3 Policy for humanitarian engagement
3.1 Norway’s humanitarian role
The Government’s goal is for Norway to be a leading political and financial partner in international humanitarian efforts and to help ensure that the international community is as well equipped as possible to meet future challenges.
Norway must be a good humanitarian donor. 1 Our principal focus is on ensuring a rapid, flexible and effective response in order to enable us to meet changing humanitarian needs in both acute and protracted crises.
The core of humanitarian assistance consists of saving individual lives, alleviating suffering and ensuring human dignity, regardless of ethic background, gender, age, religion or political affiliation. Follow-up of this humanitarian imperative is a key part of Norway’s policy of engagement.
As a political actor, Norway does not wish to be neutral, but we will respect the humanitarian organisations’ need to preserve their independence and integrity. The key to good cooperation between the Norwegian authorities and the humanitarian organisations lies at this intersection between political and humanitarian principles.
Every state is responsible for protecting and helping its own citizens when they are hit by a humanitarian crisis. This is not a matter of choice but a legal obligation under a number of international conventions. In humanitarian crises, however, the state’s ability or willingness to fulfil its obligations is often impaired. In such situations, the international community has a clear co-responsibility for providing the necessary protection or life-saving relief.
Humanitarian issues have gained an increasingly important place in international politics in recent years. Humanitarian crises are more frequently addressed by the UN Security Council. Serious abuses and violations of rights have resulted in increased focus on the protection of civilians and displaced persons, for example in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The enormous human suffering caused by frequent natural disasters is immediately broadcast through the media.
Our engagement is not limited to safeguarding humanitarian rights and responding to humanitarian needs. Together with our partners, we wish to change the operating parameters for humanitarian efforts. The experience from both natural disasters and conflicts has shown that humanitarian efforts must be seen in a broader political context. Humanitarian crises require political solutions. However, a more broadly-based international engagement does not mean that humanitarian considerations should be subordinated to other political considerations. On the contrary, humanitarian values must always be safeguarded.
However, humanitarian aid must never be an alternative to lasting political, economic and security solutions to the problems currently facing millions of vulnerable people.
The Darfur conflict is an example of how the increasingly efficient machinery of emergency aid risks acting as a stop-gap solution to problems that require more comprehensive solutions. Norway will therefore endeavour to promote lasting solutions through diplomatic and foreign policy initiatives and not accept that humanitarian activities become an alibi disguising the powerlessness of the international community.
Our peace and reconciliation efforts, our political dialogue with affected countries, our contribution to international peace operations, our aid, efforts relating to climate change, focus on humanitarian disarmament and work to strengthen human rights are all important contributions to preventing humanitarian suffering.
The authorities, local communities and organisations in the countries most often affected by humanitarian crises are responsible for a large part of the assistance provided. It is often national and local efforts that save most lives and contribute to protection. These efforts must not be underestimated or forgotten. However, it is still Northern and Western organisations and countries that define the parameters for the international humanitarian system. It is a major international challenge to make this system more representative and better adapted to local conditions and cultures, while at the same time ensuring that the universal humanitarian principles are respected.
3.2 Humanitarian principles and Norwegian traditions
Civilians and those wounded in wars and conflicts have a right to protection, respect and help, regardless of which side they are on. The Geneva Conventions are the fundamental pillars of international humanitarian law, which requires countries to protect civilians, wounded and sick soldiers and prisoners against the consequences of war. These conventions have been virtually universally endorsed, and the principles also apply as international customary law, i.e. they are binding on all parties irrespective of whether they have formally endorsed them. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been given a special mandate by the international community to protect and help people in wars and armed conflicts on the basis of humanitarian law.
The 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions will be marked in 2009. This is a good opportunity to turn the spotlight on humanitarian law and strengthen respect for and compliance with humanitarian principles (see Box 3.1).
