Author Archives: Maral Mirshahi

Drones in Africa

In the article ‘If Drones Make You Nervous, Think Of Them As Flying Donkeys’, Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (PRIO) expresses concern about drone use in African airspace.

The NCHS director points out that drone experiments may be more attractive in Africa, because skies are less regulated than Western skies. Sandvik claims that this is “a bad thing for African aviation” because “the launch of a successful drone industry could spur lobbying against the sort of airspace controls that Africa needs to develop”.

The article, published by NPR, is available here.

Beyond Sexual Violence: Gendered Political Insecurity as a Threat to Peace

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Based on extensive field research in Colombia, our new article Beyond Sexual Violence in Transitional Justice: Political Insecurity as a Gendered Harm examines political insecurity as a specifically gendered harm that must be addressed in the ongoing Colombian transitional justice process.

In a previous blogpost we described the tragic plight of the women’s rights activist and survivor of sexual violence Angélica Bello. Bello was one of the main proponents of Law 18 June 2014, which sets out to guarantee access to justice for victims of sexual violence. The Law is part of the transitional justice process and seeks to bring Colombian law into harmony with international law regarding sexual violence in the context of the armed conflict. It defines crimes of sexual violence as war crimes and crimes against humanity, and sets out criteria for investigating sexual crimes and protecting survivors analogous to those of the ICC. As the peace negotiations in Havana between the government and the FARC guerrilla continue to make slow but steady progress, the sexual violence agenda increasingly captures the field of harms to women in war.

While recognizing the importance of this law, we nevertheless suggest that it is a problem for the ongoing transitional justice process that there are so few articulations of what other kinds of gendered harms may look like and how they should be effectively addressed. Much of the growing literature on gender in armed conflict and the debates over post-conflict reparations for women focuses on the prevalence and harms of sexual violence. This development has engendered controversial debates concerning the alleged prioritization of sexual violence at the expense of other harms to women, whether this debate sexualizes and infantilizes women, as well as with respect to forms of victimization not captured by feminist frames of reference, such as male rape (This is often framed as a debate between the Halley and MacKinnon schools of thought). In her work on reparations, Ruth Rubio-Marin takes issue with what she sees as an excessive emphasis on sexual violence in transitional justice, embodying both a suggestion that sexual harm is the worst abuse that can happen to women and the entrenchment of a patriarchal ideal of female chastity. Rubio-Marin (2012) argues that the ‘hyper-attention’ to sex now risks doing further harm to women by deviating attention from other non-sexual forms of sex-specific harms, and isolating sexual and gender based violence from broader agendas that confront the multiple gendered forms of harm and injustice.

What are these other gender specific harms? What should transitional justice focus on beyond sexual violence? How can we think of gendered harms in relation to poverty alleviation or of resource redistribution?

In our article, we argue that if civic trust is to be built among all citizens, women’s experience of exclusion from the political through force and intimidation must be included in the narratives of armed conflict, political insecurity and the aftermath of war. Importantly, political insecurity is complex and extends beyond conflict between the state and the guerrillas, and yet the guarantee of security of political activity is a central component of a transition to peace. Arguably, political insecurity will persist as long as there is no effective challenge to the subnational hold of illegal armed actors emerging in the aftermath of war. The insecurity fostered by these actors is gendered, enforcing cultural mandates to confine women to the domestic space. In a transition to the end of armed conflict guerrillas can stop being both a threat for community organizing, and a justification for state repression.

Finally, we also suggest that the complete dismantling of gendered political insecurity will remain a challenge for transitional justice. A just transition to peace for women would require first, the dismantling of the capacity of private powers (at least of organized crime and business interests) to use violence to achieve their economic goals, and it will also require a vigorous promotion of women’s political participation at the grassroots level. More scholarly attention to the gendered aspects of these problems and scenarios is needed as Colombia continues to stumble towards the end of its 5o year old civil war.

Note: This blog, written by Julieta Lemaitre and Kristin Bergtora Sandvik, was originally posted on the blog IntLawGrrls.

Tank’s report on Turkey as a humanitarian actor

In the recently published policy report ‘Turkey as a humanitarian actor: the critical cases of Somalia and Syria’, Pinar Tank (PRIO) analyses Turkish foreign policy within an emerging powers framework and studies the impact of Turkish humanitarian and peacebuilding agenda. Tank looks at the aspiring middle power’s humanitarian engagement in Somalia and Syria, and examines the dynamics behind the country’s commitments as a humanitarian actor. By comparing the two critical cases, she observes the cases as proactive versus reactive instances of humanitarian policy.

