ATHA

Published: 
November, 2016

Negotiations for access are crucial for the success of humanitarian operations. They also occur in contexts of armed conflict and violence that typically entrench gender identities. Building on the vast research showing that gender affects the conduct and outcome of negotiations, this paper explores gender dynamics in a humanitarian setting. After outlining its methodology and surveying the relevant literature, this paper sketches out the ways 21 practitioners at the International Committee of the Red Cross see gender dynamics affecting their work in the field.

Published: 
October, 2016

This paper presents an overview of key challenges and dilemmas faced in the protection of humanitarian action and aims to provide an initial overview of the legal, policy, and operational trends and issues identified by ATHA through its ongoing research and discussions with practitioners. On the basis of this analysis, this paper addresses three key areas. The first section highlights knowledge and questions regarding security incidents, trends, and causes of violence, including around causes and motives for attacks, and tensions between individual and collective responses.

Published: 
December, 2015

This briefing note aims to support the humanitarian sector’s efforts to apply a deeper level of analytical and strategic thinking to humanitarian negotiation. Toward this end, it provides an overview of how the rich body of literature focused on negotiations in other contexts—political, commercial, and legal settings, for example—can inform our understanding of humanitarian negotiation.

Published: 
September, 2015

What challenges are inherent for humanitarian practitioners when operating in a context of transition from protracted conflict to peace? This paper examines this question, focusing on Colombia as a case study. As a result of the decades long conflict in Colombia, as well as natural disasters, a host of serious humanitarian concerns persist in the country.

Published: 
July, 2015

Humanitarian professionals working in complex environments face increasing threats and attacks that endanger their lives, violate international humanitarian law, and jeopardize the consistent and effective delivery of emergency relief to populations in need.

Published: 
June, 2015

Negotiations are crucial for the overall success of humanitarian operations, yet these endeavors are inherently challenging. Given both the importance of humanitarian negotiations and the gravity of the difficulties faced, what is the capacity of the humanitarian sector to carry forward lessons learned from past negotiations? This paper addresses this question. Specifically, this paper examines the field of humanitarian negotiation as a unique professional domain that has encountered common challenges across different geographic contexts.

Published: 
March, 2015

The prolonged conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has often been mischaracterized by a persistent narrative featuring women as perpetual victims of systemic sexual violence and male rebel groups as perpetrators. This incomplete understanding of the situation has resulted in failures to engage in effective and sustainable Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programs in the DRC.

Published: 
January, 2008

A vital component of humanitarian action is the coordination among all actors involved in the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Coordination within this field allows for the most efficient, cost effective, and successful operations possible. Groups seeking access to beneficiary populations often share the same objectives in regards to addressing human need and allaying suffering, but wide variance in such principle elements as organizational structure, technical and/or geographic expertise, mission, mandate, and political interest may hinder or prevent natural coordination on the field.

Published: 
June, 2007

This paper examines the relationship between the legal framework of international humanitarian law (IHL) and civil society actors operating in conflict situations. Attention is paid to assessing the manner in which the latter can play a role in strengthening the humanitarian dimension of the former. Brief introductory comments are warranted so as to situate the debate, in which non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in a conflict zone are adopted as the primary unit of analysis.

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Despite the significant growth of the humanitarian sector in recent years - now employing over 250,000 professionals - practitioners often express concerns over the lack of clarity, predictability or support in establishing and maintaining a humanitarian career.

Games, simulations, and role-playing exercises have become an important component of capacity building endeavors across the humanitarian sector. Additionally—as reflected in the International Committee of the Red Cross’s (ICRC’s) work with video game developers to ensure that certain violent video games accurately reflect norms of international humanitarian law (IHL)—games can be an important avenue toward disseminating knowledge and awareness of IHL and humanitarianism.

Humanitarian agencies project that more than 20 million people are at risk of severe food insecurity, starvation, and famine this summer in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Northeastern Nigeria. Common to all these contexts is the onset and prevalence of armed conflict. Furthermore, WFP has reported that every percentage point increase in food insecurity leads to an almost two percent increase in migration. The United Nations Secretary-General recently declared that $4.4 billion of funding is needed by July to stave off famine in these countries.

