Author Archives: Eric Cezne

Call for papers on Humanitarian Technology: Journal of International Humanitarian Action

The Journal of International Humanitarian Action welcomes submissions to the new thematic series on ‘Humanitarian Technology’.

Link for submissions: 

Humanitarian Technology

Journal of International Humanitarian Action welcomes submissions to the thematic series on ‘Humanitarian Technology’.

Humanitarian actors have always adopted and adapted technology to improve aid delivery and protection practices. What is of particular interest to us – and what we believe merits specific attention – is not only what technology does for humanitarian action, but what it does to humanitarian action.

With this specific focus on ‘humanitarian technology’ we do not mean to suggest that certain technologies are humanitarian / or inherently benign. As editors, we argue for the need to pay greater attention to the kinds of technologies that various humanitarian actors make use of – including questions about how and why some of these technologies may not necessarily be ‘humanitarian’, e.g. because of how their application may risk exposing crisis affected individuals and communities to various kinds of insecurity.

Potential topics include but are not limited to:

  • The role and place of humanitarian principles with respect to humanitarian technology
  • Humanitarian ethics and technology
  • How technology changes and challenges humanitarian action
  • Humanitarian data and responsible data management
  • Humanitarian actors use of ‘state security technologies’
  • Biometrics in refugee management, food aid and medical humanitarianism
  • Cybersecurity challenges in the humanitarian space
  • Humanitarian drones
  • Humanitarian robotics
  • The challenges of adopting and adapting specific technologies for the humanitarian sector (3D printers, IoT)
  • The relationship between humanitarian technology uses and refugee identity, safety and security
  • The relationship between humanitarian technology uses and donor demands
  • The role of technology in shaping the relationship between humanitarianism and state security


Katja Lindskov JacobsenCopenhagen University, Department of Political Science, Centre for Military Studies, Denmark

Kristin Bergtora Sandvik, PRIO/ the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law, University of Oslo, Norway

For more information on the thematic series, potential topics and submission guidelines, see:

What is the role of law in bringing imaginative and imaginary peace to Colombia?

Written by

*This blog post is based on a reflection presented at the “Transitional Justice as Legal Field, Site and Imagination” panel at the Transnational Law Summer Institute, Kings College, London June 29, 2016. I am grateful to Prabha Kotiswaran and Peer Zumbansen for the invitation.
Ceremony for Colombian Ceasefire Agreement, Havana. Photo: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Ceremony for Colombian Ceasefire Agreement, Havana. Photo: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

June 23 2016 was described by Colombian and international media as the “last day of the war”, adopting FARC’s hashtag #ElÚltimoDíaDeLaGuerra. The signing of a bilateral ceasefire between the Colombian government and FARC formally ended hostilities in the world’s longest running war. The signing of a peace agreement is expected to take place during the summer of 2016.

To the overlapping academic fields of human rights, transitional justice and post-conflict reconstruction, the sophisticated Colombian transitional justice process is attractive and will likely be highly influential for the coming decades, both as an example of success and of failure. There is also a significant risk that scholars (outside Colombia) will embrace the Colombian experience either deterministically — as an example of systemic yet de-historicized power imbalances — or as a fantastical  and outsized legal progress narrative that can serve as an endless source of political models, constitutional processes and legal arguments suitable for embellishing the transitional justice juggernaut.

My argument in the following is based on one big supposition: I will put forward the idea that approached from a law and social change perspective, the Colombian transitional justice project is necessarily a failure foreseen.

“Everybody” knows that positive peace is not going to happen through legislation, decisions by a progressive Colombia Constitutional Court or the signing of a formal agreement. This Everybody also knows that if positive peace happens, it will not happen soon.  At the same time, it is easy to imagine that a year from now, politicians, ordinary Colombians, pundits and academics will dismiss the transitional justice legislation and the peace agreement as partial or total failures for their inability to perform the impossible expected by the Everybody; namely ending violence, providing reparations and changing the structural inequality that is the source of much of the violence.

However, I think that precisely at this juncture, as a community professionally engaged in the business of imagining peace and transitional justice, we need to reflect on what the critical takeaways from and beyond this failure foreseen could be. We may find that imagined and imaginative outcomes turn out to be imaginary. But this is not enough, it’s not even a starting point. We need to go beyond that.

Hence, after briefly describing the Colombian peace process, I will map out three sets of issues that could serve as tentative points of departure for critical reflection. This includes:

  • How we can gauge the meaning of the Colombian transitional justice process for Colombian citizenry, citizenship and the state;
  • The implications of Colombia being both outlaw and legal outlier for how we consider the role and place of the law in creating durable peace;
  • A first attempt to think through some of the general lessons Colombia can have for transitional justice practice and scholarship.

