Humanitarian access is a challenge in many armed conflicts, both in areas controlled by state and non-state actors. While there is some general guidance on strategies to address such access constraints, there is very little publicly documented evidence on how humanitarian organisations have overcome specific instances of governments and de facto authorities’ attempts to control, limit, and prohibit humanitarian access.
Broadly, humanitarian organisations have attempted to overcome access constraints imposed by governments and de facto authorities by:
- Engaging in humanitarian negotiations with all parties to the conflict. This can be particularly challenging for small organisations who lack the capacity for the sustained dialogue needed or when there are objections to humanitarian organisations’ negotiations with non-state armed groups. The way in which humanitarian organisations are perceived plays an important role in how effective their access to negotiations will be. Humanitarian organisations should be seen to be neutral, independent and impartial.
- Using the core humanitarian principles, international humanitarian law and national legal and customary norms to encourage all parties to the conflict to understand and allow humanitarian access.
- Programming under limited access through strategies such as remote management, low profile approaches, working with local organisations, and cross border operations. These approaches entail compromises and have considerable risks, but may be the only way to gain access to populations in need.
An independent evaluation for the European Commission found that what works to overcome access constraints in one country can be counterproductive in others. Yet three groups of activities help expand or preserve access: persuading those who control access; mitigating and managing security risks; and operating through remote management (Steets et al, 2012, p. 6). In the organisations most successful in gaining or maintaining access there is a clear trend to ‘de-Westernise their staff and recruit members of Diaspora communities or experienced locals for management positions’ (Steets et al, 2012, p. 10).