Humanitarian organizations operate in increasingly hostile environments. Although authoritative statistics are scarce, anecdotal evidence suggests that aid workers face life-threatening risks that are exacerbated by the growing number of humanitarian organizations operating in the field with varying mandates, without common professional security standards and with limited success with inter-agency security coordination. The ability of humanitarian organizations to fulfill their mandates in the future, will be depend in part on their individual success in improving internal security management practices and in finding ways to coordinate their efforts on building common security standards and security coordination across agencies. To meet this challenge, humanitarian organizations must implement improved security management methods and finds ways to coordinate their security operations and planning. Despite broad acceptance of the need to develop better security management and coordination, many humanitarian organizations remain ambivalent about coordinating their security activities and few have instituted robust measures for improving their own security management practices. Further, efforts to improve security management practices are hampered by a critical lack of basic empirical knowledge about the field security environment. In discussions about humanitarian staff safety and security, the least common denominator continues to be cumulative anecdotal evidence provided by the many security personnel working for humanitarian organizations in the field. This policy brief reviews the literature on humanitarian organization security management, highlighting common misconceptions about the field security environment, reviews the main structural and procedural issues impeding more effective security management, and illustrates why current initiatives to improve security management practices will remain only partial successes if they do not include a serious effort to replace anecdotal reporting on the field security environment with systematic collection and analysis of field security data. It argues that staff security requires a common professional approach based on sound security expertise adapted to meet the operational needs of humanitarian organizations. A model is developed for creating a network of security professionals responsible for guiding the design and implementation of common security standards and security information sharing protocol.
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. IHL is the field of public international law which regulates the conduct of hostilities, namely restricting the means and methods of warfare available to parties to the conflict, and laying out protections afforded civilians and those no longer taking part in hostilities (hors de combat). State-centric in its development, the central tenets of IHL are found in the Hague Regulations of 1907, the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the two Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1977. It is the right of sovereign states to decide which treaty-based international legal obligations they adopt regarding the legal regulation of the conduct of armed conflicts, however a number of legal provisions of IHL have attained the status of customary international law, and are thus binding on all parties to the conflict. This raises questions in regards to the status of non-state actors under international humanitarian law. The legal position of such actors, which for the purpose of this paper will focus on international organizations and non-governmental organizations, warrants close examination.
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. This brief focuses on the dynamics of humanitarian coordination in the context of humanitarian assistance, and the main elements of coordination in the field. For the purposes of this paper, coordination is defined as a “systematic utilization of policy instruments to deliver humanitarian assistance in a cohesive and effective manner.” A leading scholar in the field identifies three basic types of coordination: coordination by command, coordination through consensus and coordination by default; and the distinction between the three is important in discerning both the benefits and challenges offered by different approaches to coordination. While United Nations agencies played a central role in the systemization and institutionalization of the idea of coordination, effective coordination requires multi-sectoral and multifaceted perspectives, as well as a dual approach in which the importance of both operational and strategic coordination are recognized. The principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality are central to the provision of humanitarian assistance, and as such, warrant consideration in coordination strategies and policies. Other basic principles and elements of humanitarian coordination include strengthening the capacity of local actors, transparency and accountability, and mutual commitment and cooperation between the different actors. There are a variety of existing mechanisms designed to enhance and facilitate coordination between organizations providing assistance in a given context. These mechanisms range in function from enhancing coordination within and among groups to identifying gaps in responses as well as addressing important concerns relating to funding. While there are many challenges to implementation of coordination strategies, as well as concerns regarding the potential for increased bureaucracy in an already complex system, the benefits to coordination can be tremendous. Not only are humanitarian operations improved through the development and implementation of coordination strategies and mechanisms, but, more critically, the beneficiary population also gains from better coordinated activities.
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. The next section then explores the role of the humanitarian principles, and the perceptions of humanitarian actors, in affecting their security in the field. Building on this, the final section examines the protection of humanitarian action under international law, and the impunity gap resulting from effective implementation or enforcement of the law. The purpose of this paper is to provide key background information and to serve as a starting point for dialogue and reflection on the protection of humanitarian action from attack. It is based on research and consultations with experts and humanitarian practitioners in the field.
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. In light of these issues, this paper explores challenges and opportunities related to the predominant organizational approaches to the protection of aid workers in complex and insecure environments, and highlights often overlooked disparities in the risks faced by different groups of humanitarian professionals based on their status as national or international staff, gender, and organizational affiliation. It argues that insufficient attention has thus far been paid to the significance of these disparities and their implications for operational security and effectiveness. Furthermore, it highlights significant fragmentation and gaps in the protection of aid workers under international law and the culture of impunity prevailing for perpetrators of such attacks. It then examines the recent trends in humanitarian security management — namely, acceptance, protection, and deterrence. Finally, it offers reflections for the humanitarian community on improving the state of knowledge, practice and law with regard to the protection of humanitarian professionals.
This paper examines the dynamics at play in ongoing efforts to cultivate negotiation capacity among professionals working in the humanitarian sector. Based on extensive interviews conducted with humanitarian practitioners, this paper addresses three overarching issues. The first is humanitarian professionals' current understanding of humanitarian negotiation as a concept. On this issue, the paper examines the difficulties of defining humanitarian negotiation and the competing answers to the question of how to conceptually delineate humanitarian negotiation as an activity. The second is the types of negotiation capacity—cognitive, emotional, social, and cultural—that humanitarian practitioners deem to be relevant to their work. The third is the difficulties likely to be faced as capacity building efforts in this field continue to unfold. Overall, this paper aims to paint a portrait of the state of humanitarian negotiation capacity building, as well as what will be needed moving forward.