Peace and conflict as statecraft

The armed conflict between the government and FARC began in 1964. Separate negotiations have previously led to the demobilization of smaller guerillas (MAQL, M-19; EPL) and an agenda for formal negotiations has now been agreed with ELN.  However, Colombia has been at war or seen violent societal conflict for most of the time since the late 1890s. Colombian peace processes and attempts at political, legal and land reform are a fixture of Colombian statecraft. The last round of peace talks with FARC ended with fiasco in 2002. From 2003 president Uribe engaged in a much-criticized effort to demobilize the paramilitary AUC, with a basis in the 2005 Justice and Peace Law. Despite its shortcomings, it must be remembered that this framework has provided a platform for the current process.

Santos came to power in 2010, and continued Uribe’s military assault on FARC. However, while Santos had been Uribe’ defense minister and chosen heir, Santos soon dramatically scaled up the Colombian transitional process. The Victims Law was adopted in 2011. The negotiations began in Havana in 2012.  Unlike previous negotiations, there was no ceasefire.

By 2016, the political will of the Santos government and a greatly weakened FARC, supported and pressured by civil society and active facilitation by the international community have resulted in a remarkable transitional justice process. This process will soon culminate with the signing of a formalized agreement, probably either in the middle of July or the first week of August. Following the conclusion of a formal agreement, Colombia will hold a referendum on acceptance, whose outcome, as referendums go, is far from certain. Nevertheless, I believe it is timely to begin to think beyond formal outcomes.

Vantage point: A proactive, critical approach to postulations of failure

As noted above, the following argument is based on a key assumption: In the likely event that a binding agreement, formally accepted by the Colombian electorate, will be thrashed as eventually disappointing, I think our task as scholars is to take a proactive approach: what are the critical approaches that will allow us to understand and then move beyond the constraints imposed by the analytical assumption of failure?

During the Colombian transitional process, the law has served as moral currency and discursive arsenal for the powerful and the downtrodden. The law has served a weapon but also been weaponized by the government, the courts and civil society.  This leaves us with a challenge: As academics, how do we envision the future relevance, potential and shape of law, when it has formally and perhaps substantially already over-performed as a vehicle for social change? How do we ask the right questions about the meaning of law’s role in what is unfolding? How do we pay adequate attention to Colombia’s long historical struggle for peace, and the specificities on the ground and in Colombian politics, while also drawing meaningfully on insights from the transitional justice paradigm? How do we study this relationship between law and society in a sufficiently multi and interdisciplinary way?

Colombian citizenry, citizenship and the state: Carving out normative issues

The first observation relates to what for me is the central key normative issue: How do we make sense of what the transitional justice process can do for the 8 million Colombian victims (and counting) in the concrete, and for Colombian citizenship in the abstract?

This question of what peace can be expected to deliver in the future, is intrinsically connected to what it has already delivered. At present, the picture is mixed. Hostilities have formally ended. Violence levels had already fallen to their lowest level since 1975. The kidnapping scourge that petrified the country in the 1990s and 2000s is almost gone.  According to the government, the Victims Law has lifted thousands and thousands of individual out of extreme poverty. All of these improvements may of course also some way or the other be described as imaginary or temporary. Commentators also note that the Colombian economy is in sharp decline, that there is a neo-paramilitary resurgence and that the threats against and murders of violence against human rights defenders, trade unionists and community leaders are at a 20-year high.

Nevertheless, at the same time, at the eve of the peace agreement, the Colombian process clearly gives meaning and relevance to the power of participation and symbolic reparations. As such, the peace process has already engendered an imaginative peace. To an unprecedented extent, Colombian civil society has been drivers of the peace process. Victims belonging to oppressed, terrorized and invisibilized social and ethnic groups have been stakeholders in Havana. Constituting moments of deep emotion and high symbolism in Colombian history, apologies have been issued directly by armed actors to victims.

There is also a normative methodological aspect to this consideration: As a field, law and society has a hard time with gap-studies, and is impatient with notions of “measurements” and “meaningful improvements”. Studies of effectiveness are often dismissed as “uncritical”. However, to make (critical) sense of and create accountability around the political economy of peace and claims regarding peace dividends, there is a real need to focus analytically and methodologically on the measurement of meaningful improvements in the everyday lives of Colombians. Only with a toolbox comprising of different research methods, methodological vantage points and a range of analytical-theoretical levels can we fully co-contribute to the kind of knowledge needed.

 The Symbolic power of law: the imagined versus real transitions and actual fragmentation

My second observation is that we need to understand what it means that Colombia is in many ways an outlier. Together, the government, the court system and civil society represent a tradition of hyper-charged production of sophisticated and groundbreaking but uncoordinated, unenforced and deliberately violently violated pieces of legislation.