Read the policy report, published by the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF) here.

NCHS contributes to Afghanistan Week 2015

This week, NCHS director Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (PRIO), Arne Strand (CMI) and Torunn Wimpelmann (CMI) are contributing to the Afghanistan Week 2015 – a cooperation between the Norwegian Afghanistan Committee, CMI, PRIO and Norwegian NGOs.

At the seminar Women in Afghanistan: (The lack of) prosecution of violence against women in Afghanistan, held on 24 March, Sandvik and Wimpelmann addressed impunity for gender violence in Afghanistan.

On 26 March, Strand will discuss the diversity of civil society organizations in Afghanistan, and the opportunities and challenges for strengthening civil society’s competency and capacity, as part of the seminar Support to Afghan Civil Society: lessons learned and way forward.

Read Arne Strand’s CMI brief ‘Afghan civil society: Tradition facing the future‘. For more  information about Afghanistan Week 2015, click here.

Policy brief on humanitarian organizations and protection of civilians

As part of the NCHS project Protection of Civilians: From Principle to Practice, Cindy Horst (PRIO) and Tove Heggli Sagmo (PRIO) have published the Policy Brief ‘Humanitarianism and Return: Compromising Protection?’. The policy brief draws on a case study on the protection of displaced Somalis, conducted in collaboration with NCHS-partner The Heritage Institute for Policy Studies (HIPS).

Horst and Heggli Sagmo presented the policy brief at the migration seminar Humanitarianism and Return: Compromising protection? on 17 March 2015. The authors argue that “humanitarian organizations have the responsibility to analyze the long-term security implications of their decisions on where to provide aid” and recommend that “to guarantee protection, programming for returnees requires mobile forms of assistance that builds on social networks”.

Read the entire policy brief, published by PRIO, here.

Evaluating Ebola: the politics of the military response narrative

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While the humanitarian community is still struggling to help end the Ebola epidemic, talk about lessons learned and the need for critical evaluations have been on the way for some time already. Here, I suggest that humanitarians must pay keen attention to the post-Ebola narrative of military victory that is currently emerging. To see the deployment of military personnel, strategies and tactics as the game changer is unfair, because it invisibilises the resilience of the nationals of Ebola affected countries, as well as the efforts of local health workers and (some) humanitarians to address and control the outbreak. However, this narrative also has important strategic consequences for patterns of funding and intervention in future health emergencies.

Hence, in the midst of the avalanche of self-criticism that humanitarians will probably bury themselves in, they must also find the time to push for a fair and comprehensive assessment of the military component of the Ebola response: what did humanitarians ask the military to do? Who decided on the parameters of the military response and what was the response? What role did the military play in gaining control of the outbreak? How effective was the response compared to the resources spent?

On September 2nd 2014, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) asked for civilian and military medical capacity to be deployed to deal with the growing crisis. Joanne Liu, the International President of MSF, told the UN that that the further spread of the disease ‘will not be prevented without a massive deployment’. Speaking to the British Medical Journal, Liu suggested that ‘the military are the only body that can be deployed in the numbers needed now and that can organize things fast.’ MSF insisted that military personnel should not be used for containment, quarantine or crowd control. AFRICOM’s (the US Armed Forces command for military operations in Africa) response in Liberia involved an estimated 3,000 forces that were mostly withdrawn by late February 2015. In Sierra Leone, the British government deployed 700 military personnel.

While MSF’s call for military aid elicited concern and controversy over ‘the militarisation of humanitarian aid’, the fact that it was MSF’s call rationalised and re-emphasised the global public understanding of Ebola as an existential threat, where a military response had become the last straw after the failure of the international community and civil society. This type of imagery was eagerly embraced by Western politicians but also appears to have been doing some useful work for the military itself, as indicated by how AFRICOM now promotes Ebola as an opportunity for medical innovation.

The pragmatic questions may well be the most sensitive ones: did the military response really save the day, and if so, at which cost? Moreover, was this a reasonable cost compared to what a robust public health response would have amounted to? As noted by commentators back in September 2014, framing the U.S. response to Ebola as a national security issue could make it easier to ‘hide’ information from the public and more difficult to assess the effectiveness of the response. Previous military attempts at doing humanitarian logistics have been criticised for being slow, inappropriate or costly (think Kosovo). As a rule, the military spend significant amounts of resources on force protection. This time around, too, the military came late and left early.

