Humanitarian Negotiation Series: Negotiation with Non-State Armed Groups at the Frontlines

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In many of today’s frontline humanitarian environments, access is increasingly difficult to obtain and maintain, and continued engagement with non-state armed actors is an integral aspect of ensuring assistance and protection activities and advocating for compliance with international legal standards. Humanitarian professionals working in these spaces must navigate myriad challenges and dilemmas in order to negotiate an operational space for engagement with armed groups, including balancing engagement with both state and non-state actors, understanding and managing perceptions armed actors have of humanitarian agencies, and bridging the divide between armed groups’ interests and fundamental humanitarian principles and objectives.

This podcast will explore and address specific challenges and dilemmas that humanitarian workers face when negotiating with non-state armed groups, and discuss practical tools and methods that would strengthen humanitarian operations and negotiation capacity in complex environments. Through discussions with experts and practitioners, the conversation will focus on field perspectives and practices in negotiating with non-state armed groups, perceptions of non-state actors of humanitarian agencies, and the complexities of understanding the structures and interests of armed groups. It will examine some key questions including:

  • What are the most salient challenges and dilemmas of engaging with non-state armed groups? How can frontline negotiators address these?
  • How do humanitarian negotiators balance the objectives and outputs of their mission with ethical concerns that may be inherent in engagement with non-state actors?
  • What strategies exist for humanitarian negotiators to build trust with non-state armed groups while maintaining legitimacy, especially with regard to host states?
  • How do non-state armed groups perceive humanitarian actors? How do negotiators manage these perceptions and expectations, or clarify misperceptions?
  • Where is the red line between the negotiable and the non-negotiable? How are these lines drawn and communicated?
  • What tools, methods, or policies are needed to enhance the capacity of humanitarian negotiators at the frontline, particularly those engaging with non-state actors?
Claude Bruderlein
Strategic Advisor, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) 
Twitter: @HumanTrends
Stig Jarle Hansen
Research Fellow, International Security Program
Twitter: @BelferCenter
Abdi Ismail Isse
Master's in Public Administration Candidate,
Harvard Kennedy School 
Twitter: @BelferCenter
Ashley Jackson
Research Associate with the Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute
Twitter: @a_a_jackson



Dr.Nasrin Danesh's picture

Hello.I am a psychiatrist from Iran .The ideas and negotiation process is a very interesting matter which I am following and using in my conflict resolution sessions. I would be grateful if I can participate in your training sessions.Could you please send me any useful address or link ? Best Regards .

Patrick Zahnd's picture

It was very difficult to understand what Ashley Jackson was saying. Not all persons listening are native English-speaking, nor US citizens. The purpose is to speak to a much larger audience, not all fully understanding US English nor its cultural approach. You should tell such persons especially speaking over the phone to speak more slowly and in a clearer manner.

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