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Julia Brooks - August 3, 2015

Threats to the ancient city of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recently captured the headlines as ISIS forces took control of the central Syrian site. Fears of destruction are well-founded, considering ISIS’s record of targeting religious and cultural sites for destruction in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, including shrines, mosques, churches, and cultural sites, such as the ancient cities of Nimrud, Khorsabad, and Hatra in Iraq, as well as ancient artifacts in the Mosul museum and library. While the frequency and zeal by which ISIS is waging war on religious and cultural heritage stand out, the targeting of cultural heritage sites is not new; armies and armed groups have long employed it as a tactic of war, occupation, and persecution: Islamist rebels destroyed ancient tombs, shrines, and manuscripts in Timbuktu, Mali in 2012; the more...

Julia Brooks - July 15, 2015

Now in its fifth year, the war in Syria has produced what the UNHCR calls the “biggest humanitarian emergency of our era.” At least 220,000 Syrians have been killed, over half of the country’s population have been displaced, and over 4 million refugees have fled abroad, pushing global forced displacement to record levels, threatening to destabilize the region and fueling a migrant crisis on the Mediterranean Sea. The humanitarian crisis in Syria continues to worsen as the Assad government maintains a position of denying or placing severe restrictions on humanitarian access. These constraints are exacerbated by insecurity due to escalating fighting, the rise of the Islamic State, deliberate attacks against aid workers, and obstructions of humanitarian relief efforts. In the face of this devastation, do the people of Syria — or any more...

Sudan. An ICRC delegate with a member of the SLA (Sudan Liberation Army) © ICRC / HEGER, Boris / V-P-SD-E-01934
Julia Brooks - June 24, 2015

Humanity, neutrality, impartiality, independence. The fundamental principles of humanitarian action are non-negotiable. Or are they? While promoting respect for international norms, humanitarian actors must engage in frequent, frontline negotiations to ensure the success of their operations. They negotiate for access to vulnerable populations, the consent of governments and armed groups to operate and distribute relief, the protection of affected populations, the safety and security of their own personnel, the cooperation or mobilization of local actors and resources, and the promotion of respect for international law. However, a core tension exists around negotiations in the humanitarian sector: humanitarian actors need to promote respect for fundamental international norms while negotiating nearly every aspect of these norms’ more...

Francisco Rey Marcos & Sophie Duval - June 24, 2015

This guest blog comes to us from Francisco Rey Marcos and Sophie Duval of the Instituto Conflictos y Acción-Humanitaria (IECAH) in Madrid, Spain. This post is adapted from a recent report by the authors published by IECAH, in collaboration with UN OCHA and the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF), available in Spanish and English.

The advances in the negotiation process between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (People’s Army, FARC-EP) over the past two and a half years open up the possibility of a peace agreement being signed in the medium term. While the peace talks have had an indirect positive effect on some humanitarian indicators since they started — leading to a decrease in mass displacements and anti-personnel mine accidents, for example — new more...

Emanuel and Jonata fled indefinite military conscription in Eritrea, only to find themselves in a Libyan detention centre  © Tom Westcott/IRIN
Julia Brooks - June 11, 2015

Refugees and asylum seekers are facing increasing difficulties accessing international protection as the international community and host nations struggle to respond to the record 51.2 million displaced persons worldwide, including 16.7 million refugees. In many countries receiving large numbers of irregular migrants, the detention of refugees and asylum seekers, often en masse, has become commonplace, running afoul of international human rights law and refugee protections.

While the detention of asylum seekers is not prohibited outright, international refugee law and international human rights law place severe restrictions upon the practice. Under IHRL, everyone has a right not to be subject to arbitrary detention: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person … No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, more...

An image of the El Ruiz volcano in Colombia
Julia Brooks - May 28, 2015

Decades of internal armed conflict in Colombia have produced over 6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country — amounting to 15% of the record 38 million IDPs worldwide and 12% of the Colombia’s total population — many displaced multiple times and for years, if not decades. Colombia’s IDPs have significant protection and assistance needs, including disproportionately high poverty rates, food insecurity, child malnourishment and other vulnerabilities resulting from the loss of homes and livelihoods, and increased risk of exposure to urban violence or natural disasters. While Colombia’s protracted armed conflict between government forces and rebel groups is the primary source of displacement, violence by post-demobilization armed groups and criminal gangs, along with recurring natural disasters, have also contributed to more...

Families carrying home their share of food, Oromi IDP camp, Kitgum District, northern Uganda, 18 May 2007. © Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
Rob Grace - May 14, 2015

More people are fleeing conflict and violence than ever before on record, with the number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons (IDPs) now exceeding 50 million people. Amongst these, IDPs — who are displaced within their country of origin — account for the largest portion, reaching a record 38 million people in 2014, according to a new report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). Yet unlike refugees, who by definition have fled across an international border, IDPs do not benefit from the special status or specific rights and protections afforded to “refugees” under international law. As a result, their protection remains primarily under the purview of their national governments, many of which are either unable or unwilling to provide adequate protection and assistance; furthermore, some of these more...

Julia Brooks - May 6, 2015

We asked, you answered!

