Sorcha O’Callaghan, Humanitarian Policy Group
Brendan Cox, Executive Director, Crisis Action
Rebecca Dale, Independent Policy Adviser on Sudan
Ute Kollies, Humanitarian Affairs Office with the United Nations
Amelia Bookstein, SCF
Jo Leadbetter, Oxfam GB
James Darcy, ODI
This meeting launched HPG Policy Brief 28 and had the intention of using the experience of Darfur to illustrate wider dilemmas concerning humanitarian advocacy in complicated politicised environments. It considered the challenges that humanitarian organisations face when undertaking advocacy on high profile political emergencies; the responsibility that organisations have to speak out on the crisis in Darfur; whether they have the competency or credibility to call for specific measures; and whether advocacy on political emergencies was consistent with the humanitarian principle of neutrality.
A meeting to consider the challenges for humanitarian organisations undertaking advocacy on high profile political emergencies.
- James Darcy, in the chair, introduced the panel members and the topic and said that the intention of the meeting was to use the experience of Darfur to illustrate wider dilemmas concerning humanitarian advocacy in complicated politicised environments.
- The experience of Darfur raises questions of how firstly, humanitarian advocacy should locate itself within a politicised environment where a plethora of organisations participate in advocacy, and secondly, what conflicts might arise between providing relief assistance and engaging in public advocacy?
- While these questions have arisen before, Darfur provides a particularly stark example of the dilemmas humanitarian organisations face, given that the range of organisations involved in advocacy on Darfur extends well beyond traditional humanitarian actors.
- Sorcha O’Callaghan, ODI Humanitarian Policy Group explained that this presentation accompanies a short research piece (Humanitarian advocacy and Darfur: the challenge of neutrality). Its intention was to highlight topical issues. Given the predominant focus on international actors in the public sphere, it was not intended as an exhaustive survey.
- The paper raises three major issues.
- Firstly, what is the legitimate role for humanitarian organisations in politicised emergencies? Of the core humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, and neutrality, neutrality has often been interpreted as a pragmatic principle necessary to gain access. The commitment to neutrality has eroded considerably in the last twenty years, particularly within multi-mandate agencies.
- Secondly, what competency do humanitarian organisations have to engage in certain more political discussions?
- Thirdly, what implications does advocating in politicised environments have for relief operations, for example in terms of insecurity and access?
During the discussion, the following selected points were raised:
- Ute Kollies, Humanitarian Affairs Office with the United Nations, suggested that a more useful way to frame this discussion would be to ask what the aim or purpose of advocacy is.
- Sarah Maguire asked: what is the point at which the right-based approach becomes political? Sorcha O’Callaghan responded saying that humanitarian and human rights actors have different objectives. Humanitarian organisations are primarily motivated with saving lives on an immediate basis, whereas human rights organisations are often more concerned with long-term judicial results.
- Andrew Lawday suggested that ‘advocacy’ might be the wrong way of thinking about this topic. Might ‘strategic communication’ not be a better description? Brendan Cox said that he was not clear of the difference between the two. Advocacy should use a range of different strategies and this requires experienced personnel.
- Amelia Bookstein from SCF suggested that large agencies might benefit from a little more humility. Sorcha O’Callaghan agreed that organisations might demonstrate humility but must be equally accountable for their advocacy statements, and continually ask whether they have sufficient expertise to take such positions. Internally within organisations, there is a risk that humanitarian field staff face continual pressure to come up with ‘asks’ by advocacy departments.
- Jo Leadbetter of Oxfam GB raised the question as to whether humanitarian agencies now exist in a ‘new world’ and must in effect become mini-think tanks. She suggested that organisations needed to be humble but also creative and ambitious and explore new advocacy tactics.