Textbox 3.1 Humanitarian principles
Based on humanitarian law and extensive experience of humanitarian efforts in the field, the Red Cross movement, UN agencies, humanitarian donors such as Norway and non-governmental organisations have jointly developed a set of general principles for humanitarian efforts. These principles – humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence – form the basis for operational humanitarian assistance, in connection with both conflicts and natural disasters. The principles are not legally binding, and actors in the international system may vary in how they emphasise and interpret the different principles. It is a clear prerequisite, however, that they should be interpreted and implemented in accordance with the human rights conventions and humanitarian law.
The four main principles:
The principle of humanity means that human life, health and dignity must be protected in accordance with fundamental human rights and needs.
The principle of neutrality means that humanitarian assistance must be provided without taking sides in conflicts or disputes of a political, ethnic, religious or ideological nature.
The principle of impartiality means that humanitarian assistance must be provided without discriminating on the basis of nationality, gender, ethnic affiliation, religion or political beliefs.
The principle of independence means that humanitarian actors must draw up and implement their own guidelines independently of the policies and actions of the authorities.
These four main principles are those most frequently cited. Other principles are also applied, such as flexible and needs-based funding, local ownership and sustainability, participation, accountability and the adaptation of efforts to gender and age-based needs. Different formulations of the humanitarian principles are available here:
The Red Cross movement and NGOs’ Code of Conduct:
The International Committee of the Red Cross’s (ICRC) special mandate:
The Stockholm principles for good humanitarian donorship:
The UN agencies and NGOs largely base their efforts on the humanitarian principles, although the different organisations vary greatly in terms of their mandates and approaches. They also form the basis for Norway’s humanitarian policy.
There is widespread support among Norwegians for the humanitarian principles and for Norway, as a nation with the necessary political and financial capacity, making a substantial contribution to humanitarian assistance. We have a long tradition and broad popular commitment to solidarity with repressed and impoverished people, and with refugees and internally displaced persons.
Norway has played an important role in developing humanitarian law and the protection it affords to civilians in armed conflicts, as most recently demonstrated in the Oslo process that led to the signing of the Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2008 (see Box 3.2). The Convention is a good example of the prevention of humanitarian disasters because it prevents the proliferation of cluster munitions to new countries and areas. It contains strong provisions on support for, and participation by, survivors and victims of cluster munitions that are rights-based and build on similar provisions of the Mine Ban Convention (1997) and the increased understanding that has developed in the last decade of the role and conditions of survivors. As in the work on the Mine Ban Convention, the humanitarian organisations have played an important role in putting this issue on the international agenda.
Textbox 3.2 Box Further development of humanitarian law: The Convention on Cluster Munitions
In 2006, Norway took the initiative for an international process aimed at banning cluster munitions with unacceptable humanitarian consequences. The process resulted in the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which, as of 11 May 2009, has been signed by 96 states and ratified by seven. The Convention has yet to enter into force.
The Convention bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions. It applies to all cluster munitions known to have been used and that have created humanitarian problems. The Convention is deemed to have set a new standard in humanitarian law, containing, as it does, clear and strict provisions on and commitments in relation to the clearance of affected areas, the destruction of stockpiles and help for the victims and local communities.
Anti-personnel mines were prohibited in 1997 through the Mine Ban Convention. Landmines thereby became an illegitimate and unacceptable weapon. Since the Mine Ban Convention was adopted, the use of landmines has virtually ceased, and extensive human suffering has been prevented. The Convention’s Second Review Conference will be held in Colombia, a country hard hit by landmines, at the end of 2009 under Norwegian presidency. Norway holds the presidency for the Mine Ban Convention until the next meeting of the States Parties in 2010. One key task will be to ensure that the 156 States Parties fulfil their obligations under international law, by both upholding the principle of national ownership in the affected countries and emphasising the importance of international cooperation and assistance.
Close cooperation with the ICRC and civil society, particularly the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) played a decisive role in negotiation of the Mine Ban Convention. This cooperation must continue if the intentions and obligations of the Convention are to be realised. Survivors and victims of landmines have contributed to the development of anti-mine work, which has been important in the field, while their experiences have also been important in the work on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Mine Ban Convention is a model for other initiatives, and the implementation of the Convention will continue to set the standard and serve as a guideline for corresponding initiatives.