The symbolic power of liberal law and activist courts in Colombia has been described as a substitute for actual political and military power over the Colombian territory.  Critics have argued that law serves both a promise of and a substitute for democratic governance. The lack of legal coordination between laws, decrees and court practice erects an insurmountable barrier to effective outcomes by making it technically, logistically, financially and logically impossible to grant every citizen everything they are legally entitled to. Moreover, the legal rights of the majority are systematically undermined by the illegal actions of powerful and/or violent actors that as a rule takewhat they think they are entitled to. It is not only the guerilla but also sections of the Colombian upper class and land-owning elite that for decades have used the war as a vehicle for illegal enrichment.

However, beyond the criticisms of utopian aspirations and lack of legal coordination, the particular “outlier” attributes of the Colombian transitional justice process also endows it with very significant productive power.  The law does something. This is not imaginary. Symbolic power is power. The 2005 Justice and Peace Law was accused of representing transitional justice without transition; Colombian law is currently moving the country through real transitions, with the transitional justice framework (broadly speaking) involved in attempts to distribute or re-allocate geographical spaces, financial resources and legal identities in the name of transitional justice. This productive capacity, and its empowering and disempowering attributes and outcomes, ought to be observed and analyzed in minute detail.

General lessons for transitional justice?

Finally, I want to begin to think about insights of more general importance for the transitional justice discourse.

The first point is a simple reminder to post law’s violence (a well-worn socio-legal concern) as an item on our analytical agenda.  The progressive IDP law and Constitutional Court decisions that created a space for legal mobilization in violent context also meant that activists would be exposed to threats, harassment, violence and murder. In the post-conflict setting, law engenders violence because it imposes fragmentation. Transitional justice by default produces new violent actors: a high percentage of demobilized FARC soldiers will probably face the choice between being exterminated by neo-paramilitaries or joining them, engendering new forms of violence. The demobilization scheme may be directly harmful to indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and their territories. The reparations scheme will be (even more) overwhelmed and registered victims who have given their testimony to the State will feel betrayed. It will prove politically and environmentally disastrous that natural resources and mining issues have been kept out of the peace agreement. There will be significant violent resistance from land owning elites. This is not about law not working; this is about recognizing laws ambiguous nature as an instrument of power.

The second point is that we need to do a better job of challenging our ideas about foundational human rights “identities” and the work we make them do in transitional justice as end-of-history-narratives. This is a plea for paying more attention to the strategic choices made for and by grassroots actors in their dealings with transitional justice frameworks. In a way reminiscent of old dependence theories, human rights and transitional justice scholarship frequently appear to be preoccupied with what is construed as the problematic relationship between (female) victim-identities and empowerment.

In our project, this temporal trajectory turned out to be off: the activists we worked with proclaimed that “we are no longer IDPs, we are victims of displacement”. However, as illustrated by our interviews conducted with women IDP leaders, their experiences of enacting legal identities had much longer trajectories: they had previously been Cocalero activists, peasant leaders and so forth. These kinds of activities had frequently led to their displacement. For grassroots actors in a law-producing society like the Colombian, relying on serial ad- hoc embraces of legal identities that yield resources before the newness and the resources are exhausted, is a deliberate and carefully crafted strategy. We need to understand how this works and the meaning of grassroots actors as legal knowledge producers and users before making assumptions about whether there has been any transition, any justice or any transitional justice.

The third and final point  is that we now have to dispense with the fiction of a rule of law vacuum: the assumption that there is an empty space where law— any kind of progressive law—can contribute to peace by the mere act of coming into existence.  As a field of practice, transitional justice harbors an inbuilt (but perhaps more horizontal) law and development habit of borrowing, exporting and imposing law. I would argue that in the future, transitional justice processes will as a rule no longer involve the opportunity of dealing with a tabula rasa; i.e. as illustrated by the Colombian example, there will often be progressive law on the books, ratified human rights instruments and formal government bodies in existence when peace agreements are signed. When legal peacebuilding must be conducted in territory already crowded with progressive rule of law projects, the legitimacy and momentum provided by law reform projects disappears (and the competition for funding and attention intensifies).

Additionally, we must be cognizant of the way transitional justice law will sometimes undermine or cancel out other progressive law that protects civilians. As an example, the relationship between the 1997 IDP law and the Victim’s law has been ambiguous at times. The IDP law gave poor displaced people rights due to their ongoing impoverishment in the present, while the victims law gave victims, including middle class victims, rights based on present renditions of past experiences of violence which seemingly put individuals with very different ethnic and class backgrounds on a false platform of equality.