In partnership with the Law and Policy Forum at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), ATHA launched a 13-question survey of humanitarian professionals working across the globe on topics and challenges in the humanitarian sector most crucial and relevant to their work.

The response has been outstanding: In the first month of the survey, we received 549 responses from individuals with an average of 6-10 years of professional experience in the humanitarian sector, based in 88 different countries including Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, South Sudan, Jordan, Pakistan, and Kenya.

We would like to thank everyone who completed the survey for your valuable insights! The survey results will directly contribute to informing the ongoing more...

David Polatty - April 29, 2015

This guest blog comes to us from Professor David Polatty. David teaches military strategy, maritime security, and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) in Newport, Rhode Island, and is a co-founder and co-director of the NWC College of Operational & Strategic Leadership - Harvard School of Public Health “Joint Civilian-Military Humanitarian Working Group.”

The tragic deaths of as many as 900 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea last week appear to have been a call to action for not only the European Union (EU), but the international community at large. After intense media scrutiny of this horrific event within a much wider and intensifying migration crisis, EU politicians finally came together to reexamine ways to mitigate risks to vulnerable populations. While the UN welcomed more...

Rob Grace - April 27, 2015

A number of issue areas — civil-military coordination, security for field workers, and negotiation on the front lines of humanitarian action, for example — are high on the humanitarian sector’s research and policy agenda. Alongside these issues is the question of how researchers, practitioners, and trainers can most effectively collaborate to facilitate professional exchanges geared toward learning lessons from past practice. A number of forces countervail the drive to build professional unity within the sector: e.g., scarce resources, the distinct organizational identities of different humanitarian organizations, and the notion that many contexts in which humanitarians operate are sui generis. In light of these factors, as the humanitarian sector engages in a continual process of professionalization, how can it carry forward lessons more...

Relatives of missing persons from Sri Lanka's 26-year long civil war hold their pictures during a meeting in Sri Lanka capital Colombo -- © Amantha Perera/IRIN
Theo Boutruche - April 22, 2015

This guest blog comes to us from Theo Boutruche, a member of the Harvard Group of Professionals on Monitoring, Reporting and Fact-finding. This post is adapted from a post that was previously published on the author's blog, The Art of Facts. Theo's previous experience includes work as Post-Conflict Legal Adviser at REDRESS, Amnesty International Researcher on the Democratic Republic of Congo, Associate Human Rights Officer within the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and as the IHL/Human Rights Expert of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, any of the organizations or institutions for which the author works or has more...

© Mark Hodson
Julia Brooks - April 20, 2015

Humanitarian action is an exercise in triage, requiring strategic planning around enduring constraints in capacity, resources, and operational funding. Impartiality dictates that priority is given to the most urgent cases of distress, whereby the most good is to be made out of the limited resources available. Yet given the large number and scale of current humanitarian crises – from Syria and Iraq, to the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Ebola-affected West Africa – the international humanitarian system is overwhelmed. In many of these cases, the emergencies themselves and the social, economic and humanitarian costs endure for years. Never before has so much money gone to humanitarian relief – global humanitarian funding reached a record $22 billion in 2013 – and it is yet still far outpaced by the unprecedented scale of more...

Julia Brooks - April 15, 2015

Amidst difficult peace negotiations in South Sudan, the parties are pitting the pursuit of justice and accountability against the interests of peace, reviving a lingering debate over the role of transitional justice in conflict resolution. In the process, they are jeopardizing both peace and justice, perpetuating a legacy of impunity at the expense of civilian protection.

After over a year of investigation into human rights violations and other abuses committed during the armed conflict in South Sudan, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council decided to indefinitely defer the release of a report by its Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCISS) on January 29th of this year, arguing that it could jeopardize the ongoing peace process. This decision sparked a wave of criticism by both South Sudanese and international more...

David Polatty - April 6, 2015

This guest blog comes to us from Professor David Polatty. David teaches military strategy, maritime security, and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) in Newport, Rhode Island, and is a co-founder and co-director of the NWC College of Operational & Strategic Leadership - Harvard School of Public Health “Joint Civilian-Military Humanitarian Working Group.”

As the recent international humanitarian response to Cyclone Pam hitting Vanuatu on 13 March 2015 demonstrates, effective civil-military coordination is critically important during complex emergencies. With over 166,000 people scattered across 80+ islands who are still impacted by the effects of the category 5 cyclone, the international humanitarian community responded immediately but found itself needing logistical and more...

Vincenzo Bollettino - March 20, 2015

The United States and other international militaries are sometimes called on to provide humanitarian relief in the wake of large natural disasters or complex emergencies that overwhelm the capacity of the affected state/s to adequately respond to the immediate needs of its people. With an expected increase in the magnitude and frequency of deadly storms, it is reasonable to assume that militaries will be increasingly called upon to participate in the delivery of relief to populations affected by large-scale natural disasters, conflict, or complex emergencies. Yet, the extant frameworks that govern civil-military engagement (namely the ‘Oslo Guidelines’ and the ‘MCDA Guidelines’) clearly limit the use of military assets for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and proscribe their use except as a matter of last resort. Nonetheless, more...

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