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Briefing Note: UN Integration & Humanitarian Coordination: Policy Considerations towards Protection of the Humanitarian Space


 
Summary of UN Integration & Humanitarian Coordination
Founded in 1945, the United Nations (UN) emerged from the Cold War in the early 1990s as the key organization for preventing and resolving international conflicts. It assumed this role through wide engagement in conflict-affected countries characterized by humanitarian crises and large-scale violence against civilians [1].  Member States began to seek more effective response mechanisms and by the late 1980s, the UN Security Council was increasingly authorizing multi-dimensional peace-keeping missions combining political, military and civilian actions to support transitions from war to peace or independence [1]. Soon, however, tensions emerged between the different UN actors, for example around the prioritization of short-term political and peace-keeping objectives over the longer-term agenda of development [2].  In 1997, the need to "act coherently" was recognized by Secretary-General Kofi Annan who put out a call for "unity of purpose" through initiating a program for UN reform centered around "integration" between its humanitarian, peace-keeping and political structures [3].  The main purpose of integration is to "maximize the individual and collective impact of the UN's response, concentrating on those activities required to consolidate peace" [4]. This purpose is grounded in the belief that UN integration can yield significant benefits for humanitarian operations, must respect humanitarian principles, and facilitate effective humanitarian coordination [4].
 
Often confused with UN integration, humanitarian coordination is evolutionarily distinct and broader in scope, involving non-UN as well as UN humanitarian entities.  Coordination between these can be defined as a "systematic utilization of policy instruments to deliver humanitarian assistance in a cohesive and effective manner" [5].  In the Humanitarian Response Review commissioned in 2005 by the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) and Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, three networks were identified to which most humanitarian organizations belong [6].  First, there is the network of UN agencies, in which coordination functions are adopted by the ERC, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and, at the individual country level, the Humanitarian Coordinators (HC).  The second network encompasses the constituent organizations of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement which are the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; their mechanisms of interaction are governed as stipulated in the Seville Agreement [7]. The third network includes non-governmental organizations (NGOs) linked through three consortia: InterAction, International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) and the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR) [8].
 
In complex emergencies, humanitarian needs exceed the capacity of a single agency.  Efficiency in terms of cost, labor and resources is a significant impetus behind efforts towards humanitarian coordination.8  This is further motivated by a recognition of the importance of coherence, efficacy, quality, responsiveness and accountability towards beneficiaries.  After critical self-reflection of its role in Darfur in 2004, the UN initiated the Humanitarian Reform process which aimed to remedy operational gaps and improve the timeliness, effectiveness and predictability of aid delivery. It sought to achieve these goals through the "Four Pillars" of reform: (1) establishment of the Cluster Approach to nine key agrees of humanitarian assistance; (2) strengthening the Humanitarian Coordinators system; (3) ensuring adequate, flexible and predictable humanitarian financing through the creation of the Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF); and (4) building partnerships between UN and non-UN humanitarian actors [9].  While the ICRC and a few NGOs chose to remain outside these coordinating mechanisms and limit their participation to observational in the clusters and other coordination fora, most NGOs now participate actively, and many work closely with UN agencies in the field, including as implementation partners [10].  Through the current coordination system, UN and non-UN actors engage in joint planning and prioritization of humanitarian response strategies and access shared funding pools.  In addition, the HC represents and publically advocates for the entire humanitarian community, including non-UN actors; consequently, the perception of the HC may impact that of an entire humanitarian effort [10].
 
The Humanitarian Space Threatened
The humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and operational independence are central to the provision of humanitarian response [11].  Humanitarian assistance should be provided solely on the basis of need and be autonomous from political, religious, economic or military objectives.  Indeed, it has been argued that the very emergence of humanitarian principles was to serve to depoliticize relief-orientated activities, to inoculate humanitarianism from partisanship, and to create a "humanitarian space" free of such complexities that could hinder the relief of human suffering during natural or man-made disasters [12].  Whether a humanitarian organization sees itself as Dunantist (politically passive) or Wilsonian (politically opinionated and ideologically transformative) [12], it should still abide by the humanitarian principles with regards to its provision of aid to those in need.11  Politics and organizational agendas should be confined to, if they arise, a space which does not interfere with the relief of human suffering.
 