Textbox 3.3 The Norwegian Emergency Preparedness System (NOREPS)
The NOREPS emergency preparedness system is a partnership between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning (DSB), Norwegian NGOs and suppliers of relief goods. NOREPS provides standby personnel and ready-to-deploy relief goods in connection with international humanitarian crises.
The UN agencies and Norwegian and international NGOs are the main recipients of goods channelled via NOREPS. The scheme, which was set up by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is administered by Innovation Norway.
This partnership has been established in order to strengthen the NGOs’ response capacity, particularly during the initial phase of humanitarian crises. Its goal is to rapidly provide the necessary personnel and materials in an emergency relief situation. A system of ready-to-deploy stocks and personnel on standby makes it possible to have materiel and equipment airborne within 24 hours, and to have service packages and personnel in place within 72 hours. In addition to NOREPS having ready-to-deploy stocks in Norway, the UN’s contingency stocks also include NOREPS’ products.
NORCAP, which is part of NOREPS, is a standby force of trained personnel that can be deployed on humanitarian operations anywhere in the world at 72 hours’ notice. The Norwegian Refugee Council administers NORCAP under a cooperation agreement with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and it can respond within 24 hours to requests for personnel from the UN. The aim is to strengthen the UN’s capacity in humanitarian crises.
Further information: www.noreps.no and www.nrc.no.
As regards small arms and light weapons, there is no international agreement on the prohibition or regulation of their use. Important multilateral processes include the UN small arms and light weapons programme, the Arms Trade Treaty process for the negotiation of an international standard for trade in conventional weapons, and the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, where Norway is a member of the core group. Norway will play an active part in the efforts to achieve international regulation of small arms and light weapons in the time ahead. We will make use of our experience of development cooperation and other humanitarian disarmament in this connection. Our starting point will be that the grave humanitarian and development consequences of handgun use can generate a new dynamic and result in progress.
The lesson from the work on the Mine Ban Convention and the Convention on Cluster Munitions is that we can achieve results if knowledge gained in the field and norm development go hand in hand. Further diplomatic initiatives and follow-up should therefore also be based on experience and knowledge gained in the field.
Non-governmental humanitarian organisations play a key role in international humanitarian efforts, and a large proportion of Norwegian humanitarian aid is channelled through such organisations. In addition to the International Red Cross movement, an extensive network of voluntary organisations has emerged. They range widely – from small development organisations to global humanitarian organisations with thousands of employees. This diversity represents a challenge as regards ensuring a coordinated effort, but it is also a strength, for example with respect to such organisations’ ability to reach the civilian population in difficult circumstances. Several of the Norwegian organisations have comparative advantages that make them key contributors to international humanitarian efforts and important partners for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Table 3.1 Aid allocated via chapter163 by channel
|Group of partners
|Governments/ministries in recipient countries
|1 197 210
|1 048 557
|The Norwegian private sector
|Norwegian public institutions (central government and municipal)
|Other countries’ private sectors
|Public institutions in recipient countries/other countries
|Public sector, other donor countries
|2 528 572
* Including donations to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, including the ICRC.
Close cooperation, but also a clear division of roles, between the Norwegian authorities and Norwegian NGOs has been a precondition for the development of “the Norwegian model”. This cooperation has contributed to Norway becoming a prominent donor country and humanitarian actor with a broad international perspective. It has also contributed to several Norwegian NGOs being among the leading organisations in their field internationally. Norway has also built up a separate emergency preparedness system – NOREPS – which can help at short notice in crisis situations.
3.3 The international humanitarian system is changing
Through our partners, we try to reach individuals in order to save lives, alleviate suffering and ensure human dignity and protection in humanitarian crises. The UN system, the Red Cross Movement and NGOs constitute the core of the international humanitarian system.
As a member of, and donor to, humanitarian organisations, we wish to exercise influence in order to ensure a well-functioning global humanitarian system. Continuous humanitarian reform is therefore an important task for Norwegian humanitarian diplomacy, both in multilateral agencies and in the bilateral context.
