Humanitarian Negotiation Series: Negotiation with Non-State Armed Groups at the Frontlines

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You can listen to the podcast here.

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. Humanitarian professionals working in these spaces must navigate myriad challenges and dilemmas in order to negotiate an operational space for engagement with armed groups, including balancing engagement with both state and non-state actors, understanding and managing perceptions armed actors have of humanitarian agencies, and bridging the divide between armed groups’ interests and fundamental humanitarian principles and objectives.

This podcast will explore and address specific challenges and dilemmas that humanitarian workers face when negotiating with non-state armed groups, and discuss practical tools and methods that would strengthen humanitarian operations and negotiation capacity in complex environments. Through discussions with experts and practitioners, the conversation will focus on field perspectives and practices in negotiating with non-state armed groups, perceptions of non-state actors of humanitarian agencies, and the complexities of understanding the structures and interests of armed groups. It will examine some key questions including:

  • What are the most salient challenges and dilemmas of engaging with non-state armed groups? How can frontline negotiators address these?

  • How do humanitarian negotiators balance the objectives and outputs of their mission with ethical concerns that may be inherent in engagement with non-state actors?

  • What strategies exist for humanitarian negotiators to build trust with non-state armed groups while maintaining legitimacy, especially with regard to host states?

  • How do non-state armed groups perceive humanitarian actors? How do negotiators manage these perceptions and expectations, or clarify misperceptions? Where is the red line between the negotiable and the non-negotiable? How are these lines drawn and communicated?

  • What tools, methods, or policies are needed to enhance the capacity of humanitarian negotiators at the frontline, particularly those engaging with non-state actors?

Claude Bruderlein

Strategic Advisor, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) 

Twitter: @HumanTrends

Stig Jarle Hansen

Research Fellow, International Security Program

Twitter: @BelferCenter

Abdi Ismail Isse

Master's in Public Administration Candidate,

Harvard Kennedy School 

Twitter: @MohaAbdiIsse3

Ashley Jackson

Research Associate with the Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute

Twitter: @a_a_jackson