The term humanitarian space came into wide usage in the early 1990s and is attributed to the former president of Médecins Sans Frontières, Rony Brauman, who described an “espace humanitaire” in which humanitarians should be “free to evaluate needs, free to monitor delivery and use of assistance, free to have dialogue with the people” [13].  Today, the concept of the humanitarian space means different things to different people and has been given four broadly accepted definitions, variously as (1) agency space; (2) affected community space; (3) international humanitarian law; and (4) a complex political, military and legal arena [13].  The recent Humanitarian Policy Group report, Humanitarian Space: a review of trends and issues, insightfully explores the historical and political reasons for the perceived shrinking of the humanitarian space as well as the implications of the current international humanitarian system for it [13].  UN integration and humanitarian coordination is but a part, albeit a crucial one, of this interesting and complex situation. 
 
The concern is that the process of UN integration (which brings the humanitarian UN closer to its political and peace-keeping mission) and on-going humanitarian reform (which brings UN and non-UN humanitarian organizations ever closer together) together create both an internal pressure within the UN for politicization and therefore, by association, a similar external pressure on non-UN agencies.  This has called into question the very possibility of the existence of a meaningful humanitarian space in modern-day, large-scale humanitarian responses.  Many NGOs are opposed to UN integration on principle, arguing that it blurs the distinction between humanitarian, military and political action, subordinates humanitarian priorities to political prerogatives, and places humanitarian action at significant risk.  Meanwhile, many in the UN political and peace-keeping community highlight the positive contribution of integration to the progress made in policy development over recent years and stress the need for even greater coherence [1].
 
The areas of humanitarian activity influenced by the status of the humanitarian space has been characterized into five dimensions by the UN Integration Steering Group (ISG): (1) security of humanitarian workers; (2) access; (3) engagement with non-state armed actors; (4) perceptions of humanitarian workers; and (5) humanitarian advocacy [1].  While distinct, these dimensions are closely inter-related so that impact on one affects the others.  The effect of integration and coordination on them may be different for UN, NGOs and other non-UN humanitarian actors, and arguably more pronounced for the UN since the non-UN agencies, though associated, are not part of the UN per se.  Impact is also related to the context of the political and conflict environment of the humanitarian mission [1 ]. Despite these differences, the central threats to each dimension of the humanitarian space posed by UN integration and humanitarian coordination can be identified, and policy considerations towards mitigating them explored.   
 
Policy Considerations towards Protection of the Humanitarian Space in Light of UN Coordination and Humanitarian Coordination
 
Security of Humanitarian Workers
Attacks on humanitarian workers have tripled over the past decade [14]. In 2010, there were 126 incidents involving NGOs reported, including the killing of 28 staff [1]. Between 2008 to 2010, 60% of the total number of workers affected by violence occurred in Afghanistan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), making these the most threatening places in the world for humanitarian missions [14].  Evidence suggests proximate causes for these attacks to include the blurring of the distinction between humanitarian assistance, counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism strategies [15]. Furthermore, non-UN humanitarian actors have in some instances also been reluctant to share any security-related information with the UN in case it was passed on to local or international political entities, potentially leading to accusations of espionage [1].
 
These serious security issues necessitate a review of the current guidelines on UN operational security management with the goal of ensuring that the consequences of integration are specifically considered during the formation of security risk analysis and mitigation strategies.  The risk of UN association must be considered for both UN and non-UN actors. Confidentiality protocols should also be developed between OCHA, the humanitarian UN, the political UN and the peace-keeping UN components.  Attempts to address concerns related to information-sharing could involve permitting the military/political staff to participate in some parts of the protection cluster meetings, while restricting other parts to humanitarian actors exclusively [10].
 
