Defining Humanitarian Negotiation

Humanitarian negotiations are defined as interactions with parties to a conflict and other relevant actors aimed at establishing the presence of humanitarian agencies in conflict environments, ensuring their access to vulnerable groups and facilitating the delivery of assistance and protection activities. These negotiations take place at the field level for the most part and involve both state and non-state actors. They encompass an advocacy component relative to the protection of affected populations as well as a transactional component in setting the logistical and tactical parameters of humanitarian operations.

Frontline humanitarian negotiations today

Frontline humanitarian negotiations take place in highly contextual, confidential and personal environments. As a result, humanitarian negotiators as talented they may be often work in isolation from each other and enjoy only limited access to information and discussions on peer practices.
Yet, professionals engaged in humanitarian negotiations increasingly recognize commonalities in negotiation practices in complex environments – both within a given conflict and across conflict situations. The multiplicity of humanitarian actors and their growing interdependence on the ground imply a greater need for sharing of experience and peer learning in assistance and protection negotiations. Indeed, negotiators are increasingly aware of the impact of other negotiation efforts on the outcome of their own.
Humanitarian negotiations are inherently challenging taking place with often-unpredictable actors under considerable time pressure as well as political, security and institutional constraints. As humanitarian organizations expand their operational outreach and engage with a growing number and variety of actors, the task of negotiating access has become a central part of their activities and the crucial point at which humanitarian principles intersect with field practices.
International humanitarian law and the underlying humanitarian principles provide an important framework for such negotiations. Humanitarian negotiations imply a shared sense of responsibility among the parties toward reaching the desired humanitarian outcome as well as a common understanding of each other’s motivations and goals.

The work of the Centre of Competence

Recognizing the need to establish a privileged space to facilitate the sharing of experience among humanitarian professionals engaged in frontline negotiations, the Strategic Partners have decided in 2015 to establish the Centre of Competence on Humanitarian Negotiation as a central hub for such activities.

The core objectives of the Centre of Competence are to :

1. Facilitate critical reflections, learning and informal peer exchanges among frontline negotiators: The Centre offers a safe, informal and neutral space to discuss and review humanitarian negotiation practices in regions affected by conflicts. In fostering peer exchanges among frontline negotiators, the Centre aims to support individual negotiators and their organizations in addressing the growing challenges and dilemmas of operating in complex emergencies.

2. Support the development of a stronger analytical framework and greater capacity for effective humanitarian negotiation: Informed by current practices, the Centre contributes to the professional and policy debates surrounding frontline negotiation processes, tools and strategies. It cooperates with leading policy and academic centres in setting up the necessary framework to analyse humanitarian negotiation experiences and to develop practical planning and evaluation tools.

3. Foster a community of practice among humanitarian professionals engaged in frontline negotiations: The ultimate goal of the Centre is to facilitate the emergence of a global community of practice among professionals engaged in “frontline negotiations” across agencies, regions and themes. The activities of the Centre are guided by a group of dedicated and recognized practitioners in humanitarian negotiations from headquarters and the field, committed to supporting and furthering the Centre’s mission.