Humanitarian Negotiation: Key Challenges
and Lessons Learned in an Emerging Field

I.c. Coordination Among Different Institutional Entities

Humanitarian professionals widely acknowledge the importance of coordination during negotiations. Various authors have written that “[i]t is also important for organisations to get their policies and field level approaches aligned;”[28] “[g]etting early ’buy in’ from a broad range of humanitarian agencies will assist in securing commitment from these agencies to any agreed outcome with the armed group;”[29] and “every negotiation pursued on behalf of your own agency must seek to complement rather than compete with the negotiation efforts of humanitarian colleagues in other organisations.”[30] However, due to the highly politicized climate in which humanitarian organizations operate, as well as the confidentiality required for humanitarian negotiations, coordination between negotiators from different organizations has often been challenging. As one writer states, “Few aid agency staff share complete details of access negotiations with their headquarters, other aid agencies (even those operating in the same geographic area) or donors. Internal transparency is profoundly lacking when it comes to talking to armed groups.”[31] The vexing policy question is how humanitarian organizations can reconcile these conflicting needs for coordination and confidentiality. This dilemma is especially relevant given the risk that, in the absence of effective coordination, during negotiations, governmental or non-state entities that control territorial access can play different organizations against one another, as occurred, for example, during the conflicts in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia.[32]

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About the Author

Rob Grace is a Senior Associate at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. He would like to thank Claude Bruderlein and Julia Brooks for helpful comments and edits offered during the process of drafting this paper.

Rob Grace

Rob Grace