditions and behaviours of communities. Such measures might include the construction of safe spaces for people who have been the victim of abuses, such as rape or trafficking, or putting in place means that facilitate access for people with disabilities. Any such measures should avoid the stigmatisation of these groups (see Core Standard 3, guidance notes 5–6).

    Addressing the denial of assistance or of access to subsistence needs
  5. The right to receive humanitarian assistance: As elaborated in the Humanitarian Charter, the affected population has the right to receive humanitarian assistance. This right is derived from a number of legal norms and rules that are part of international law. More specifically, international humanitarian law contains a number of relevant provisions on access to assistance and on the ‘protection of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population’ (1977 Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions). Humanitarian agencies may consider promoting respect for the relevant laws (see also Protection Principle 3, guidance notes 3–4).

    Ensuring non-discrimination
  6. Impartiality: Humanitarian agencies should prioritise the affected people they wish to assist on the basis of their need alone and provide assistance in proportion to need. This is the principle of impartiality affirmed in the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief (see Annex 2 and also the Humanitarian Charter). Humanitarian agencies should not focus uniquely on a particular group (e.g. displaced people in camps) if this focus is at the detriment of another section of the affected population.
  7. Affected people do not need to have a special legal status in order to receive humanitarian assistance and to be protected.