The number of international relief agencies has multiplied in the past two decades. During the tsunami disaster in 2005, more than 250 international organisations were active in Sri Lanka and in Ache in addition to the many national and local actors. Norway expects Norwegian, international and local organisations that receive Norwegian funds to participate actively in the coordinating mechanisms organised by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in disaster areas, or coordination under the auspices of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent. National and local authorities must be involved where possible. This is decisive in order to make emergency relief work more effective and ensure that local authorities and communities are able to benefit from and take over responsibility for relief and reconstruction activities.
Norway has helped to initiate several important humanitarian reforms. Our goal is to improve financing, strengthen coordination and rationalise the division of labour between humanitarian actors. Norway wants humanitarian efforts to be better adapted to the new global challenges. We are concerned with ensuring that the humanitarian efforts are more broadly supported, less dominated by Western countries and better adapted to the needs and rights of people affected by crises.
Textbox 3.4 Humanitarian reforms
The aim of the extensive humanitarian reforms initiated by the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator in 2005 is to make international humanitarian assistance more predictable and effective for those in need, regardless of the particular circumstances and geographical location. Through the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), a minimum of financial resources will always be available to the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator for the purpose of initiating and continuing life-saving operations. These resources are allocated and organised as required through sector clusters in which national authorities, UN agencies and NGOs coordinate their efforts. The selection and training of humanitarian coordinators will be improved with a view to achieving more robust and coherent management of humanitarian assistance in the field. The partnership between the UN and NGOs will also be strengthened, for example by improving cooperation in “clusters” and allocations from humanitarian country funds. One example of this is the cooperation between UNICEF and the International Save the Children Alliance on coordination of the educational sector in crises.
In the Government’s view, it is paramount that these reform measures are put into practise at all levels. On Norway’s part, we no longer regard them as reform measures but as an integral part of how humanitarian work should be run today. There is no doubt that dividing roles and responsibilities in new ways gives rise to challenges, and Norway will therefore continue to contribute to improving accountability in the organisations involved, for example by donor countries communicating a clear joint message in the organisations’ governing bodies. Several of the reforms mean that the organisations must put aside narrow self-interest in favour of overriding operational goals. This represents a challenge in relation to mandates and budgets, but it will mean swifter and better emergency relief for those we wish to reach.
The international community is still struggling to invest enough in preventive measures and to ensure good transitions from crisis situation to long-term development. Different policy instruments must be seen in an overall perspective, but we must abandon the notion that efforts of different kinds must automatically take place in chronological stages. In complex humanitarian crises, we must be prepared to provide different forms of assistance simultaneously, and long-term, sustainable development must be planned as early as possible in major, acute crises.
In most cases, the humanitarian efforts can and should be based on local resources. The continued strengthening of international humanitarian efforts must not take place at the expense of the development of local capacity for preparedness and response, but must underpin and supplement it, insofar as this is in accordance with fundamental humanitarian principles.
Textbox 3.5 Gender-adapted humanitarian efforts
Girls and boys, women and men are affected unequally by humanitarian crises, and our humanitarian activities must be adapted accordingly if they are to be effective. Children often have a special need for protection. Women and girls are particularly at risk of sexual abuse and gender-based violence.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we can see how the conflict and the humanitarian crisis continue to affect women and children. The work of combating the widespread sexual violence against girls and women, which is particularly rife in the eastern areas of the Congo, has high priority. Among other things, the Government has supported medical and psychosocial treatment of survivors, and it has helped to improve the coordination, and thereby the effect, of the overall efforts. We also fund civil observers who monitor and give advice to the Congolese police. Children are at great risk of being recruited to armed groups in the Congo. The Government supports the efforts to reintegrate child soldiers into their families and local communities, and it makes active endeavours to strengthen the protection of children.
We know that women are often reduced to passive victims and are not heard. Women must be given far greater influence over humanitarian activities. So far, the humanitarian system has failed to achieve this. Consequently, Norway will give particular priority to promoting more balanced and needs-based activities where all affected groups are consulted.