 Thus, in sum I would suggest that the practical politics of difficult overlaps and crowded fields take away some of the utopian possibilities often attributed to law reform in the context of transitional justice. On the other hand, it forces us to contemplate the type of tradeoffs made by the government, judges, activists and regular citizens in their dealings with transitional justice law.

*Over the last number of years, I have been privileged to work with Julieta Lemaitre (Universidad de Los Andes) on legal mobilization by displaced women and indigenous groups in Colombia. My insights are based on these projects. Mistakes are my own.

Note: This entry was originally posted on the IntLawGrrls, a blog featuring contributions of women scholars, lawyers, policymakers, leaders and activists on issues related to international law, policy and practice. 

Durable Solutions: Five Implementation Challenges and Possible Pathways for Improvement

Written by

The UNHCR has stated that the ultimate goal of international protection is achieving the implementation of durable solutions for refugees. Assessing whether existing durable solutions, as protection instruments, are effective and adequate as they are being implemented is, thus, imperative. Currently, and even though UNHCR recognises that its capacity for providing international protection to refugees is intimately connected to its success on providing durable solutions, there seem to be relevant challenges for durable solutions for refugees.

The first challenge relates to the fact that none of the three durable solutions – voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement – have binding legal basis in International Refugee Law. The core documents do not contemplate mandatory norms regarding durable solutions; they are, thus, neither rights nor obligations.

The discretion of States in terms of durable solutions brings difficulties for the protection of refugees concerning access to rights. To face this challenge bringing International Refugee Law and human rights closer can be seen as one pathway: if binding protection by means of durable solutions in International Refugee Law is lacking, such obligation is abundant in International Human Rights Law, especially in relation to economic, social and cultural rights, which ensure access to services and rights and must be implemented for refugees as well as to any human being; especially considering that States do have obligations to any person under their jurisdiction.

The lack of international cooperation for the protection of refugees is the second challenge for durable solutions. The majority of refugees – 86% – live in developing countries. This, combined with the fact that 95% are in neighbouring countries, shows that the distribution of the “burden” of refugees is unequal. The impact on developing countries is disproportionate numerically speaking, and in relation to their own existing infrastructure. On the other hand, countries that could receive a larger number of refugees, for example via resettlement, seem unwilling to share the responsibility: as “only 1% of the world’s refugees are submitted for resettlement consideration every year, and only about 10% of the refugees in need of resettlement are accepted”.

Also in the issue of cooperation, States need to contribute to resolving persisting conflicts – such as in Colombia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. These conflicts make the implementation of voluntary repatriation impossible, as it can only be achieved when countries of origin are capable of offering protection to returnees.

A pathway out of this challenge would be to strengthen the concept and practice of responsibility sharing: to encourage and enhance international cooperation to solve a problem which is global. In light of this, the role of international institutions is relevant. The strengthening of these institutions is both the third challenge for durable solutions and the pathway to improving them.

International institutions are important as facilitators of refugee protection in two ways. The first, linked to international cooperation, requires that such institutions – particularly International Organisations – divulge the relevance of the refugee issue, the importance of local actions and the enshrined right of refugees to receive international (integral) protection. Moreover, private institutions can contribute to the implementation of durable solutions and need to be inserted into the logic of humanitarian protection, not only by investing in the development of host communities that often have infrastructure problems, but also by acting directly and assisting in the inclusion of refugees in local societies.

The second aspect results from perceiving norms as institutions. In the present scenario, rules of International Refugee Law have emerged mainly regionally, which could lead positively to proposals for durable solutions tailored for each region; but this needs to be complemented by advancements that have universal reflexes.

The strengthening of integral protection in countries of refuge is the fourth challenge. Integral protection of refugees will only be possible if access to adequate procedures for determining refugee status and access to all the rights that refugees are entitled to – either as refugees or human beings (through human rights) – are combined. Therefore it is necessary to emphasise two main pathways to face this challenge: public policy and development.

Refugees need to be included in public policies that aim to implement human rights in general, and it is also necessary to create specific policies that take into account the peculiarities of people while they are refugees. Issues of numbers – whether too high or too low – or participation in the political processes of host societies may arise and need to be tackled through an optic of inclusion and human rights.

Moreover, it is necessary to improve the development of host communities. Countries that receive large numbers of refugees should be assisted by the financing of the basic and immediate needs of refugees, followed by the financing of development actions in local communities. This would provide access to effective and durable solutions and empowerment not only to refugees but also to host communities, thus generating a better balance for the integral protection of refugees and for the implementation of human rights in general. Such logic would promote the consolidation of local integration as well as its strengthening as a preferred solution in a scenario where the return to countries of origin and resettlement places are far from the ideal.

