The objective of this section is to provide a set of practical tools and methods to frame and guide a humanitarian negotiation process through the design and monitoring of the mandate of the negotiator. This process is articulated around the role of the mandator who issues the mandate to the negotiator who monitors its implementation. The mandate is informed by the mission and strategic objectives of the organization. It is also delimited by the applicable rules and institutional policies governing the activities and interactions of the organization. However, the mandate is not designed to dictate specific tasks, methods, or outcomes of the negotiation but to set a genuine space of dialogue with the counterpart, providing sufficient autonomy to the negotiator in adapting the organization’s mission and goals to the reality of the field. While it provides a certain level of autonomy, the mandate should also stipulate clear red lines indicating the limits of the negotiation as informed by the institutional principles and policies of the organization.
While the word mandate is used interchangeably in the humanitarian world to define the mission of an organization, the role of a negotiator, and the responsibilities of a representative or agent of the organization, their objectives and actual use should not be confused.
The mandate of an organization refers to the overall mission and objectives of an agency granted by an external authority. This mandate may have been attributed by states as stipulated in an international treaty (e.g., for the ICRC and UNHCR) or as a decision of the UN General Assembly (e.g., for WFP and UNRWA). The mandate may also be issued by the governing assembly of a civil society organization or NGO (such as MSF, NRC, Oxfam, national NGOs, etc.) and then recognized by host and donor governments. The mandate of an organization applies to all the situations and people covered by the treaty or decision within the limits stipulated in it. The terms of the mandate are therefore fixed and can be modified formally only through the adoption of new rules by the mandator. However, organizations may show some flexibility in interpreting the terms of their mandate in evolving environments, including, at times, undertaking operations that are not stipulated in their mandate, depending on the terms of their own charter.
The mandate of a negotiator focuses on the engagement with counterparts in a specific context to fulfill the operational objectives of the organization. This mandate is granted by an internal authority, i.e., the hierarchy of the organization, for the purpose of delegating the power to engage the organization in a specific negotiation process to its representatives. The limits to the mandate are set by the mandator, are internal in nature, and can be adapted to the circumstances by the mandator. Mandates are distinct from traditional instructions given to staff in that they provide the negotiator a high-degree of autonomy to explore potential avenues for agreements, leverage influence, and seek the consent of the counterparts.
Regarding the mandate as it relates to the responsibilities of representatives of an organization and its agents (e.g., director, senior staff, head of office, spokesperson, etc.), these personnel maintain and develop relationships with external actors. They can engage the organization in discussions and transactions much like negotiators do. However, the terms of their engagement (e.g., communication line, positions, advocacy statements) are usually prepared and validated by the organization’s hierarchy. Like diplomats, agents and representatives of an organization have little room to maneuver; their role is centered on the advocacy and transmission of an institutional message regarding the position of their organization on a particular issue. They are not mandated to explore alternative avenues with the counterpart or find compromises. There may even be contradictions between the role of a representative of a humanitarian organization to defend the core values and principles of the organization and the role of a negotiator to distance him-/herself from these values in order to explore alternatives and build trust with the counterparts.
On the distribution of roles between the mandator, the negotiator, and the negotiator’s support team
There are three key actors involved in a humanitarian negotiation:
- The mandator
- The negotiator
- The negotiation support team
Each role depends on the other two to fulfill their functions properly. The role of the mandator is to govern the negotiation process: