Protection of Humanitarian Action Series: On Speaking Out

Deliberate violence against humanitarian practitioners and operations poses an increasingly critical challenge to the humanitarian sector as humanitarian needs continue to grow in many regions of the world. While maintaining access to populations in need, engaging with communities, and delivering life-saving humanitarian assistance, organizations must also take care to protect the safety and security of their staff, and to prevent and mitigate instances of targeted violence. When attacks do occur, however, humanitarian practitioners and organizations often face a difficult tension between the inclination to condemn these violations on the one hand, and the imperative to protect staff and maintain operations and access to affected populations, on the other. For some agencies, advocacy and denunciation provide a central component of work, of testimony and bearing witness. For others, advocacy and campaigning may represent a risk to operations, to ensuring access, or to maintaining critical relationships on the ground.

In this context, we’ll speak with experts and practitioners about the risks and rewards of speaking out against targeted attacks, versus not doing so, and how to better equip organizations and professionals to make such difficult decisions. What hinders organizations from engaging in advocacy efforts on the protection of humanitarian action? What does appropriate and effective advocacy look like? How can humanitarian organizations resist the normalization of violence against humanitarian action, and also uphold their duty of care to affected staff - without exposing staff and partners on the ground to further risks?

March, 2017