A final challenge relates to the implementation of possible improvements. Writing on refugee camps,Jeff Crisp identifies five challenges of implementation that can be applied analogously in an analysis of durable solutions: 1) the support of host countries to amendments or new approaches to durable solutions, which is a matter of international cooperation and political will; 2) the participation and persuasion of other actors to financially support areas that receive refugees, benefitting host communities and refugees, thereby enabling empowerment through access to rights – especially social rights – and not based only on assistance; 3) convincing the local community to accept the enduring presence of refugees, which wouldn’t be a problem if the mentioned empowerment-logic is adopted; 4) the sense that it is necessary to adapt solutions to specific vulnerabilities and different protection needs of individuals and/or certain groups; and 5) UNHCR’s actions in light of a complex migration scenario.

From all the above, one can see that the challenges are relevant. However the (i) approximation to International Human Rights; (ii) enhancement of international cooperation; (iii) strengthening of international institutions, whether in relation to Organizations or norms; (iv) reinforcement of the idea that the refugee question is a global issue and universal measures must be adopted, including actions to improve the integral protection of refugees in host communities; (v) inclusion of refugees in the elaboration of public policies in host communities; (vi) assistance by the international community to countries of refuge in their development, including by the private sector; and (vii) adoption of a logic that the refugee issue must be confronted by global measures, may be regarded as available pathways to face such challenges and improve durable solutions.

N.B. This entry is based on André de Lima Madureira’s Master’s Dissertation at Universidade Católica de Santos (UniSantos) – Brazil. The blog was originally posted on the Refugee Research Blog on June 13th 2016.

Successful seminar: Differentiating between Israel and the Illegal Settlements?

In collaboration with the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and Fagforbundet, NCHS has succesfully hosted on June 8th the seminar Differentiating Between Israel and the Illegal SettlementsLooking at EU and Norwegian relations towards Israel, the seminar addressed the issue of differentiation between Israel and the occupied territories on Palestinian land. Discussions revolved around the question on how to move Israelis towards a decision that can lead to de-occupation and foster peace. The event welcomed ECFR’s Policy Fellow Hugh Lovatt as keynote speaker, and featured comments from Jørgen Jensehaugen (HiL) and Ingvild Skogvold (NPA).

Why differentiation?

Lovatt, who is the co-author of the policy paper EU Differentiation and Israeli settlements​, argued that the EU has at its disposal a very effective – yet under-used – tool able to challenge the set of calculations that underpin the Israeli public’s support for the status quo.  This tool is based on the EU’s legal obligation of non-recognition towards Israeli settlements. Irrespective of where the territory is, the EU has a legal obligation to not recognize an illegal annexation and to not assist in policies which violate international law when a territory is under occupation. Differentiation allows for the EU and Israel to continue deepening their ties, while excluding the illegal aspects of Israel’s occupation from tainting those relations. This is the minimum that the EU should be doing, Lovatt argued. Differentiation also help ensure that EU-Israel relations don’t undermine the EU’s own policy object of promoting a two state solution, by ensuring its ties do not further illegal activities and settlement expansion. Lovatt also noted that, given the non-existent prospects for initiating a meaningful peace process any time soon, it is increasingly difficult for the EU to justify slowing down the implementation of this principle in order to not “rock the diplomatic boat”. Similarly, as differentiation affects the socio-economic fabric of Israel through impacts on banks, infrastructure, businesses and policies, it takes very little before differentiation starts to influence important aspects of Israel’s relation with the EU. As a result, Israeli calculations towards continuing the occupation are reflected upon, and  Israelis are increasingly confronted with either deepening ties with Europe, or keeping hold of the settlements. Notwithstanding, Lovatt recalled that it is important that the EU does a better job explaining what it is doing, and why in order to push back against Israeli attempts to discredit, slander, and intimidate. He also suggested this example should  be followed by other regional groups such as Mercosur, international organizations, sports bodies such as FIFA, among others.

The comments by Jensehaugen and Skogvold have endorsed many of Lovatt’s observations on the appropriateness of differentiation. Jensehaugen contended that differentiation is a good start, but has happened too late, arguing that the EU needs to act faster and more comprehensively to ensure that that Israeli settlements in no way benefit from EU-Israel bilateral relations. Placing differentiation within a Norwegian context, Skogvold highlighted that Norway has a legal obligation to ensure that Israeli settlements are not recognized in the context of Norwegian-Israeli relations. However, it was noted that there hasn’t been a comprehensive and documented Norwegian policy of differentiation. Norway has thus lagged behind compared to the EU and other EU member states. Accordingly, Skogvold has advocated for the importance of raising further awareness on the issue in Norway.