Norway was one of the driving forces when the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security in 2000. The resolution states that women shall participate on equal terms in decision-making processes related to conflict resolution, peace and security, and that women and girls must be protected against sexual violence. UN Security Council Resolution 1820 (2008) follows up Resolution 1325 (2000). It states that sexual violence can be used as a weapon in war and is a crime against humanity. The resolution requires all parties to a conflict to immediately cease using weapons of this kind.
As part of the Government’s action plan for following up Resolution 1325, Norway has contributed to the production of a Gender Handbook for Humanitarian Action that has now been adopted by the UN, the Red Cross and NGOs in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC). Norway requires its partners to ensure that the needs of girls and women are taken into account in all humanitarian activities, on a par with the needs of boys and men. Norway is the most important contributor to GenCap, an international standby force aimed at strengthening the gender perspective in humanitarian operations. GenCap is administered by the Norwegian Refugee Council. The project strengthens and secures the equality and gender perspective in UN humanitarian operations by providing experts on the gender perspective and equality.
Textbox 3.6 Children and young people
Children and young people have a special need for protection in crisis situations. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child refers in several places to the importance of international cooperation to the protection of children, for example in Article 38, no. 4:
“In accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect the civilian population in armed conflicts, States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict.”
In the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflict, Article 7 no. 2 states:
“States Parties in a position to do so shall provide such assistance through existing multilateral, bilateral or other programmes, or, inter alia, through a voluntary fund established in accordance with the rules of the General Assembly.”
Since its inception in 1995, Norway has supported Save the Children’s emergency standby team, which consists of personnel trained in the protection of children in wars and disasters. Save the Children has an agreement with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for the deployment, within 72 hours, of personnel to crisis areas to protect and provide care for children, and for the long-term development of competence in this field.
3.4 Humanitarian principles under pressure
In many conflicts today, humanitarian activities take place alongside peace and reconciliation efforts, development assistance, international policing activities and military peace operations. One of the greatest challenges in such situations is to provide coherent, well-coordinated assistance while safeguarding humanitarian principles (see Box 3.1).
There are many good reasons why humanitarian aid must be viewed in close conjunction with other types of aid. It is important, nonetheless, to insist on maintaining the unique character of humanitarian assistance.
The UN agencies, the Red Cross movement and other organisations base their humanitarian activities on the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. The need to defend these principles in complex crises involving many different actors is often referred to as ensuring a “humanitarian space”.
Textbox 3.7 The humanitarian space
The term “humanitarian space” was first coined in 1990, by Rony Brauman, head of Médécins sans Frontières:
“A space of freedom in which we are free to evaluate needs, free to monitor the distribution and use of relief goods and have a dialogue with the people.”
The concept is closely linked to the ability of and possibilities for civil humanitarian organisations to gain access to vulnerable population groups in demanding security situations. Often, the sole source of security and access for civil humanitarian actors lies in their being regarded as neutral by various armed groups and the local population. They will therefore need to distance themselves from other activities, both various forms of political and peace-building engagement and international military operations.
The need to keep civilian and military efforts separate is a frequent focus in this discussion, for example in Afghanistan. But the grey areas between humanitarian aid, development assistance, political and diplomatic efforts and other forms of civil assistance mean that it is not always easy to draw clear boundaries around this humanitarian space. More debate is required about where the dividing line should be drawn with respect to independence and neutrality and who is entitled to invoke the humanitarian principles. Are development assistance and peace and reconciliation efforts also included? Where does the dividing line go in such case? How can the goal of stronger national ownership of humanitarian assistance be reconciled with these principles? Here, there are no simple solutions. The answers to these questions may depend on the situation to a certain extent.
