This Diploma offers professionals a critical understanding of the humanitarian system and response learning from history and various other disciplines and an ability to contextualize humanitarian action in today’s world. It explores the role of humanitarianism in the way the world is governed today, as well as the political economy at play in relationships between States, non-State actors, international organisations, international and local non-governmental organizations and affected populations. Finally, the program addresses the postcolonial dynamics of past and present humanitarian interventions to identify new avenues for contemporary and future crises.

The Diploma is a 100% residential programme in Geneva, with intensive face-to-face classes, workshops and external learning activities (visits and conferences).

A printable “course-at-a-glance” document is available here.

Find out more about the Diploma in this article written by the course director, Professor Julie Billaud:

Objectives of the course

At the end of the course, participants will have developed a critical understanding of contemporary humanitarian action informed by academic scholarship, which will enable them to become better informed, and more aware and effective humanitarian practitioners, more autonomous in their decisions.

More specifically, at the end of this course, students will be able to:
• Understand the politico-historical foundations of humanitarianism, the changing nature of humanitarian crises and the various forms of humanitarian action.
• Widen their conception of humanitarianism by acknowledging the existence of other philanthropic, charity and faith-based endeavours
• Understand the ethical, normative and legal aspects of humanitarianism including the overlap between humanitarianism, militarism and sanctions
• Identify the various actors of humanitarian action and understand the political economy of the field
• Conceptualize humanitarianism as a distinct mode of governing and understand its link with border control policies and security regimes.


Around 625 hours of work for the whole diploma, including:

  • 200 hours of face-to-face teaching (lectures, group work, round tables, debates)
  • 100 hours of external learning activities (visits, conferences, film festivals)
  • 325 hours of self-study time (readings, assignments, documentaries)


Structure of the course

Module 1: Humanitarianisms

This module traces the genealogy of secular humanitarianism since the 19th century, to explore historical and political dynamics and mechanics that led to the development of several forms of humanitarianism, including its visual, moral and political economy along the 20th century. It compares what has become the dominant form of humanitarianism with other forms of international solidarity, such as grassroots movements and advocacy networks, or State interventionism, in North-South and East-West perspectives. It also questions the links between faith-based humanitarianism, charity and philanthropy in Western and non-Western contexts.

Module 2: Contexts, Action and Consequences

This module describes the various forms humanitarian action has taken looking at different fields of expertise and disciplines. The module explores the existing silos between areas of interventions and possibilities of integration. The changing nature of humanitarian crises is examined looking at the consequences these changes have had on the humanitarian response, notably the humanitarian-development nexus, the narrative of populations’ resilience and people-centered approaches. Applying concrete analytical tools for understanding risks, the module will offer an opportunity for students to value their experience and develop real-life solutions. Finally, the module will open discussions and debates on how to decolonize the humanitarian system.

Module 3: Revisiting Vulnerabilities and Needs

Using insights from various disciplines (anthropology, global health, international relations) this module asks: What does the principle of humanity mean in practice? What forms of selection, triage and exclusion does the preservation of such a principle entail? By introducing students to key theoretical texts on governmentality, this module revisits two taken for granted notions of humanitarian action (‘needs’ and ‘vulnerabilities’) so as to highlight the implicit representations that inform practices of categorization and the identification of ‘target/key populations’. We explore the politics of indicators, examine emblematic figures of vulnerability and turn the gaze on humanitarian actors so as to understand their ‘need to help’ suffering others but also their need of security while on mission. Finally, we discuss the relationship between violence and vulnerability, explore the dilemmas of triage and discourses of self-help and resilience that inform contemporary interventions.

Module 4: Humanitarian Normativity: Ethics, Norms and Principles

This module discusses the normative aspects of contemporary humanitarianism, using the insights of various disciplines (anthropology, international law, sociology and international relations) within the field of humanitarian studies as well as those of practitioners involved in protection work. It introduces students to the basic principles of international humanitarian law (IHL), Human Rights, refugee law as well as humanitarian ethics. It examines the tensions and contradictions that emerge when humanitarian actors seek to implement IHL in practice. It explores how the world has crossed into new humanitarian frontiers of ethical and legal problematics by analyzing the overlap between humanitarianism and militarism, the links between the politics of security and relief and the relationship between advocacy and transitional justice.

