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Second Annual Meeting of Frontline Humanitarian Negotiators

5 December – 6 December 2017 | Geneva, Switzerland

The second Annual Meeting of Frontline Humanitarian Negotiators was held from 5-6 December in Geneva, Switzerland. The main goal of the Annual Meeting was to identify and address a set of critical challenges and dilemmas faced by frontline humanitarian negotiators today. It also sought to further strengthen the community of professionals engaged in such negotiations. The meeting offered an occasion for the different stakeholders involved in frontline humanitarian negotiations to reflect on how the Centre can serve as a platform to facilitate peer support within this community in 2018.

This year’s Annual Meeting explored frontline negotiations in a number of contexts, from Myanmar, Colombia, South Sudan, to the Lake Chad and Middle East regions. Cross-cutting issues such as engagements with non-state armed groups as well as the negotiation of protection arrangements were also analysed. A High-Level Segment of the Annual Meeting examined the interactions between humanitarian negotiation and political mediation.
Panels and group discussions offered opportunities to engage in practical and grounded exchanges on the challenges and dilemmas of negotiating in particular operational contexts, as well as reflections on the strategies of humanitarian negotiation. Additional transversal sessions addressed cross-cutting issues such as negotiating protection arrangements, engaging with non-state armed groups, or the relationship between humanitarian negotiation and political mediation.

The Second Annual Meeting of Frontline Negotiators was a closed event with a limited capacity of 120 experienced participants. Field practitioners played a critical role in the debates at the Annual Meeting. A minimum of 5 to 8 years of relevant experience in humanitarian negotiation was expected from all participants so as to be in a position to contribute to the deliberations.

Executive Summary

Over 180 professionals engaged in humanitarian action have met in Geneva on 5 – 6 December 2017 to review and discuss the challenges and dilemmas of frontline humanitarian negotiation in current conflicts. Organized by the Centre of Competence on Humanitarian Negotiation (CCHN), the second Annual Meeting of Frontline Humanitarian Negotiators sought to deepen the dialogue and relationships among frontline humanitarian negotiators, providing an informal space to facilitate professional interactions and peer support while building a community of practice around humanitarian negotiation across operational contexts and agencies. Participants further contributed to the design of CCHN activities in 2018 by expanding conversations among field practitioners on specific challenges and articulating expectations of support activities for the next year.

Oriented around a series of contextual and thematic panels as well as group discussions, the agenda of the Annual Meeting had been designed by field practitioners organized in informal working groups in key contexts. These conversations provided opportunities over 2017 to gather experienced humanitarian negotiators to share their perspectives and best practices in an informal manner, culminating in the Annual Meeting in Geneva. The Annual Meeting was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and the support and guidance of the Strategic Partners of the CCHN: the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Word Food Programme (WFP), the UN High- Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF- Switzerland), and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD).

Key observations include the need to build the capacity of frontline humanitarian negotiators to address the politicization of humanitarian access and assistance across contexts, the importance of elaborating practical tools, case studies and guidelines to enhance the relevance of humanitarian principles in frontline negotiations, as well as the need to build a strong community of practice to support the sharing of experience and lessons learned among peers. The High-Level Segment further allowed for a thorough dialogue on the interplay between political mediators and humanitarian negotiators in specific, as well as across, contexts, featuring the contributions of leading professionals from both fields.

Finally, the Annual Meeting offered a unique opportunity to consult with dedicated humanitarian professionals on the orientation of the activities of the CCHN. The CCHN, together with its Strategic Partners, donors, and members of the community of practice, will review these expectations carefully as it plans its second year of activities.


Made possible thanks to the support of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA).

Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs

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Sofia Mueller
Project Coordinator – Research & Development

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