How much responsibility do humanitarian organizations have to protect the staff they send into the field? Due to the often austere, volatile, or insecure nature of humanitarian response settings, aid workers have long recognized the inherent personal and organizational risks of humanitarian action. Yet increasing threats and attacks against humanitarian actors in various emergency settings have spurred renewed debate over organizational responsibilities to protect not only civilian populations, but also their own staff.

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.

After over five years of war in Syria, civilians have not only been frequently caught in the crossfire, but have been intentionally targeted. According to an array of sources, homes, schools, hospitals, places of worship and cultural heritage have been destroyed - in particular during the recent siege of Aleppo - and civilians have been subjected to sexual violence, enslavement, terrorism, and other incidents.

What role do humanitarian law and norms play in humanitarian negotiations? Practitioners have diverse array of views: some field workers perceive that the law holds a high level of practical utility in their negotiations, while others have found it to be irrelevant to their work.

In many of today’s frontline humanitarian environments, access is increasingly difficult to obtain and maintain, and continued engagement with non-state armed actors is an integral aspect of ensuring assistance and protection activities and advocating for compliance with international legal standards.

Personal relationships and trust-building constitute critical dimensions of frontline humanitarian negotiations. In order to operate effectively, in many contexts, humanitarian organizations must first ensure that they are accepted by the parties to a conflict, and establish and maintain an ongoing relationship with counterparts. Moreover, frontline negotiations occur in contexts of armed conflict or other types of violence that often accentuate or exacerbate the relevancy of personal identities such as gender, culture, ethnicity, religion, and age.

The Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) recently signed peace accords bringing an end to 52 years of violent conflict. For his efforts to negotiate and conclude the peace deal, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize on October 7. Yet on October 2, Colombian voters rejected the deal by a narrow margin in a national referendum, putting the peace process back in limbo.

On August 24, 2016 the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, commonly referred to as the FARC, signed a peace deal after 52 years of internal conflict. This peace deal marks a potential end to the over half century of violence that has killed over 220,000 Colombians and displaced more than six million.

Recent high-profile attacks on humanitarian professionals and operations in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, among others, call attention to the growing vulnerabilities of humanitarian staff and medical operations at the frontlines. These attacks endanger lives, violate international humanitarian law, and jeopardize the effective delivery of emergency relief to populations in need. In such contexts, humanitarian organizations face difficult legal and operational challenges in reaching populations, while ensuring protection of their own staff and local partners from targeted violence.

Humanitarian actors increasingly find themselves in contexts where the application of the norms and concepts of international humanitarian law (IHL) is contested. In particular, those working in possible situations of non-international armed conflict are often faced with the fact that it can be far from clear whether or not there exists a situation of armed conflict, which is required for the application of IHL.

On August 24, 2016 the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, commonly referred to as the FARC, signed a peace deal after 52 years of internal conflict. This peace deal marks a potential end to the over half century of violence that has killed over 220,000 Colombians and displaced more than six million.

In this practitioner profile, ATHA is joined by Sareta Ashraph, Chief Analyst on the Commission of Inquiry on the Syria crisis since May 2012. The Commission was established by the UN Human Rights Council in August 2011 to investigate and document violations of international law in Syria.

The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) convened 9,000 representatives from humanitarian agencies, governments, crisis-affected communities, and the private sector. Driven by a consensus that the current humanitarian system is unable to cope with the intensifying needs of populations affected by conflict and disaster, the WHS aimed to take stock of the achievements and failed interventions of a sector confronted with rapidly evolving challenges and recommit stakeholders to the foundational principles of humanitarian assistance, protection, and institutional reform.

The World Humanitarian Summit, held in Istanbul on May 23-24, 2016, was guided by a framework articulated by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s “Agenda for Humanity,” focusing on areas such as preventing and ending conflicts, enhancing promotion of community resilience, proactive emergency planning, and inter-organizational coordination. In this Practitioner Profile, ATHA is joined by Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, Under Secretary General for Partnerships at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Dr.

Amidst recurring violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), strengthening compliance with these international norms is indispensable to the protection of civilians in armed conflict. While improvements in accountability have been brought over recent decades to the international judiciary response, particularly with the establishment of the International Criminal Court and Special Tribunals, these mechanisms also face inherent limitations.

Two years of conflict in the Donbas region of Ukraine has continued to intensify since early March of this year. An estimated 3.1 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, particularly in terms of protection, unimpeded access of humanitarian agencies, continuous supply of water, food and emergency shelter, and other critical services.

Recurring violence against civilians and humanitarian aid workers affects both the quantity and quality of protection and assistance reaching the most vulnerable populations. It also requires a reassessment of how humanitarian professionals plan and strategically implement aid delivery in insecure environments. Global data indicate that there is a relatively small pool of international aid agencies that consistently work in the most dangerous countries, and not enough to meet demand. This results in significant gaps in assistance where it is needed most.

Armed conflict affects men, women, girls and boys in fundamentally different ways, often exacerbating pre-existing gender inequalities in society. In this context, how well does international humanitarian law (IHL) account for these differences in the protection of vulnerable populations in situations of conflict?

This year, hundreds of thousands of people crossed the Mediterranean and Europe’s eastern borders seeking refuge. But while global attention was fixed on the boats struggling through the waves, or huddled behind barbed-wire borders, little thought has been given to what happens next. Europe will soon find itself facing the dilemma of how to manage its newest residents - a challenge that Morocco has already faced. 

We are in the same boat.

As the numbers of migrants and refugees entering Europe continue to increase, data collection and analysis, particularly through mobile technology, social media, and crowdsourcing, provide humanitarian actors with key insights into critical protection gaps and emerging trends. Yet the growing use of information technology over the last decade has also introduced new concerns regarding the ethics, security, and utility of data for the humanitarian sector.

Resilience is an increasingly debated concept among humanitarian and development actors assisting communities impacted by natural disasters and armed conflict. Generally, there is acknowledgement of the need to strengthen individual, community and institutional mechanisms for coping with violence. Yet there is little agreement as to what resilience actually means, especially in the context of communities affected by conflict. Some consider resilience to be an end goal, while others consider it to be a process of adaptation.

Colombia is on the verge of transition, as negotiators near agreement on a peace deal to end the country’s decades-long armed conflict between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. With this optimism about peace, however, comes recognition of the country’s manifold humanitarian challenges. Over 6 million Colombians have been internally displaced, for instance, the second largest population of IDPs in the world. As such, the humanitarian consequences of the conflict are likely to persist well into a post-conflict phase.

In conversations with key experts and practitioners in the field, this podcast will explore perspectives on humanitarian engagement with non-state armed groups with a focus on challenges of access. Using contemporary examples such as Afghanistan and Yemen, the panelists will discuss key dilemmas of access faced by humanitarian aid workers in the field and reflect on practical and policy solutions that may be developed in order to ensure proximity to civilian populations in need.

In this episode, ATHA's Anaide Nahikian speaks with Stuart Campo, Innovation Deployment Specialist withUNICEF's Global Innovation Center.

A global refugee crisis is rapidly unfolding in Europe. Driven by protracted conflicts and persecution in countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Eritrea, increasing numbers of refugees are making the dangerous journey in smugglers’ boats across the Mediterranean toward Greece and other European shores. European Union (EU) governments, international humanitarian organizations, and local agencies are struggling to address the influx of hundreds of thousands of displaced arriving at their borders.

In this episode, ATHA's Julia Brooks speaks with Raquel Vazquez Llorente, Researcher at the European Interagency Security Forum (EISF). They discuss changes in the operational environment and security risks for humanitarian actors, organizational responses to humanitarian action in insecure settings, and the implications of new information and communications technologies for humanitarian acceptance.

