Code of Conduct

UAVs offer the potential to improve humanitarian assistance and disaster reduction. As such, they offer the possibility to better meet the needs of those affected by humanitarian crises. This can only be realized if UAVs are employed in a responsible and ethical manner. This Code of Conduct, aims to guide all actors involved in the use of UAVs to support the delivery of humanitarian assistance in disasters and situations of conflict.

Acceptance and adherence to this Code will contribute to safety, professionalism and increased impact while building public confidence in the use of UAVs. The Code of Conduct will be revisited as experience grows and technology further develops. The Humanitarian UAVs Best Practices Report (available here) will also be updated as needed. Note that this Code of Conduct is a standalone document. The supporting, theme-based Guidelines are separate and distinct from this Code of Conduct.

Naturally, how the Guidelines are applied may differ depending on whether UAVs are used to support humanitarian action in response to a natural disaster or armed conflict. That being said, UAV deployments in either context must observe the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. UAV missions must also be legal, safe and have adequate insurance. The use of UAVs to support humanitarian action should be carried out for humanitarian purposes only and with the best interest of affected people and communities in mind, and should adhere to the humanitarian imperative of doing no harm. 

Download the PDF of the Code of Conduct & Guidelines here.

  1. Prioritize safety above all other concerns: humanitarian benefits should clearly outweigh risks to persons or properties.
  2. Identify the most appropriate solution: only operate UAVs when more effective means are not available and when humanitarian purposes are clear, such as the assessment of needs and the response thereto. UAV missions should be informed by humanitarian professionals and experts in UAV operations with direct knowledge of the local context.
  3. Respect the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence: prioritize UAV missions based on needs and vulnerabilities, make sure actions are not, and not perceived as being, politically or economically influenced; do not discriminate or make distinctions on the basis of nationality, race, gender, religious belief, class or political opinions.
  4. Do no harm: assess and mitigate potential unintended consequences that UAV operations may have on affected communities and humanitarian action.
  5. Operate with relevant permissions: UAV operations must be in compliance with relevant international and domestic law, and applicable regulatory frameworks including customs, aviation, liability and insurance, telecoms, data protection and others. Where national laws do not exist, operators shall adhere to the ICAO RPAS Circular 328-AN/190 with the approval of national authorities.
  6. Engage with communities: community engagement is important and obligatory. Developing trust and engaging local communities encourages active partnership, builds local capacities and leadership and enhances the impact of your mission. Information should continuously be provided to communities regarding the intent and use of UAVs. Refer to Humanitarian UAV Community Engagement Guidelines.
  7. Be responsible: contingency plans should always be in place for unintended consequences. UAV teams must take responsibility for and resolve any issues involving harm to people and property, including liability.
  8. Coordinate to increase effectiveness: seek out and liaise with relevant local and international actors and authorities. UAV teams must not interfere with and always seek to complement formal humanitarian coordination mechanisms or operations.
  9. Consider environmental implications: operating UAVs should not pose undue risk to the natural environment and wildlife. UAV operators must take responsibility for any negative environmental impact their mission causes
  10. Be conflict sensitive: all interventions in conflict zones become part of conflict dynamics and can result in very serious unintended consequences, including the loss of life. Extraordinary caution must be used in deploying UAVs in conflict zones. Refer to Humanitarian UAV Conflict Zones Guidelines.
  11. Collect, use, manage and store data responsibly: collect, store, share and discard data ethically using a needs-based approach, applying informed consent where possible and employing mitigation measures where it is not. The potential for information to put individuals or communities at risk if shared or lost must be assessed and measures taken to mitigate that risk (e.g. limit or cease collection or sharing). Refer to Humanitarian UAV Data Ethics Guidelines.
  12. Develop effective partnerships in preparation and for and in response to crises: work with groups that offer complementary skill sets (humanitarian action, UAV operations, local context, data analysis, communications) during, and preferably in advance of crises. Refer to Humanitarian UAV Effective Partnerships Guidelines.
  13. Be transparent: share flight activities as widely as possible, ideally publicly, as appropriate to the context. Convey lessons or issues to communities, relevant authorities and coordinating bodies as early as possible.
  14. Contribute to learning: carry out and share any evaluations and after action reviews to inform the betterment of UAV use for humanitarian action.
  15. Be open and collaborative: coordination is a multi-stakeholder process. This means that lessons learned and best practices on the use and coordination of UAVs in humanitarian settings must remain open and transparent along with any related workshops, trainings and simulations.