Preliminary Report on the Role of Laws and Norms in Humanitarian Negotiations

By Rob Grace and Stephen Wilkinson

This preliminary report has been produced as part of a research study being conducted by the Advanced Training Program on Humanitarian Action (ATHA), based at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Responding to growing demands for more information, analysis, and policy reflection about humanitarian negotiation, the research study aims to produce a series of working papers that examine various thematic areas and professional dilemmas relevant to practitioners engaging in negotiations related to humanitarian assistance and protection. This working paper series will be based in part on extensive interviews conducted by ATHA with professionals with in depth humanitarian negotiation experience.

The particular focus of this preliminary report is the role that laws and norms play in humanitarian negotiations. The report is based on an initial set of 35 interviews that ATHA conducted with humanitarian professionals between May and August 2016. This document will sketch out ATHA’s preliminary findings and analysis. The report aims toward a working paper that will also incorporate findings from a set of 15 (or more) additional interviews, as well as feedback from relevant practitioners and scholars.

The report is divided into five sections. Section I offers information about the methodology of the interviews that constitute the core empirical foundation for this report’s findings. Section II focuses on the role of international laws and norms in humanitarian negotiations. Section III addresses other sources of laws and norms (e.g., national laws and Islamic Law) that humanitarian practitioners have integrated into their negotiations. Section IV examines the relationship between interests and legal norms in the practice of humanitarian negotiation. Section V offers concluding remarks.