Towards a Principled Approach to Engagement with Non-State Armed Groups for Humanitarian Purposes

About the author(s):

Katharine Fortin is an Associate Professor at Utrecht University where she teaches IHL and IHRL. Before joining Utrecht University, she worked at the ICTY, ICC and Norton Rose Fulbright. She is the author of The Accountability of Armed Groups under Human Rights Law (Oxford University Press, 2017) which won the 2018 Lieber Prize. She has written widely about the framework of law that applies to armed groups in non-international armed conflicts and is one of the editors of the Armed Groups and International Law blog.

Chatham House has just published a new briefing entitled Towards a Principled Approach to Engagement with Non-State Armed Groups for Humanitarian Purposes written by Michael Keating and Patricia Lewis.

The briefing, which includes a set of emerging core propositions, is based on research and consultations undertaken by Chatham House with a view to understanding the dynamics that will determine support for a principle-based approach to engagement by humanitarian actors with NSAGs. The briefing (which can be found at the above link) makes the following core conclusions:-

  1. The challenge of meeting the humanitarian needs of people affected by conflict in areas controlled by non-state armed groups (NSAGs) is growing in complexity.
  2. States – whether party to or supporting a party to a conflict, or aid donors – can fund, facilitate, complicate or block humanitarian organizations’ responses to these needs as well as their engagement with NSAGs for operational purposes.
  3. A wide range of factors determine states’ policies and actions, such as: political, military and counterterrorism objectives; the number, character and behaviour of NSAGs; the mandates, actions, and other parties’ experiences with and perceptions of humanitarian organizations; security and socio-economic conditions; the relative financial importance of aid; and public opinion, local or international, with regard to humanitarian suffering and need.
  4. Many humanitarian organizations are seeking greater clarity both from donor states and from states party to conflict regarding the basis on which consent will be provided, or at least not withheld, for their engagement with NSAGs.
  5. More realistic will be an ongoing dialogue among states on the principles that determine operationalization of consent consistent with international humanitarian law (IHL) for humanitarian operations including in areas under the control of NSAGs. This dialogue would benefit from input by humanitarian organizations and, where appropriate, NSAGs or former NSAGs.
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