In the case of Ebola, MSF made some assumptions about the ability of the military to deliver logistics and medical expertise in a timely, useful and efficient manner: MSF’s initial assumption was that ‘with the massive investment and knowing how much they are afraid of bioterrorism, they have some knowledge about highly contagious diseases.’ Were these expectations fulfilled, for example with respect to delivering biohazard competence? In short, we need to see some evidence that the military deployment was a game changer.

Yet, beyond a necessary tally of costs and benefits, attention must also be given to the ways in which a military medical response inevitably brings on its own dynamics and imaginaries. For one, I think there are significant problems with deploying a language of warfare (and humanitarians have done it a lot too): it risks turning infected people and their caretakers into objects of fear and stigma. It may also transform the local populations into threat actors and source of infections for our ‘troops’. A militarised language may also help rationalise weaponised responses to violence against health workers, and forceful enforcement of quarantines, particularly of slums and poor people’s dwellings. Tuning into the command and control rhetoric may also just be a way for international actors to look better: WHO now proposes to train staff with ‘military precision’.

In a certain sense, the Ebola response is steeped in historical responses to African health problems. Commentators point out that the idea that militarised medical responses to humanitarian crises are problematic, is a relatively new way of seeing things: historically, charity has always been a military issue in times of war and humanitarian aid today appears to be much less militarised. But while the neat mapping of military deployments upon old colonial territories seems to have been perceived as a significant advantage, we should also remember that colonial military medicine often saw public health as a governing device, and was used as a coercive control measure, for example through quarantining populations. Back in September, the UN declared Ebola to be a threat against international peace and security, just like HIV/AIDS a decade and a half before. But as observed by Alex de Waal, epidemics do not cause security crises and societal collapse.

In sum, a political and/or popular perception of militarised responses as the only ‘effective’ response to health emergencies will detrimentally impact investment in basic health care and related information systems. It also legitimises preparedness at the expense of prevention, thus deepening the linkage between the Ebola response and the Global War on Terror. It is problematic if funding for ‘bioterrorism preparedness’ is justified by pointing to the Ebola response; potentially with future military medical interventions at the horizon taking place to justify the expense. Furthermore, framing militarised health responses as humanitarian interventions may also confer legitimacy on armed humanitarian interventions.

These are the kind of questions I hope the humanitarian community will discuss. Critical debate must not be quelled by allegations that this is ungrateful or offensive to military sensibilities. Humanitarian actors must understand the consequences of a publically accepted narrative focused on how the Western military degraded and destroyed the Ebola crisis. They must also be able to present a competing narrative that is both sufficiently complex and compelling, and which will enable us to provide a better response to the next public health crisis.

Note: This blog, written by Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (PRIO), was originally posted on the website of the European Interagency Security Forum (EISF).

PoC as a concept for UN peacekeeping

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The Protection of Civilians (POC) has gradually become central to UN peacekeeping both in policy formulation, in mandates, and in practice. Yet, the concept is broad, and few actors agree on its meaning. Such a broad understanding hinders coordination on issues across agencies, and makes the implementation of POC challenging. Few agree on whether POC is a specific task of peacekeeping mandates, or it should be an overall concern across all tasks.

The issue is further exacerbated by the lack of differentiation between POC and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). The somewhat contested status of R2P thus contributes to undermine the inclusion of POC concerns in peacekeeping mandates. The introduction of a related system-wide agenda, Rights Up Front (RUF) is not about to make that more clear. An essential task at the policy level is therefore now to clarify the status and meaning of POC both vis-à-vis other tasks and other broader protection concerns.

Entering the UN peacekeeping system from Kofi Annan’s emphasis on the need for a “culture of protection” as a remedy to the failures of peacekeeping in the mid-1990s, the POC has since become an established part of the peacekeeping vocabulary and repertoire of actions. Today, while not a central concern to all UN agencies involved in peacekeeping operations, POC is nevertheless a factor taken into consideration by most of them. While it was for long seen as the prerogative of OCHA, it is now also an equally important concern to DPKO. The prominence given to POC in UN documents is symptomatic of a growing awareness of protection issues within the international community. However, these good intentions and interventions have not always led to the security and peace desired. Effective implementation of POC still involves practical challenges at the operative level as well as resolving the conceptual muddle characterizing POC today.