Copies of the report Farlige Forbindelser II: Norske Bånd til den Israelske Okkupasjonen (Dangerous Liasons II: Norwegian ties to the Israeli Occupation), which were distributed during the seminar, are now also available in English and can be found electronically here.

Sandvik calls for an improved humanitarian system on TV2

On June 9th, NCHS researcher Kristin Bergtora Sandvik was interviewed together with Gry Ballestad, Head of Humanitarian Section of Save the Children Norway, in the God Morgen Norge program of Norwegian television channel TV2. Sandvik argued that the needs facing the current humanitarian system are enormous, and called for more efficient ways in managing and implementing relief efforts. Against a backdrop of limited resources and access obstacles, it is crucial that local actors play a larger role and get a fairer slice of the pie in the conduction of humanitarian efforts. Sandvik noted that local players, rather than large humanitarian organizations, should get more funds in order to enable humanitarians to deliver more on the ground. She further observed that donors such as Norwegian authorities do not yet have a system where smaller funds can be given to smaller organizations. Rather, the largest share of humanitarian financing continues to be channeled through the major players. Accordingly, while actors have become better in documenting and reporting their activities, it remains difficult for local humanitarian players to get into the system. Sandvik also called for an improved, more open and honest UN system, and stressed that Norway must have a more coherent and slightly tougher political discussion on the priorities and measures set to provide support to humanitarian activities.

The issues and challenges affecting the humanitarian system raised by Sandvik and Ballestad in the interview were addressed more thoroughly later in the day at the Humanitarian Point Break seminar,  co-hosted by NCHS and Save the Cildren Norway and bringing together humanitarian academics, practitioners and policy-makers.

The interview can be found here for TV2 subscribers. To watch the video recording of the Humanitarian Point Break seminar, please follow this link.

Sandvik discusses the role of humanitarian data in interview for Devex

Kristin B. Sandvik was recently interviewed by Devex ‒  a social enterprise and media platform for the global humanitarian and development community ‒, and shared some of her insights into the promises and pitfalls of humanitarian data. At the World Humanitarian Summit  in Istanbul last month, there were calls for better and more transparent use of humanitarian data.  However, as noted by Sandvik, the technical capacity to deal responsibly with data is limited both on a policy level and with respect to implementation in the field. Many humanitarian organizations still lack an official data policy, and the encryption and practical know-how to back it.  The humanitarian setting is often characterized by an emergency setting where timeliness and effectiveness are seen as trade-offs, which again complicates ethical and effective data management. On the other hand, there is also room for optimism: As more humanitarian data becomes publicly available, increased transparency in the humanitarian sector will force hard questions about what is working and what isn’t. In the context of the Grand Bargain, advances in humanitarian technology open a new front in the humanitarian struggle for accountability, by enabling local actors to show that they can do the job better and cheaper than international actors.

Devex’s online piece on the role of humanitarian data can be read in full here.

NCHS researcher Pinar Tank interviewed in the Financial Times

On May 25th, NCHS researcher Pinar Tank was interviewed in the international Financial Times. In a piece discussing Turkey’s humanitarian role in Somalia, Tank shared some of her research-based insights. In particular, the piece focused on Turkey´s increasingly important commitment to aid in Somalia – 400 million USD over the past five years – and the direct manner in which aid is disbursed, bolstering the Turkish argument that its provision of aid differs from that of traditional donors. Pinar Tank was quoted on the motivations behind Turkish aid that combines “business opportunities” with humanitarianism. This model allows the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to serve domestic politics, create new spheres of influence in Africa, and gain international recognition as an important humanitarian player. The article can be found here for FT subscribers or alternatively through an internet search using the key title words: “Somalia reaps rewards of Ankara´s investment”.


How Can Innovation Deliver Humanitarian Outcomes? Challenges and Approaches for Humanitarian Innovation Policy

Written by

Despite the expansive growth of the humanitarian sector globally, there is an increasing operational and financial deficit in the capacity of governments and humanitarian organizations to respond to growing humanitarian needs. This has led to sector-wide calls for changes in the way such crises are understood and managed.

In the humanitarian field, innovation is seen as key to plugging the humanitarian response gap. In a new policy brief, we argue that for humanitarian innovation to be effective, placing the end-user at the centre is vital. Policies must be created that encourage, direct and reward private/humanitarian partnerships that move beyond short-term concerns and demand accountability, evidence of impact, market creation and conscious approaches to ownership.

Humanitarians currently use the term ‘humanitarian innovation’ to describe how technologies, products and services from the private sector and new collaborations can improve the delivery of humanitarian aid. This implies that humanitarian innovation can refer to anything from product innovation (such as new water filters), to service innovation (such as cash-transfers or fuel supply) and process innovation (such as new monitoring and evaluation procedures for humanitarian staff).

