Non-state armed groups (NSAGs) are increasingly significant players in violent conflict. They frequently instigate conflicts, are in conflicts within a single state, form coalitions across states, seize and control territories and even carry out quasi-state functions. In conflicts NSAGs have the power to block or facilitate humanitarian action and can choose to target or tolerate humanitarian actors. Humanitarian organizations have to find ways to negotiate access to people within those regions in order to deliver humanitarian aid.

This situation poses enormous problems for humanitarian bodies, the governments, foundations and individuals that fund them, and the governments in the countries where the NSAGs operate. In order to fulfil their mandates, humanitarian organizations make every effort to deliver aid to all those in need, wherever they are situated.

Governments embroiled in the conflict however have conflicting aims. In many situations, even allowing discussions with an NSAG over aid delivery could be perceived as recognition by the government of the NSAG’s existence in contradiction to official policy. In other cases, the government actively supports aid delivery as part of a political and military strategy to win over those under the control of NSAGs.

The international community need to establish the basis on which states can tolerate engagement by humanitarian actors with hostile NSAGs, and help states determine their ‘red lines’ in ways that are transparent and consistent for humanitarian organizations.

This project, supported by the UK Department for International Development and the Swiss Federal Department for Foreign Affairs seeks to understand the dynamics that will determine support for a principle-based approach to engagement by humanitarian actors with NSAGs.