For the UN is routinely accused of not protecting when expected to in practice, and at the conceptual level little has been done to clarify what POC actually entails, and the extent to which it should figure in peacekeeping: is POC but one aspect of a vast array of measures, and should it therefore be compartmentalized alongside other policy areas, or is it an overreaching or cross-cutting concern for peacekeeping operations as a whole? In which case, should it also guide the work of agencies not formally part of the operation?

Yet, the past years have seen an increasing number of policy and doctrinal processes aimed at streamlining POC. Combining the UNs military capacities with the humanitarian ethics of protection produces both opportunities and challenges. On the one side it makes the PoC framework more robust, putting greater political (and military) capital behind preventive protection efforts, while also enabling actual physical protection of civilians. On the other side, it risks politicising protection, and conflate the UNs political-military agenda with the humanitarian, in turn jeopardising the humanitarian principles so central for the legitimacy of PoC.

The PoC is central to peacekeeping operations in seeking to manage war-to-peace-transitions. This involves both civilian and military entities, and a critical problem is their lack of a shared understanding of what PoC means in and entails for practices. This is partly due to the UNSC who feared defining and operationalising PoC would make it too binding for member states and override the UN’s lack of resources. Hence it was never properly defined and instead the UNSG opted for mainstreaming a ‘culture of protection’ throughout the UN system. The problem here is that distinct actors interpret this culture differently and contextually, thus making interagency harmonisation difficult. The paradox of this is that while mainstreaming POC would seem to require a simplification of the concept, so to speak, in order to make it more tangible, this in turn would run the risk of undermining the aim of POC, which is to be malleable enough as to provide protection in all situations.

There is a crucial need for more grounded reflection on how to provide effective protection. As long as understandings of “protection” vary, ranging from the provision of direct physical protection to the wider framework adopted by the UN, greater flexibility should be shown in which interpretation of protection is taken as the point of departure, depending on the aim of the case in question.

POC is broad, lacks tangibility, and is still elusive to many involved in peacekeeping. Accordingly, it has become a conceptual battlefield with little agreement of the status of POC, ether as a legal principle rooted in International Humanitarian Law, guidelines for humanitarian action, or a comprehensive doctrine including coercive means. This confusion is due to the fact that POC is vague and open for interpretation and contextualisation. This inherent feature of POC has been exacerbate by the fact that a number of actors eager to further legitimize the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) have been deliberately confusing the two concepts. While both the POC and R2P concepts are related in terms of aims, there are clear differences between them. R2P is interventionist, POC is not.

R2P faces the problem of legitimizing humanitarian intervention which POC does not face, and its disciples have therefore sought to attach or confuse the two in order to take a share in the broad legitimacy POC has enjoyed, but which R2P has lacked.

Even so, these distinct concepts are routinely referred to as synonymous and used interchangeably in the same contexts. This is not likely to change with the recent launch of the Rights Up Front (RUF) Action Plan, yet another concept aimed at remedying the failures of peacekeeping. If no concerted and central effort is made within the UN to conceptually clarify how POC, R2P and RUF relate to different agencies, contexts, policies and actions, UN peacekeeping will have to deal with three related, often competing, ideas or cultures of protection – all good intentioned, yet not clearly defined as to enable action. Such a reflection must take the field as its starting point, as the key to understand protection in any given context is to understand how it translates into practice, and the extent to which its application addresses the needs on the ground.

New publication in Law & Society Review

In March 2015, NCHS’ Julieta Lemaitre and Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (PRIO) published the article ‘Shifting Frames, Vanishing Resources, and Dangerous Political Opportunities: Legal Mobilization among Displaced Women in Colombia’ in the journal Law & Society Review.

In their three-year multi-method study, the authors have followed internally displaced women’s organizations as they demanded government assistance and protection in Colombia. Exploring how the use of legal claim and tactics under conditions of internal displacement and armed conflict can be understood, the authors argue that “in violent contexts mobilization frames are unstable and constantly shifting, resources tend to vanish, and political opportunities often imply considerable physical danger.”  The article contributes to decentering theories of social movement uses of law – which tend to focus on the legal cultures and institutions of industrialized liberal democracies, rather than those of the Global South.

The article ‘Shifting Frames, Vanishing Resources, and Dangerous Political Opportunities: Legal Mobilization among Displaced Women in Colombia’ is available here.