As a result, ‘innovation’ has become a significant buzzword in the humanitarian field, appearing in donor speeches, policy documents, and media coverage. Humanitarian innovation units have emerged in most humanitarian organizations, and ‘Transformation through Innovation’ was a main theme for the World Humanitarian Summit in May  2016. This focus has been further reiterated in the UN ‘Agenda for Humanity’, which states that to deliver collective outcomes, the humanitarian sector must promote a strong focus on innovation (Agenda for Humanity, Annex to the Report of the Secretary General 2016, core responsibility four).

The Need for Principled Policy

In our new brief, we argue that policy is needed to support and guide innovation within the humanitarian sector. However, the unique characteristics of the humanitarian innovation field pose multiple challenges for policy development. The humanitarian sector has only recently moved from a discussion of whether humanitarian innovation is necessary towards asking ‘how’ humanitarian innovation should happen.

This ‘how’ is complicated by a set of structural tensions that often go unacknowledged. These tensions arise from the multiple stakeholders’ interests, which any policy written to foster humanitarian innovation must consider. The stakeholders collaborating to meet demand in the humanitarian sector include those in trade, in the field of industrial and economic policy, as well as established foreign policy. New cross-sectoral collaborations may also increase the complexity of the humanitarian sector in ways that challenge traditional accountability models. Structural tensions also result from how the humanitarian market tends to favor short-term focused innovations that have commercial objectives rather than humanitarian goals. At the same time as the sector is increasingly looking to private enterprise and academia to develop and deliver innovative solutions, there is a dearth of evidence that validates the impact of humanitarian innovation initiatives. This confluence of factors leads many humanitarian market stakeholders to conclude that innovation for the humanitarian sector is a waste of financial and human resources.

As this short-term focused, low-impact model of humanitarian innovation becomes the standard, there is a clear need to guide this conversation towards effective models for intervention.

In our new policy brief, we identify three key principles for policy development:

  • Understand innovation as impact: While innovation is frequently explained as a process, the potential of innovation is better understood through its impact. Improved delivery of humanitarian outcomes with and for crisis-affected communities must be the end result of humanitarian innovation on all levels.
  • Consider the particular attributes of emergencies: The tensions and competing interests that underpin the humanitarian market and the humanitarian supply chain must be accounted for in policy development. In not considering the particular attributes of emergencies, the humanitarian sector risks adopting ineffective commercial and market-based approaches and rationales.
  • Value private sector collaborations, while upholding humanitarian principles: The added value of private sector collaboration in the struggle to deliver better collective outcomes must be emphasized without compromising humanitarian action or the values of the humanitarian enterprise. The imperative to provide aid according to need and to do no harm, guided by the humanitarian principles, must remain the paramount goal.

You can read this policy brief here.

Note: This entry is a preview of the authors’ policy brief ‘How Can Innovation Deliver Humanitarian Outcomes? Challenges and Approaches for Humanitarian Innovation Policy’  (2016), published by PRIO and an output from the Humanitarian Innovation Lab project, a multidisciplinary and applied shared initiative of NTNU and PRIO, with the purpose of generating research results and technical/system innovation suggestions. The project is also part of the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies (NCHS).


Sandvik’s inaugural lecture at UiO: Towards a political and legal sociology of humanitarianism

May 12, Kristin Bergtora Sandvik gave an inaugural lecture as an associate professor at the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law (UiO). Her lecture built on the ongoing Aid in Crisis? Rights-Based Approaches and Humanitarian Outcomes (AIDEFFECT) funded by the Research Council of Norway.

Sandvik argued that humanitarianism is an emergent thematic field of inquiry in international political sociology. She proposed a working definition of the political sociology of contemporary humanitarianism as the study of “The constitution of humanitarian crisis and crisis responses, and how relationships between crises affected communities, humanitarian actors, host governments and donors emerge from and shape crisis and crisis responses.” In her lecture Sandvik explained how this definitional prism allows us to ask questions about power, authority, concept development, standard setting and resource distribution in the global emergency zone, and more specifically as articulated through the concept of ‘humanitarian space’.

As humanitarian action is becoming increasingly juridified, there is also room and need for a sociological orientation as a sociology of law within this emergent thematic sub-field. Sandvik suggested that as researchers specifically focused on the legal aspects of humanitarian space and the evolving law of humanitarian action, legal sociologists are interested in normative constructions and contestations regarding conceptualizations of crisis, aid, agency, responsibility and rights within and across different social fields of regulation and governance. She also proposed that this effort should draw on the research methods, methodologies and theoretical approaches of legal anthropology.