In this episode, ATHA's Anaïde Nahikian speaks with Louise Bloom, Research Officer at the Humanitarian Innovation Project at the University of Oxford, and Professor Alexander Betts, Director of the Refugee Studies Centre, also at the University of Oxford.

In this episode, ATHA's Anaïde Nahikian speaks with Melissa Fleming, Chief of Communications and Spokesperson for the High Commissioner, at UNHCR, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They discuss the priorities for UNHCR in addressing the key drivers of vulnerability for displaced populations, and the generational consequences of protracted refugee crises -- looking particularly at the conflict in Syria and the Mediterranean migration crisis.

Each year on August 19th, the international community observes World Humanitarian Day, marking the tragic occasion of the bombing of the UN headquarters in the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq in 2003 in which 22 staff members and visitors were killed. As we commemorate the lives lost in the pursuit of humanitarian action around the globe, and the continued risks to aid workers in the field, what have we learned since 2003?

Given that aid workers frequently operate in complex and insecure settings, some risks are inherent to humanitarian action. Nonetheless, recent years have seen a significant increase, in absolute terms, in deliberate attacks against humanitarian professionals. Furthermore, most aid workers do not benefit from specific protection under international law. While aid agencies and workers take steps to protect themselves through negotiations and by building acceptance or taking protective and deterrent measures, significant gaps remain in their protection from targeted violence.

A core tension persists in the humanitarian sector surrounding the role that negotiation plays in humanitarian action. On the one hand, many feel that humanitarians have nothing to negotiate, that humanitarian action is rooted in humanitarian principles - humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence - which are non-negotiable. On the other hand, a reality of humanitarian field operations is that negotiations are a crucial and perpetual component of gaining and maintaining access to affected populations, protecting the security of staff, and cooperating with local actors.

In the 12 days since the magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Nepal on 25 April 2015, the international community has witnessed the resulting death toll climb upwards of 7,300 people, with another 14,300 injured, in the midst of aftershocks up to magnitudes of 6.7. According to preliminary assessments, over 8 million people are currently affected in 39 out of Nepal’s 75 districts, and an estimated 2.8 million people are displaced.

Over 50 years of internal armed conflict, along with urban violence, have fueled a persistent humanitarian crisis in Colombia. Approximately 12% of the population (5.7 million people) is internally displaced, and many people are dually affected by waves of intensifying conflict and natural disasters, such as flooding.

The past several decades have seen a dramatic proliferation of monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding (MRF) missions mandated by governments and international organizations. In the recent session of the United Nations Human Rights Council alone, the Council discussed the most recent report of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, an oral report from the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea, as well as reports from special rapporteurs on Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Myanmar, and the Palestinian territories.

Especially in complex humanitarian emergencies, effective civil-military coordination can be crucial to maintaining humanitarian access, protecting civilians, and managing the security of aid workers. After all, military forces often play a lead role in response to natural disasters or conflicts. Yet “civ-mil” coordination poses a number of challenges, particularly in terms of preserving the neutrality, impartiality and independence of humanitarian operations while operating alongside militaries.

As humanitarian leaders united in Davos this year at the World Economic Forum, one message was clear: the humanitarian system is strained, and increased collaboration with the private sector is crucial for enhancing capacity to respond to the protracted, complex crises currently confronting the humanitarian sector.

Climate change and environmental degradation are increasingly becoming a humanitarian issue. Variability in climate, as well as in increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, is disrupting livelihoods, driving displacement, and contributing to conflicts over increasingly limited natural resources.

Recent high-profile attacks on humanitarian professionals in Syria and Iraq call attention to a disturbing trend: humanitarian agencies face growing threats and attacks on their staff. These attacks endanger their lives, violate international humanitarian law, and jeopardize the effective delivery of emergency relief to populations in need. Violence against humanitarian aid workers reached record highs in 2013, with 155 aid workers killed globally. So far this year, at least 82 more have been killed.