Humanitarian Access
As defined by UN General Assembly Resolution 46/182, humanitarian access has two key components: the ability of humanitarian actors to reach populations in need of assistance, and the ability of affected populations to access assistance and basic needs [16].  The role of the HC and OCHA in facilitating access negotiations with opposition groups, armed ones in particular as is indeed their mandate, is increasingly questioned by the NGO community because they are not seen as neutral brokers [10].  There has also been criticism of the UN's operational security management system for emphasizing 'protective' rather than 'enabling' approaches, resulting in tighter restrictions on staff movement and 'bunkerization' of office and residential buildings [1]. Some NGOs do not travel in convoys using UN military escort in an attempt to increase access. Direct interaction between the humanitarian decision makers and those in need of assistance is becoming increasingly bureaucratic and logistically cumbersome.
 
One suggestion for protecting this dimension of the humanitarian space is for OCHA to provide the NGO community with the analysis made by the political/peace-keeping mission of the power relations of opposition groups, and to openly acknowledge when the UN is perceived as highly politicized.  This should be done alongside the development of mechanisms to allow and facilitate conflict and access negotiations between non-UN actors and opposition groups. In line with existing guidelines on the use of military escorts, a comprehensive assessment including all relevant stakeholders should be undertaken before the use of UN military escorts to decide if they are really necessary, and to balance the associated risks and benefits regarding security and access. 
 
Engagement with Non-State Armed Actors
Within the UN system, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (or deputy, DSRSG) is the most senior UN representative within a country, has authority over all UN activities there, and is seen as a powerful political figure;  the Resident Coordinator (RC) is responsible for development activities; and the HC is responsible for the planning and delivery of the humanitarian program [17]. The process of UN integration has brought into existence the 'dual-hatted' position of RC/HC, and the 'triple-hatted' position of DSRSG/RC/HC [17]. This has exacerbated a confusion within the humanitarian community, including UN actors themselves, about the existence of a 'no contact' policy within the UN regarding engagement with non-state armed actors.  While no such policy actually exists, there is confusion that it is implicit in the perceived politicization of an integrated UN structure [1]. Indeed, examples have been found where UN mission leaders used their authority in the integrated UN presence to limit humanitarian engagement with non-state armed actors when this was deemed detrimental to political objectives [1].
    
There needs to be clarification with the entire humanitarian community on the issue that the UN does not have a 'no contact' policy.  Senior UN leadership at headquarters and in the field need to be encouraged and trained to uphold the ability of UN and NGO actors to engage with all parties in a conflict for humanitarian purposes.  Where political tensions are high, particularly in areas of armed conflict, multi-hatted UN leadership roles should be avoided.  It is worth noting here that in 1999, the ICRC negotiated for and secured immunity against giving testimony before the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other international criminal tribunals; it has a clear and long-established history of not disclosing what it discovers during its work, including remaining silent over evidence of genocide and other crimes again humanity [18]. Although controversial, this has contributed to the ICRC's unparalleled reputation of neutrality and particular effectiveness in negotiations with armed groups. Other humanitarian agencies may consider pursuing a similar strategy, after careful considerations of its implications. 
 
Perceptions of Humanitarian Workers
It is difficult to know how humanitarian workers and their actions are perceived by beneficiaries, local leaders and opposition groups since studies in this field are sorely lacking.  Just as little is known about how humanitarian workers can control their image.  What is known, however, is that being perceived as part of the UN's political or peace-keeping agenda was of particular concern to UN and non-UN actors in Afghanistan, DRC and Somalia because UN missions had mixed records there and were deemed partisan to certain groups active in the conflicts [1]. Studies and regular surveillance mechanisms need to be developed to reveal how local communities and, if feasible, non-state armed actors perceive humanitarian workers and to what extent these are associated with UN integration and humanitarian coordination.  Findings on what, in their eyes, makes humanitarians legitimate targets would be highly valuable in informing future strategies in the protection of this, and all other dimensions, of the humanitarian space.  
 
