Humanitarian Organisations’ Guideline

Taking the “other side’s” perspective: Humanitarian Organisations’ Guidelines on Civil-Military Coordination and the Use of foreign Military and Civil Defence Assets

Besides being well trained in military policy, doctrine and procedures, it is of importance for CIMIC staff to be aware of and pay due respect to humanitarian organisations’ principles on civil-military coordination in different circumstances.

In contemporary crisis no organisation is capable neither to comprehensively and sufficiently respond to the needs of an affected population nor to assist a country in stabilising in serious situations. Consequently there is a need to coordinate efforts between the organisations engaged for increasing the overall effectiveness and / or efficiency. However, this finds its natural limits when humanitarian organisations operate besides the military or other governmental agencies in the same area. While NATO would not limit its collaboration with relevant civilian organisations, humanitarian organisations are relying on some principles that require a certain distance between them and politically controlled organisations, depending on the particular circumstances. The possible proximity is subject to situations in which either a conflict (so-called Complex Emergency ) would set governmental bodies as party to the conflict, and thereby discarding them from being partners to humanitarian organisations or a pure disaster allowing closer interaction. The humanitarian actors’ critical view on assistance provided by (foreign) military and civil defence assets (MCDA) derives from their key principles of humanity, neutrality , impartiality and operational independence which would be affected by a close interaction. Given the key principles, in subject situations MCDA are considered being only a last resort.

For standardising the application of these principles in civil-military coordination several guidelines have been developed. The most prominent ones applicable in the two aforementioned circumstances are the following:

However, experience demonstrates that there are some gaps and limitations in the existing guidelines. Recognizing this situation, the humanitarian community has developed a number of Country/Situation-Specific Guidelines (e.g. Haiti, Pakistan, Sudan or Afghanistan) as well as Guidelines on Military or Armed Escorts for Humanitarian Convoys. Furthermore, civil-military coordination for the potential coincidence of a disaster requiring MCDA assistance within a complex emergency seems not sufficiently addressed in extant guidelines. Discussions amongst the international community are currently assessing the actual need for developing respective guidelines.

While military primarily accords to internal procedures, the ambition of establishing effective civil-military coordination requires thorough reflection of these guidelines during planning and conduct of military operations. A good example on how to respond to these guidelines from a military perspective is the respective ISAF SOP.

Even though CCOE provides key guidelines on its homepage, for the complete overview and latest status of affairs please consult the respective UN OCHA site.

CCOE is regularly engaging in discussions on the application of these guidelines as well as in associated processes to further develop them through supportive documents. Most prominent are:

  • the Annual Meeting of the Consultative Group on the Use of Military and Civil Defence Assets, and
  • the MCDA Logistics Sub-Working Group.