Humanitarian Country Team Position on the Interaction between the Humanitarian Community and Armed Forces Present in Mali

Originally published


Since 11 January 2013 and the deployment of the French Armed Forces as part of ‘Operation Serval’, of troops from the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) and other deployed troops, the humanitarian space has grown increasingly complex and the humanitarian community is now sharing its operational environment with a multitude of armed actors.

This document, based on the principles and international guidelines applicable to complex emergency contexts, developed through a participative and consensual process by the Humanitarian Country Team (HTC), is not intended to substitute the Code of Conduct for Operational Humanitarian Assistance, but complement it.

As a preamble, the HTC recalls that whereas military action supports a political purpose, humanitarian assistance is based on needs and delivered in a neutral, impartial, and independent manner.

In the context of on-going military operations, the strategy for civil-military interaction adopted by the humanitarian community in Mali is one of coexistence. The participation of military personnel in humanitarian and/or cluster meetings is therefore inappropriate. This does not, however, exclude the establishment of minimum essential coordination to allow for the dialogue and interaction necessary to promote humanitarian principles and discuss key issues, such as access or the protection of civilians. Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination (UN-CMCoord) and the Civil-Military Coordination Cell established in Bamako are intended to meet this requirement for a minimal and critical liaison.

In order to ensure respect for the humanitarian principles and protection of the humanitarian space, the distinction between military and humanitarian personnel and activities is essential and necessary. It is thus emphasised that humanitarian teams cannot transport military goods or personnel, and that this cannot be imposed onto them by military actors. Humanitarian workers should never present themselves or their work as being part of a military operation, and military personnel must abstain from presenting themselves as humanitarian workers or as part of a humanitarian mission.

In terms of the actual Malian context, the use of military or armed escorts by humanitarians is not foreseen. Using alternative options to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian convoys should therefore be prioritised. The humanitarian community in Mali has based its security strategy on acceptance, respect for and clear adherence to the humanitarian principles. The use of military or armed escorts by one or several humanitarian actors would therefore be detrimental to the perception of neutrality and independence of humanitarian actors and would put humanitarian workers and affected population in danger. Should a situation arise that requires use of military or armed escorts based on needs identified as critical, the decision to request or accept the use of military or armed escorts should not be imposed by military and/or political authorities, but done through coordination with the different humanitarian organisations. The use of armed escorts can therefore not be done in a unilateral way; it should result from a collaborative, consensual and transparent decision-making process within the HCT. It is noteworthy that humanitarian agencies should be able to conduct independent humanitarian evaluations, to enable them to determine the nature and extent of needs, and be able to continue to access all vulnerable populations in all regions affected by the crisis.

In order to ensure that assistance is provided in accordance with the humanitarian principles, the military and civil defence assets (MCDA) belonging to belligerent forces or armed actors actively engaged in combat operations in Mali should not be used to support humanitarian activities . The HCT reiterates likewise the recommendations contained in the ‘Guidance on the Use of Foreign Military and Civil Defence Assets (MCDA) to Support Humanitarian Operations in the Context of the Current Military Intervention in Mali’, published by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on 1 February 2013 intended to provide guidance to the member states and the international community.

Finally, the HCT recalls, as mentioned in Para 16 of the UNSC Resolution 2085, that all parties present in Mali must take ‘appropriate steps to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian personnel and supplies, and further demands that all parties in Mali ensure safe and unhindered access for the delivery of humanitarian aid to persons in need of assistance across Mali, consistent with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law and the guiding principles of humanitarian assistance’.

26 February 2013
Humanitarian Country Team, Mali.