Humanitarian Advocacy
Advocacy on behalf of populations in need is a key component in any humanitarian response, be it through the media, public statements or quiet diplomacy [1].  The extent to which this can occur is subject to a range of limitations, including the capacity, ability and willingness to undertake such efforts, in particular on the part of the HC [1]. Existing integrative policy does not imply that decision-making will necessarily support humanitarian advocacy; indeed, there have been incidences where the UN mission leadership has refrained from speaking out on humanitarian issues when these were of a grave nature [18, 19]. Coordinated advocacy by the humanitarian community is also often weak since the diversity of actors, mandates and priorities makes consensus on public messages difficult. Onus for the active development and implementation of humanitarian advocacy strategies needs to be placed on the leaders of all humanitarian agencies in a mission, and within the UN, on the HC.  In the case of multi-hatted UN leadership, an internal mechanism to ensure that humanitarian advocacy is consistently upheld as an indispensible priority needs to be implemented. 
 
References
1.       Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG) & Stimson Center.  UN Integration and Humanitarian Space. An Independent Study Commissioned by the UN Integration Steering Group;  2011. http://www.stimson.org/images/uploads/research-pdfs/Integration_final.pdf. Accessed 5 July, 2012.
2.       Minear L. Introduction to Case Studies in Humanitarian Action and Peace-keeping Operations: Debriefing and Lessons. Azimi N (ed.). London: Kluwer Lay International; 1997.
3.       United Nations. Renewing the United Nations: A Programme for Reform. Report of the Secretary General. A/51/950, 14 July, 1997.
4.       United Nations. Decisions of the Secretary-General –25 June meeting of the Policy Committee. Decision No. 24/2008, 26 June, 2008.
5.       Minear L, Chelliah UBP, Crisp J et al. United Nations Coordination of the International Humanitarian Response to the Gulf Crisis 1990-1992. Watson Institute for International Studies; 1992.
6.       United Nations. Humanitarian Response Review. Commission by the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs; August 2005. http://www.unicef.org/emerg/files/ocha_hrr.pdf. Accessed 5 July, 2012.
7.       The Seville Agreement: http://www.redcross.int/en/history/fullsevilleagreement.asp. Accessed 5 July, 2012.
8.       Advanced Training Program on Humanitarian Action (ATHA). Humanitarian Coordination: An Overview. ATHA Thematic Brief Series; January 2008. http://www.atha.se/sites/atha.se/resources/public-files/thematic-briefs/.... Accessed 5 July, 2012.
9.       UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The Four Pillars of Humanitarian Reform. http://www.humanitarianinfo.org/srilanka/docs/hum_re/The_humanitarian_re.... Accessed 5 July, 2012.
10.    Glad M. A Partnership at Risk? The UN-NGO Relationship in Light of UN Integration. Norwegian Refugee Council; 2012. http://www.nrc.no/arch/_img/9608308.pdf. Accessed 5 July, 2012.
11.    UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). OCHA on Message: Humanitarian Principles. April 2010. http://ochanet.unocha.org/p/Documents/OOM_HumPrinciple_English.pdf. Accessed 5 July, 2012.
12.    Barnett M. Humanitarianism Transformed. Perspectives on Politics. 2005;3(4):723-740.
13.    Humanitarian Policy Group. Humanitarian Space: a review of trends and issues. Overseas Development Institute; April 2012. http://www.odi.org.uk/resources/docs/7643.pdf. Accessed 5 July, 2012.
14.    Humanitarian Outcomes. The Aid Worker Security Database; 2011. https://aidworkersecurity.org/. Accessed 5 July, 2012. 
15.    Fast L. Mind the Gap: Documenting and Explaining Violence Against Aid Workers. European Journal of International Relations. 2010;16(3):365-389.
16.    United Nations. Strengthening of the Coordination of Humanitarian Emergency Assistance of the United Nations. General Assembly Resolution 182. A/RES/46/182, 19 December, 1991.
17.    United Nations. The Role of the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General and Resident Coordinators. Joint Inspection Unit; 2009.
18.    International Committee of the Red Cross. ICRC and ICC: two separate but complementary approaches for ensuring respect for international humanitarian law. Resource Center, March 2009.http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/interview/international-criminal-court-interview-101008.htm.Accessed 5 July, 2012. 
19.    Bradhury M. State-building, Counterterrorism, and Licensing Humanitarianism in Somalia. Feinstein International Center Briefing Paper; 2010.

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