Civil-Military Coordination in Humanitarian Protection

Release Date: 
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Afghanistan © Ebadi/WFP

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Especially in complex humanitarian emergencies, effective civil-military coordination can be crucial to maintaining humanitarian access, protecting civilians, and managing the security of aid workers. After all, military forces often play a lead role in response to natural disasters or conflicts. Yet “civ-mil” coordination poses a number of challenges, particularly in terms of preserving the neutrality, impartiality and independence of humanitarian operations while operating alongside militaries.

This podcast will explore legal and operational challenges associated with civil-military engagement in Pakistan, which puts the challenges of civ-mil engagement in stark relief. There, armed conflict, instability and natural disasters have combined in recent years to produce a series of complex humanitarian crises and the large-scale displacement. With the military controlling access and aid distribution to significant areas of the country as part of counter-insurgency operations, humanitarian operations have depended on close coordination with military forces. In the process, however, humanitarian agencies have struggled to secure access to vulnerable populations while maintaining adherence to the humanitarian principles. With their neutrality, impartiality and independence frequently called into question by anti-government forces, aid workers have come under frequent attack in Pakistan; at least 90 have been killed in the country since 2001. 

Key questions for discussion include:

  • What are the main challenges associated with civil-military coordination (e.g. legal, policy, operational)?
  • How can humanitarian agencies coordinate more effectively with military forces to enhance civilian protection in complex emergencies?
  • How can humanitarian agencies preserve their neutrality, impartiality and independence when coordinating with military forces?

Expert commentators:

  • Mohammad Fayyazi, Humanitarian Policy Advisor, UNICEF
  • Chris Hardaway, Attorney; independent consultant, rule of law & development
  • Brigadier Ishtiaq Ahmed SI(M), Member (Operations), National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Pakistan
  • George Khoury, Head of Office, OCHA Pakistan
  • Michael Marx, Senior Civil-Military Coordination Advisor, OCHA
  • Albert J. Shimkus, Jr., CAPT, NC, USN (Retired); Associate Professor, National Security Affairs, US Naval War College


  • Inter-Agency Standing Committee, IASC Non-binding Guidelines on the Use of Armed Escorts for Humanitarian Convoys, 27 February 2013.
  • OCHA, Guidelines on the Use of Military and Civil Defence Assets to Support United Nations Humanitarian Activities in Complex Emergencies (‘MCDA Guidelines’), Rev. 1, Jan. 2006, in “Civil-Military Guidelines and Reference for Complex Emergencies” (2008).
  • OCHA, Guidelines on the Use of Foreign Military and Civil Defence Assets in Disaster Relief (‘Oslo Guidelines’), Rev. 1.1, November 2007.
  • Inter-Agency Standing CommitteeCivil-Military Relationship in Complex Emergencies - An IASC Reference Paper, 28 June 2004.
  • OCHA, Draft Guidelines for Civil-Military Coordination in Pakistan, March 2010
  • Lauren Greenwood and Gowthaman Balachandran, “The search for common ground: Civil–military relations in Pakistan.” HPG Working Paper (March 2014),
  • “Humanitarian space in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Humanitarian Exchange, No. 49, January 2011, pp. 11-14, London: Overseas Development Institute.

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