Research Director, International Security

Michael Keating, Former Associate Director, Research Partnerships, Chatham House

The challenge of meeting the humanitarian needs of people affected by conflict in areas controlled by non-state armed groups (NSAGs) is growing in complexity, not least as it may be difficult to reconcile with counterterrorism objectives.

A rebel fighter searches Syrian Arab Red Crescent members before they are sent to deliver food aid to Aleppo Central Prison, 11 May 2014. Photo: Ammar Abdullah/Reuters/Corbis.A rebel fighter searches Syrian Arab Red Crescent members before they are sent to deliver food aid to Aleppo Central Prison, 11 May 2014. Photo: Ammar Abdullah/Reuters/Corbis.

Summary

  • The challenge of meeting the humanitarian needs of people affected by conflict in areas controlled by non-state armed groups (NSAGs) is growing in complexity.
  • States – whether party to or supporting a party to a conflict, or aid donors – can fund, facilitate, complicate or block humanitarian organizations’ responses to these needs as well as their engagement with NSAGs for operational purposes.
  • A wide range of factors determine states’ policies and actions, such as: political, military and counterterrorism objectives; the number, character and behaviour of NSAGs; the mandates, actions, and other parties’ experiences with and perceptions of humanitarian organizations; security and socio-economic conditions; the relative financial importance of aid; and public opinion, local or international, with regard to humanitarian suffering and need.
  • Many humanitarian organizations are seeking greater clarity both from donor states and from states party to conflict regarding the basis on which consent will be provided, or at least not withheld, for their engagement with NSAGs.
  • More realistic will be an ongoing dialogue among states on the principles that determine operationalization of consent consistent with international humanitarian law (IHL) for humanitarian operations including in areas under the control of NSAGs. This dialogue would benefit from input by humanitarian organizations and, where appropriate, NSAGs or former NSAGs.
  • This briefing, including a set of emerging core propositions, is based on research and consultations undertaken by Chatham House with a view to understanding the dynamics that will determine support for a principle-based approach to engagement by humanitarian actors with NSAGs.