Conundrums in the Embrace of the Private Sector

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The humanitarian sector faces an unprecedented number of crises globally. The growing operational and financial deficit in the capacity of governments and humanitarian organizations to respond has led to calls for changes in the way such crises are understood and managed.  This involves a strong focus on cooperation and partnerships with the private sector.  A large part of the allure is the notion that private-public partnerships will make humanitarian response faster by entrenching market-oriented rationalities, thus enhancing effectiveness. This is also how the private sector presents itself:

One should never underestimate the power of private companies who offer aid. Companies are almost always focused on efficiency, good negotiation, building their reputation (their brand) and getting things done on time and on budget (Narfeldt 2007).

Here, I will try to complicate this narrative by pointing out some conundrums in the vigorous humanitarian embrace of the private sector.

Back in 2007, Binder and Witte noted the emergence of a new form of engagement through partnerships between companies and traditional humanitarian actors, often based on a desire to demonstrate corporate social responsibility (CSR) and to motivate employees. In parallel, they observed that the War on Terror had enlarged the scope of traditional work with a role for commercial players to provide relief services. Today, these trends continue as public-private partnerships have emerged as a (donor) preferred humanitarian strategy to increase efficiency and accountability (see for example Drummond and Crawford 2014), goals that to some degree seem to merge as efficiency has become an important way of demonstrating accountability. The rationale for a greater inclusion of the private sector in humanitarian action is that partners can contribute to humanitarian solutions with different expertise and resources. Private companies are profit-driven and thus incentivized to comply with the specific deliverables and time frames set out in contracts. Donors are attracted to low overhead and lesser need for constant engagement and monitoring. Moreover, the private sector owns much of the infrastructure on which information and communication technologies are based.

The objections to private sector engagements are well-known and predictable. The outsourcing of humanitarian action has been criticized by commentators pointing to the loss of ground truth, and to the often poor-quality resulting from the private actors’ lack of understanding of humanitarian action, contextual knowledge, and crisis management skills. It is argued that companies are, by their very nature, mainly interested in “brand, employee motivation and doing more business” (Wassenhove 2014). Intensified private sector engagement thus leads to a marketization of humanitarian values (Weiss 2013) where “the humanitarian ethos is gradually eroded” (Xaba 2014).

In the following, I will instead question the idea of efficacy by challenging some of the assumptions underlying the turn to the private sector. I consider how the call for intensified cooperation overlooks persistent tensions inherent in the humanitarian market and in actors’ rationalities. I also identify what seems to be a fairly prevalent sentiment, namely, the assumption that such cooperation may serve the double objective of delivering humanitarians from the much-loathed Results-Based Management (RBM) regime while simultaneously delivering aid more effectively.

The first difficulty is structural: the turn to business cooperation is informed by the notion that the humanitarian market is inherently efficient and effective because it is a regular market. However, as noted by Binder and Witte, the humanitarian market may be characterized as a “quasi-market,” which exhibits an indirect producer–consumer relationship. In the market for humanitarian relief, the consumer (i.e. the aid recipient) neither purchases nor pays for the delivered service. Aid agencies are the producers, donors the buyers, and aid recipients the consumers. As a result, the market is loaded with asymmetries and uncertainties: Donors have difficulty determining whether the services they pay for are indeed adequately delivered, while recipients have few means of effectively making complaints or airing grievances. Nielsen and Santos (2013) note, for example, the often unanticipated and inappropriate delivery of equipment, as well as personnel. In a trenchant critique, Krause (2014) describes this as a market where agencies produce projects for a quasi-market in which institutional donors are the consumers and populations in need are part of the product being packaged and sold by relief organizations.

Interestingly, the currently most successful technology-based humanitarian endeavor is also a concerted attempt to remedy the quasi-status of the humanitarian market: Over the last decade, the international development community has invested heavily in the so-called financial inclusion agenda, aiming to make poor people less aid-dependent; this is sometimes labelled ‘resilience through asset creation.’ The partnership between the World Food Program and MasterCard, for example, uses “digital innovation to help people around the world to break the cycle of hunger and poverty.” For the World Food Programme, this is part of a broader strategy to move away from food aid and to improve food security through cash assets. As I have noted elsewhere, the underlying rationale is that access to financial services such as credit and savings will “create sizeable welfare benefits” as beneficiaries of aid are drawn further into the market economy as customers. The goal of implementing “cost-effective” electronic payment programs is to help beneficiaries “save money, improve efficiencies and prevent fraud.” The belief is that cash can ‘go where people cannot’ andprovide them with choice. However, while these strategies are motivated explicitly by the desire to turn the beneficiary more directly into a customer, the accountability regime constructed around these systems remains directed upwards to donors.

