Humanitarian Negotiation in Practice

Release Date: 
Thursday, June 25, 2015
Colombia, checkpoint near Chuapal, San José del Guaviare. Security concerns must be balanced by humanitarian considerations in all situations. This means giving ambulances and other medical vehicles priority at checkpoints. © ICRC / C. von Toggenburg / V-P-CO-E-01140

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A core tension persists in the humanitarian sector surrounding the role that negotiation plays in humanitarian action. On the one hand, many feel that humanitarians have nothing to negotiate, that humanitarian action is rooted in humanitarian principles - humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence - which are non-negotiable. On the other hand, a reality of humanitarian field operations is that negotiations are a crucial and perpetual component of gaining and maintaining access to affected populations, protecting the security of staff, and cooperating with local actors. As a result, humanitarian actors find themselves caught between the need to respect humanitarian principles, and the necessity of striking deals in order to fulfill organizational mandates or operational imperatives.

Further dilemmas arise from the confidential nature of negotiations, which can hinder coordination between humanitarian organizations negotiating in parallel in the same context, and can complicate efforts to carry forward lessons learned. The humanitarian sector has also been slow to appreciate the overall importance of negotiations. Indeed, despite efforts to develop policy guidance, trainings, and a body of practitioner-oriented literature discussing past experiences, the emergence of a community of practice in this field - as well as a common negotiating culture across the sector - remains an ongoing and nascent process.

This podcast will explore the state of the field of humanitarian negotiation. Specifically, through discussions with high-level practitioners and experts in this field, the podcast will address the following questions:

  • How do humanitarian actors approach negotiation? What strategies and tactics are employed in the field?
  • What role do humanitarian principles play for humanitarian actors engaging in negotiations? How do practitioners determine what role principles should play?
  • What is the current capacity of the humanitarian sector to carry forward lessons learned through past negotiation experiences? What measures can be taken to fill any capacity gaps in this regard?

Expert commentators:

  • Claude Bruderlein, Strategic Advisor to the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross; Senior Researcher, Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research; and Adjunct Faculty Lecturer, Department of Population and International Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Rasmus Egendal, Country Director, World Food Program, Jordan
  • Alain Lempereur, Director of the Graduate Program in Coexistence and Conflict at The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University; Executive Committee Member & Associated Faculty at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School
  • Lucio Melandri, Humanitarian Affairs Adviser, UNICEF Jordan



Lydia GebreKristos's picture

I enjoined the session that inspire me to learn more A humanitarian base in deep field I flet the need to be more informed to really be productive.

Dr.Nasrin Danesh's picture

Dear Authors
Thank you very much for sharing this brilliant informative text.I am a psychiatrist and this is really helpful for any kind of conflict resolution sessions because the base and theory are all the same in interpersonal or international situations. I learned a lot.

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