Module 5: The Humanitarians and the Social World of Aidland

This module focuses on the humanitarian milieu in its sociological dimension, on Aidland as a specific transnational field with its – not always explicit – codes of conduct, values and behaviours. It examines the everyday life of humanitarian workers, be they expatriates or local staff, but also the production of internal differences among various humanitarian identities and categories of practitioners. It also questions the boundaries and interactions between humanitarian organisations, as well as between humanitarian workers, affected populations and donors, or through technologies.

DAS dissertation

Throughout the DAS, participants will engage in a series of workshops designed to develop information-gathering and processing, critical thinking, analytical writing and networking skills. These workshops will help participants write three assignments (context analysis and reports) that constitute the core of the dissertation. The overall aim of the DAS dissertation is to stimulate a critical and original reflection on issues linked to humanitarian action through specific writing exercises.

  • The DAS dissertation must be presented by 31 January 2023.




  • Professionals in the humanitarian, development or social sector looking to develop their competencies as well as reflect and capitalise on their experiences
  • Professionals from other sectors who wish to increase their understanding of the humanitarian sector for a potential career change
  • Graduate students with relevant volunteer or intern experience, looking to undertake a postgraduate course with a view to entering the humanitarian sector.

Our audience is typically composed of junior or middle managers, 25-45 years old, previously employed as expatriates or national staff.


30 ECTS credits. Once the students successfully complete the Diploma of Advanced Studies in Humanitarian Action’s full programme according to CERAH requirements, they obtain a joint degree delivered by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID) and the University of Geneva.

  • Prof. Julie Billaud Prof. Julie Billaud Designation: Course Director "Diploma of Advanced Studies in Humanitarian Action"

For more details on the enrollment process visit this page.


  1. a university qualification (bachelor’s degree or equivalent);
  2. at least three years of relevant professional experience;
  3. excellent command of English;
  4. motivation working in the humanitarian sector.

Admission process

Admission is based on the overall quality of the application, including academic achievement, quality of application documents, relevance of previous work experience and English language skills. The Selection Committee examines the quality of the applications and aims to reach a balance between the number of men and women, educational profiles and professional experience, geographical distribution and financial contribution.

Incomplete applications will not be considered.

Language requirements

All classes at the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies are delivered in English. All students must have an excellent command of English. Students whose mother tongue is not English, who do not have secondary or post-secondary qualifications taught in English or who have not spent a minimum of one year studying full-time at a university level in English (please provide transcripts certifying that courses were delivered in English), must provide a certificate to prove their mastery of English. More information on recognised tests and scores is available here.

Enrollment deadlines

  • Regular academic year (starting in September)
    • with scholarship/visa: For candidates who wish to apply for a scholarship and/or who need an entry visa for Switzerland, application deadline is 1 February 2021.
    • All other candidates: 15 December 2020 (early bird discount), 31 May 2021 (final deadline).
    • Candidates without scholarship can also enroll to the Master during the current academic year.

To submit your application:

    • Duly fill in the form on the online enrollment platform
    • Register to the correct programme
    • Upload all requested documents (check your scholarship eligibility beforehand: see Fees & Scholarship)
    • Submit

You will receive a confirmation by e-mail. Should you have any questions, please contact us at

  • Diploma of Advanced Studies in Humanitarian ActionDates 8 September 2022 - 12 December 2023
  • Diploma of Advanced Studies in Humanitarian ActionDuration 13 weeks
  • Diploma of Advanced Studies in Humanitarian ActionLocation Geneva
  • Diploma of Advanced Studies in Humanitarian ActionLanguage English
  • Diploma of Advanced Studies in Humanitarian ActionCREDITS 30 ECTS
  • Fee CHF 8,000
  • Application Deadline 31 May 2022 for non-OCDE countries / 30 June 2022 for OCDE countries
  • If applying for a scholarship Deadline: 1 February 2022