The second assumption to be examined is that of shared motivation and shared values, going beyond disapproving criticisms of ‘neoliberal governance strategies.’  I think it is important to recognize that call for intensified private sector collaboration masks a rather thin shared understanding of both the nature of humanitarian work and of the competence, presence, and relevance of the private sector, and that this impinges on how this collaboration plays out. Binder and Witte observed that past attempts to pursue partnerships with corporate agencies have often been frustrated as agencies have been unclear about the intended outcomes for the partnership, or have viewed it as a way of developing a long-term funding arrangement. According to Nielsen (2014), private-humanitarian collaboration is currently characterized by underlying disagreement about what constitutes ‘meaningful’ innovation, and how that impinges on responsible innovation and on accountability and CSR more broadly; there is a sense that the humanitarian customer often “does not know what s/he wants.” The private sector actor is frustrated about having to take all the risk in the development of products, while humanitarians fret about taking on future risks, as they will be the ones to face public condemnation and donor criticism if the product fails to aid beneficiaries in the field. Mays et al. (2012) identify a mismatch between humanitarian and business systems, leading to a clash between entrepreneurial and humanitarian values and the imperative to save lives and alleviate suffering. This resonates with my own observations, as humanitarians complain about being offered inadequate or unfeasible solutions; about being used as stepping stones to market access to the greater UN market; or simply about differences in rationality, where the private sector partner frames the transaction commercially by ‘thinking money’ and the humanitarian partner by ‘activity on the ground.’

Finally, the erstwhile push for business management approaches to humanitarian action was the result of a push for greater accountability and a need to professionalize humanitarian work. Perhaps the most significant import was Results-Based Management (RBM), a management strategy “focusing on performance and achievements of outputs, outcome and impact,” which provides a framework and tools for not only planning activities, but also risk management, performance monitoring, and evaluation. Over the course of time, humanitarians have become exasperated and frustrated with the RBM rationale, both because it is sometimes seen to be contrary to principled humanitarian assistance, and more often because RBM and the results agenda engenders a type of bureaucratization where humanitarians feel that they are “performing monitoring” instead of monitoring performance (borrowed from Welle 2014).

While some humanitarians now strive for a shift towards systems accountability (where they will be held to account with respect to their responsibility for maintaining functional and workable supply-chains or information sharing systems, not specifically demarcated deliverables), others see the private sector as the solution to the RBM straightjacket. There seems to have emerged a notion that increased private sector involvement may in fact allow humanitarians to kill two birds with one stone. Much of the attraction of partnerships and outsourcing to the private sector seems to be that RBM obligations can be offloaded to these actors, through subcontracting and outsourcing that details deliverables and outcomes. Hence, the private sector is both envisioned to be faster at delivering RBM-like outputs — now imagined as a separate objective for humanitarian actors — and quicker to deliver humanitarian response.

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Note: This blog, written by Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (PRIO), was originally posted on the website of the Advanced Training Program on Humanitarian Action (ATHA).

Sandvik on armed non-state actors and access to health in armed conflict

On 12 February 2015, the Norwegian Red Cross organized the seminar “Armed Non State Actors and Access to Health in Armed Conflict”. Speakers included Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende, Sven Mollekleiv (President of the Norwegian Red Cross), as well as researchers from NUPI, PRIO, ICRC, Geneva Call, the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and ILPI.

 The seminar consisted of three sessions, focusing on three sets of questions:

  • The prevalence of armed non-state actors in today’s conflicts. Who are these actors?
  • What rights and responsibilities do armed non-state actors have?
  • What responsibilities do states have and in what way could their approach to armed non-state actors contribute to engender greater respect for international humanitarian law, health care and to facilitate peace processes?

Contributing to the first session, NCHS Director Kristin Bergtora Sandvik discussed actors, agendas and legal categories in post-war Colombia.

In her presentation, Sandvik highlighted that Colombia has a long history of armed actors who have emerged as the result of national legislation and external influence. Paramilitary groups and guerrilla fighters have threatened the civilian population’s right to health, due  to their linkage to local authorities and/or to the state militia – a phenomenon described by Sandvik as ‘local state capture’. The NCHS Director also pointed out that these actors cannot be confined in any ‘clean categories’ and are difficult to identify – making it difficult to hold particular persons or groups accountable for threats, kidnappings, violence and murders.