Textbox 3.8 Afghanistan – an unclear humanitarian space and difficult access
A deterioration in the security situation and hostilities resulted in an increase in civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2008. Around 2100 people were killed as a result of hostilities in 2008 compared with 1523 in 2007, an increase of around 40 per cent. Attacks on humanitarian actors are alarmingly frequent: 36 aid workers were killed, and 120 direct attacks or threats against humanitarian organisations were registered. OCHA estimates that as many as 40 per cent of Afghanistan is inaccessible to humanitarian organisations. Access problems are also emphasised by the ICRC, which has been forced to primarily concentrate its activities around the cities. This is compensated to a certain extent by the access enjoyed by the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) out in the provinces.
The challenges relating to the humanitarian space have been great in Afghanistan, and Norway has endeavoured to clarify the dividing lines between humanitarian actors, other civil organisations and military forces. These endeavours also form part of the strategy for a coherent Norwegian civil and military effort in Faryab Province. Norway’s views on this issue have gained increasing international support. The UN’s Humanitarian Action Plan 2009 for Afghanistan emphasises the need for a clear division of labour and protection of the humanitarian space, a message clearly addressed to the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). The humanitarian actors maintain that the confusion of roles creates problems in relation to their security and access to the population. In the end, the issue is about the right of Afghans in need to protection and assistance.
This challenge must be taken seriously, however. A great effort is required from the international community in order to strengthen respect for humanitarian law and secure unlimited access for the humanitarian organisations to population groups in need. The “global war on terror” has contributed to weakening the universal application of the humanitarian principles and respect for human rights in several countries. It allows little room for a neutral humanitarian space. Humanitarian organisations’ access to the civilian population has become more difficult.
Undemocratic regimes, parties to conflicts and hostilities continue to block life-saving help for millions of vulnerable people. Together with the UN and like-minded countries, the Government wishes to continue Norway’s endeavours to ensure that all civilian populations and groups in need have access to help. The international community has an obligation to help and protect, while those in power and armed groups have an obligation to facilitate humanitarian relief.
International military forces often engage in various types of aid and reconstruction efforts. The motives for this can be varied and complex: they may motivated by a desire to satisfy public opinion back home, to meet genuine needs and requests from the civilian population or to win the support of the civilian population for their presence. In extreme cases, situations can also arise where, pursuant to the Geneva Conventions, military forces are obliged to help civilians.
However, efforts of this type have often resulted in an unfortunate confusion of roles between civil and military actors that makes it difficult for the population to distinguish between the political, military and humanitarian actors. Playing the role of armed soldier the one moment and aid worker the next can create confusion, among both the civilian population and combatants. This increases the risk of attacks on humanitarian aid workers and undermines the humanitarian space. Consequently, stronger compliance with the UN-based guidelines for humanitarian-military collaboration is necessary.
In Norway’s view, there must be a coherent approach to the various types of initiatives involved in international peace operations and other peace-building efforts, an approach that is based on a clear division of roles between humanitarian organisations, other civil actors and military forces. At the same time, however, there are no easy answers to the many dilemmas that arise at the interface between the different types of assistance.
Textbox 3.9 Guidelines for humanitarian-military collaboration
The main guidelines for international military contributions in connection with humanitarian crises are the OCHA Guidelines on the Use of Foreign Military and Defence Assets in Disaster Relief (the Oslo Guidelines) in the case of natural disasters, and Guidelines on the Use of Military and Civil Defence Assets to Support United Nations Humanitarian Activities in Complex Emergencies . OCHA is the custodian of these guidelines.
Another important document is the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s (IASCs) Principles on Civil-Military Coordination. What these guidelines have in common is their statement of the humanitarian principles, their recognition of the overriding coordinating role of the UN, and their view that the use of military contributions is a last resort when no corresponding civilian resources are available.
The message of the guidelines is clear: even if the military can do an important job in filling humanitarian gaps in connection with natural disasters and difficult security situations, their engagement should be limited to exceptional situations and be closely coordinated with humanitarian actors and the host country.
This approach forms the basis for Norway’s involvement in international peace operations, including our overall civil-military contribution in Afghanistan.
The guidelines are available on the following website: http:ochaonline.un.org/cmcs.
In 2003, Norway endorsed the principles for Good Humanitarian Donorship, which, among other things, form the basis for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD/DAC) reviews of Norwegian humanitarian assistance.