Frontline negotiations: support for humanitarian organisations

Negotiations in Colombia

Negotiations in Colombia, © Getty Images / ICRC

26.11.2019 - Article

It is often difficult for relief organisations to get through to people in need. Aid workers frequently have to negotiate with armed parties in conflict areas. A conference is being held to enhance their negotiating skills.

It is often difficult for humanitarian organisations to gain access to people in need. Sometimes it’s bureaucratic obstacles that impede access to those in need, but sometimes it’s physical, almost impassable road blocks. Time and again aid workers have to negotiate access to conflict areas – sometimes with armed non-state actors. They also face targeted attacks every day. Deliveries often cannot get through unimpeded and “taxes” are imposed at checkpoints. Aid workers frequently have to weigh up their own safety against trying to save people in Need.

Humanitarian negotiating also plays an important role in Israel
Humanitarian negotiating also plays an important role in Israel© ICRC

The ability to negotiate with various stakeholders and with armed parties in conflict areas is becoming ever more important. That’s why the Federal Foreign Office is hosting a conference on Strengthening the Capability of Humanitarian Organisations to Negotiate on the Frontlines on 26 and 27 November. The event is being organised jointly with the Centre of Competence on Humanitarian Negotiation (CCHN). The aim of the conference is to strengthen the capabilities of humanitarian organisations’ field teams to enable them to successfully conduct humanitarian negotiations in conflict situations. Guest speakers are to include Peter Maurer, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

Assistance must get through to where it is most urgently needed

Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance at the Federal Foreign Office, commented as follows:

Humanitarian workers must not become targets themselves, nor may their access to people in need be impeded. That is why we are taking steps to improve the skills of aid workers to negotiate with the widest possible range of actors in humanitarian crises.

Protecting humanitarian space

Humanitarian negotiating in Ukraine
Humanitarian negotiating in Ukraine© Anastasia Vlasova / UNHCR

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) established the Centre of Competence on Humanitarian Negotiation (CCHN) in 2016. The Centre is dedicated to strengthening negotiation tools for humanitarian actors worldwide.

In addition, Germany and France have put the protection of humanitarian space on the agenda for their twin presidencies of the UN Security Council. The aim is to help humanitarian organisations gain easier and quicker access to people in Need.


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