On a general note, Sandvik argued that a political and legal sociology lens on humanitarianism is needed, because it is evident that humanitarian response is often neither short-term nor transnational nor necessarily benevolent in intention or effect. There are more humanitarians, they have more money, with which they do more things more places than ever before, under a patchwork of voluntary accountability regimes. Our understanding of emergencies and where and why they happen is also being upended: As illustrated by the European refugee-crisis, border control and security practices may be the sources of humanitarian suffering. Moreover, humanitarianism increasingly comes with a preemptive streak: While humanitarian aid was once designated to assist and protect displaced civilians, humanitarian aid is today targeted towards protecting our way of life against migration. In a new variation of the Global War on Terrors use of humanitarian aid for stabilization, aid is now being channeled towards emergency education against radicalization.

With respect to Norwegian donorship, from financing post-colonial imaginations of long-term development patterned on “Nordic” models, funding is increasingly being shifted through a massive political push for making a seamless bridge between development and humanitarian aid. In the process, the focus on governance and democratic accountability is sidelined in favor of instrumentalizing humanitarian aid for distinctively non-humanitarian purposes.

However, there is no sustained critical academic engagement with Norwegian humanitarianism, historically or in the present. By developing a political and legal sociology of humanitarianism we can begin to identify, unpack and critique the political, legal and ideological practices of contemporary humanitarian governance.

An extended version of this presentation, co-written with Kjersti Lohne, will be published at a later stage.

Against the Merger of Humanitarianism with Development and Security

Written by

In the recent World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul 23-24 May, the interconnections between humanitarianism, development and security were highlighted. Recognising that humanitarian assistance alone cannot address ‘the needs of over 130 million of the world’s most vulnerable people’, the conference chair’s summary report states: ‘A new and coherent approach is required based on addressing root causes, increasing political diplomacy for prevention and conflict resolution, and bringing humanitarian, development and peace-building efforts together’ (page 2). Similarly, the background report of the UN Secretary General – One Humanity: shared responsibility  – prescribes the merger of humanitarian policies with peace and development agendas. These agendas include the prevention and management of conflict and disaster, the building of institutions conducive to ‘the protection of civilians’, the fight against terrorism, and the building of ‘resilient societies’.

Yet, while coordination across these policy domains is certainly needed, the current challenge for humanitarianism is rather to establish a clearer division of labour between them, where humanitarian relief retains its political neutrality, development aid its concern with justice, and where policies of peace and security maintain focused on the mitigation of international and civil war rather than a broader humanitarian agenda of ‘human security’.

Yes, there are important connections between these domains, and yes, international actors would ideally be pursuing a concerted humanitarian vision of peace and development. Yet, with the plurality of political interests and visions in world politics, such coherence is entirely unrealistic. While seeming effective in the short run, embedding humanitarianism in prevalent political norms of peace and justice will undermine both its legitimacy and efficiency once the international political winds are changing. As a political phenomenon, humanitarianism is unique in its compatibility with a broad range of ideologies, from political liberalism through socialism to political Islam. While disagreeing on principles of international peace and justice, as well as on cases of coercive ‘humanitarian intervention’, none of the permanent members of the UN Security Council questions the principles of non-coercive humanitarian assistance and international humanitarian law (IHL) (see, for instance: UNSC Resolution 2286; UN Secretary General’s latest Report on the protection of civilians ; and Lidén & Reid-Henry, 2016).

If we look to the current situations in Syria and South Sudan, the success of humanitarian action relies on an unambiguous neutrality and independence from both the local and international actors involved. A key principle of the international response to these situations has been the protection of civilians. While humanitarian by definition, the ways that this principle was politicised in e.g. the NATO operation in Libya in 2011 and for the justification of military ‘peacekeeping’ operations against rebels in the DR Congo and Mali, have radically undermined its legitimacy as a humanitarian doctrine. The instrumental integration of humanitarian relief in the US lead operations in Afghanistan and Iraq is another infamous example. The significant immediate rewards came at the expense of the legitimacy of international humanitarian organisations in the eyes of the opponents of the interventions. In effect, the security and efficiency of relief efforts and IHL in places like Syria and Iraq have probably been severely hampered.

In the longstanding debate on the ‘politicization’ of humanitarian aid, the argument for integrating relief with broader political agendas like the promotion of human rights and democracy is that doing so is more effective. However, as argued above, it is wrong to present this as a matter of insisting on principles vs. maximizing the effects. Arguably, at least in the longer term, the principled way is also the most effective.

Note: For an introduction to the debate on Dunantist (needs-based) vs. Wilsonian (rights-based) humanitarianism, see this article by Joost Herman and Dennis Dijkzeul in The Broker. In his recent book Humanitarian Ethics, Hugo Slim presents an easily accessible overview of the basic principles of humanitarianism and their practical implications.