On World Refugee Day this year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people worldwide has exceeded 50 million people. Humanitarian organizations are currently struggling to address the needs of these displaced populations, due primarily to protracted armed conflict and other situations of violence.

It is estimated that half of the world’s population currently resides in urban areas, and this number is expected to rise to 5 billion by 2030, with the largest cities emerging in Africa and Asia. Rapid urbanization has led to increased density, overcrowding, and strain on local infrastructure and public services. This, in turn, has reduced the security of urban dwellers, and magnified their vulnerabilities to natural disaster and violent conflict. Along with growing mass urbanization has come an unprecedented level of violence and crime in densely populated slums and shantytowns.

The dynamics of contemporary conflicts have made the way in which international actors understand and support local agencies increasingly important. As we have seen, states have become much more assertive in the way in which they relate to humanitarian actors and the building of local capacity is not simply good humanitarian practice but, ultimately, necessary to reach affected populations. However, humanitarian action has grown into an international industry and must contend with the variety of political and bureaucratic considerations that accompany such growth.

Faith-based humanitarian organizations have played a central role in responding to humanitarian needs for centuries. While deeply rooted in principles of faith and charity, these organizations also represent a community of influential donors. As such, they are uniquely positioned to lead programs in assistance, protection, and advocacy in complex humanitarian environments.

The Syrian refugee crisis represents one of the greatest humanitarian challenges the international community has faced over recent years, prompting record-high levels of international assistance and programming. The ongoing conflict has generated the displacement of over two million refugees since the beginning of the conflict, resulting in one of the largest, regional refugee crises in recent history.

Recent scientific and technological advances have given rise to unprecedented means and methods of warfare. Some of these new technologies — such as observation and combat drones — are already in use, while others — for example, nanotechnologies, combat robots, and laser weapons — are still in experimental stages. These developments have, and will continue to, profoundly change the ways that modern actors engage in armed conflict. On the one hand, these technologies can not only limit civilian losses but also can spare the lives of combatants.

Presented in partnership with Médecins Sans Frontières. Despite the Yemeni Government’s commitment to the 2014 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan and ongoing efforts toward a sustainable political transition, the country’s humanitarian situation remains dire.

In the year 2008, for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population was living in urban areas. Cities have become more numerous, more populous, and denser. The complexity and density of urban environments significantly alter the viability of certain humanitarian protection strategies that might work well in rural, more sparsely populated areas. In addition, it has become difficult to draw the line between acute and chronic vulnerability and therefore, the identification of beneficiaries.

The performance of the international humanitarian system has been under the scrutiny of a number of evaluative reports in recent months – particularly in relation to its actions and inactions in Sri Lanka, 2009. Notably, the reports present a steadfast recognition that lessons must be learned within and across organizations. However, how such conclusions will be integrated in practice still remains unclear.

Humanitarian actors have increasingly recognized that successful disaster risk reduction (DRR) projects must be conceived as long-term, holistic initiatives geared toward enhancing the ways that states and societies approach resilience. Additionally, the humanitarian sector has learned that the success of long-term projects hinges on the participation of an actively engaged local community.

A central tenet of international humanitarian assistance is to fulfill the needs of a population unmet by the state in time of crisis. As such, a great deal of importance is placed upon how this need is calculated, how the collection of information might be standardized, and how the gathered information might be better shared. Despite this emphasis, it is unclear to what extent this information is used by operational decision makers. Indeed, action on the basis of need is seen as the hallmark of professionalism in the humanitarian community.

As the Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA) 2012 Report notes, humanitarian needs in 2011 decreased from those of the previous year. Financing requests dropped by 21% and the overall funding response decreased by 9% from 2010 to 2011. However, despite this shift, the gap in unmet financing widened.

As the planet warms, the vulnerability of communities in less developed countries rises. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in 2008, 20 million people were displaced by climate-related sudden onset disasters. Additionally, as AlertNet reports, in 2011, floods, typhoons, and earthquakes caused over $274 billion of economic losses in Asia alone.

During the humanitarian reform process launched in 2005, humanitarian actors introduced early recovery as a humanitarian cluster to facilitate policy linkages between humanitarian relief and development. However, the scope of the early recovery cluster has since broadened to encompass a host of additional transitional activities — including stabilization and peacebuilding — relevant to post-conflict contexts.

Despite improvements in the coordination and delivery of humanitarian assistance in recent decades, armed conflict remains a leading public health concern. Mortality rates have declined in camps for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP), but overcrowding in camps, limited supplies of potable water, and poor sanitation have still contributed to some of the worst outbreaks of communicable diseases in history. Furthermore, some humanitarian professionals have expressed concern that health-care provision in conflict is based on an outmoded model of humanitarian relief.

The scope and character of peace-building and stabilization missions significantly affect the work of humanitarian actors. Across a range of contexts, humanitarian actors must balance principled action alongside considerations of peace. An operational format that gained traction in Boutros-Ghali’s 1992 “Agenda for Peace,” peace-building encompasses dimensions of peace-making, peacekeeping, and development.

Human rights norms are playing an increasingly important role in humanitarian action. Yet there seems to be a growing confusion on the distinct origins and nuances of these bodies of law among practitioners engaged in humanitarian protection.

Humanitarian organizations face an inevitable tension that arises from two separate accountability structures. One framework, established by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, holds organizations accountable to host states and donor states. A second framework, the human rights based approach, calls for accountability to individuals affected by hostilities.

In 2000, the Brahimi Report on United Nations (UN) Peace Operationsproposed a set of sweeping reforms geared toward building integrated UN peacekeeping missions. These proposals ushered in a series of structural changes — such as creating Special Representatives to the Secretary General (SRSG) and Humanitarian and Resident Coordinators — designed to enhance the strategic impact of UN missions.

The humanitarian reform process, initiated by the United Nations in 2005, aimed to remedy gaps in humanitarian operations and improve the timeliness, effectiveness, and predictability of aid delivery.

In recent years, humanitarian organizations have seen a rise in constraints on their access to vulnerable populations in times of conflict or internal disturbance. While international law provides important bases for humanitarian NGOs to obtain access to populations in need, it also imposes clear responsibilities on humanitarian organizations in terms of the maintenance of a neutral, independent and impartial approach to such situations. States remain primarily responsible for the provision of emergency assistance to their populations.

Humanitarians are continually charged with the reevaluation of their work based on the evolution of conflicts and disasters. No longer satisfied with simply providing relief in times of crisis, the frontier of humanitarian action has expanded to include not only life-saving assistance but also prevention and rehabilitation activities. However, this change in scope calls into question the classical distinction between relief and development programs, the core principles of humanitarianism, and how professionals conduct operations in the field.

According to ALNAP there are currently over 200,000 individuals working in humanitarian assistance and protection globally. Growing at a pace of 6% per year, this workforce is expected to double in size by 2020. Members of the workforce are composed in majority of professionals from the Global South with their specific needs in terms of professional development and limited access to traditional educational opportunities.

According to the Sphere Standards, disaster-affected populations should actively participate into the design, implementation and evaluation of humanitarian programs. Necessitating the involvement of beneficiaries is viewed as a way to lessen the inherent dependency in the aid relationship and inform the decisions of humanitarian planners and managers.

Unit 1.1 of ATHA's International Humanitarian Law DIstance Learning Series explores the primary sources, development, and scope of application of IHL. Also covers the qualification of armed conflict and the interplay between IHL and international human rights law (IHRL).

Unit 1.2 of ATHA's International Humanitarian Law Distance Learning Module Series presents An overview and discussion of the key principles of IHL – distinction, proportionality, military necessity, precaution and the reduction of superfluous injury and unnecessary harm – as well as the rules for targeting individuals and objects, and special protection under IHL.

Unit 1.3 of ATHA's International Humanitarian Law Distance Learning Series examines IHL implementation and enforcement mechanisms, transitional justice, and the challenges of humanitarian engagement with the implementation and enforcement of IHL.