Important Skills for Humanitarian Professionals Working in a Contemporary Conflict Environment

Hyun Jin Kwak

March 2008

This piece was written while the author was completing a Master of Arts degree in Peace Studies at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.


The contemporary conflicts are generally classified as "new wars[1]," which are primarily characterized by a changed type of warfare. In the new wars, non-state actors intimidate civilians through mass killings, brutal and coercive acts, and destabilization strategies. The classical rules of warfare[2] in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century — which grant civilians noncombatant immunity from violence — are challenged in the contemporary conflicts, where "the distinction between civilian and military[3]" has virtually disappeared. This changed type of warfare and indiscriminate behavior of warring parties requires humanitarian organizations and workers to strategically negotiate their way to provide necessary assistance to civilians in war-torn societies. Such negotiations enable organizations to create humanitarian space, gain access to the local population, and respond to immediate sufferings and short-term needs of civilians.

Although what humanitarian agencies can achieve largely depends on their mandate, objectives, funding sources, methods of operation, and especially the conflict situation in which they operate, addressing only the short-term needs of civilians is not enough. Since humanitarian assistance and negotiations take place during the preliminary stages of international engagement in re-building and recovery of conflict-ridden societies, they must foster conditions for peace that have lasting impact. The humanitarian community should thus enhance its capacity to initiate activities and negotiations that have an enduring effect on the wider framework for peace.

This responsibility calls for a number of things. It compels humanitarian organizations to develop tools and strategies that tackle "specific dilemmas in specific contemporary wars[4]". This obliges humanitarian professionals to acquire new skills and intelligence that are essential for tackling certain emergencies. They may also be required to fulfill the task of human rights monitoring as an important part of their humanitarian mandate. For example, gathering accurate information about war crimes, insisting on armed actors' compliance with international human rights laws, and identifying alleged perpetrators ultimately contribute to the protection of civilians from violence and to the long-term healing and rehabilitation of societies[5]. Humanitarian agencies may further be obliged to establish a web of relationships, actively collaborate with local actors, conduct post-intervention evaluations, and initiate case-specific and peace-focused humanitarian programmes. All these actions contribute to developing the overall capacity for peace.

This essay discusses several important skills and tools that allow humanitarian agencies to better tackle the challenges of contemporary conflicts. The case studies mentioned in this essay are not models for imitation for other humanitarian agencies[6]. Rather, they are used to explain the practical value of these skills; the case studies also address the importance of thoroughly assessing the particulars of a conflict and devising a response that suits the local characteristics and needs of a conflict situation. Finally, these skills contribute to the capacity of humanitarian organizations to build conditions for peace through humanitarian activities that have lasting impact.

A Necessary Skill: Humanitarian Intelligence

The political complexity of humanitarian emergencies in contemporary wars requires humanitarian practitioners to gain new skills that will help them operate effectively. Since more and more emergency aid is delivered through negotiated access, humanitarian intelligence and political analysis are vital in order for organizations to strategically plan their aid and negotiation efforts. Agencies should have accurate information regarding which factions are in control of which areas, which actors are willing to negotiate, and what their intentions, positions, bottom lines and interests are[7]. This will help humanitarian negotiators choose appropriate tactics and strategies in negotiating access. Equally important, analysis of local politics, the evolving political and military configurations, knowledge of local cultures, language skills and local sensitivities, data on the humanitarian resources in the country, and information on the impact of assistance on the benefiting parties all serve as guiding tools for agencies to tailor appropriate humanitarian responses to a specific crisis[8].

The results of international postwar state building operations such as in Liberia after 1997, Timor Leste after 2002, and Bosnia and Kosovo after 1999[9] reflect the difficulty of responding to differences and unexpected problems in local situations. They also represent the international community's lack of knowledge and analysis of the impact and tensions involved in the state building process. Paris and Sisk (2007) thus recommend that international actors carry out "dilemmas analyses[10]" before and during state building missions so that the design of the operations represents better knowledge about local conditions and careful consideration of the effect and consequences of international actions. In the same way, humanitarian agencies must devote considerable funds and energy in gathering accurate humanitarian intelligence and practicing sophisticated analyses of the local situation in order to prepare for frontline diplomacy.

Important Humanitarian Skills that Create Conditions for Peace

With the necessary humanitarian intelligence and analyses of local variations and dynamics of a given conflict, agencies should devise appropriate responses that reflect the different ranges, types and objectives of humanitarian diplomacy[11]. Although humanitarian organizations share a common mission to respond to humanitarian need, their activities should pursue specific objectives that specifically tackle the different needs of the local population. The activities should also have durable impact. Therefore, this not only refers to the provision of basic food aid, relief and health services, but also indicates the need to protect civilians, attempt to reduce violence, report human rights violations, and the initiation of peace building activities that contribute to the capacity of fostering peace in war-torn societies.

The UNRWA in Palestinian Occupied Territories: Protecting Refugees through Mediation

The Refugee Affairs Officer (RAO) programme implemented in the early 1990s by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) demonstrates how an international agency provided passive protection for the refugee population. The RAO teams made frequent and unannounced visits to the occupied Palestinian territories where they constantly reported disruptions and other unusual circumstances to the relevant field offices. Moreover, the RAOs negotiated with military commanders the withdrawal of their forces in areas where riots could erupt into violence and further suggest that Israeli forces conduct their operations in less provoking ways. The RAOs often acted as third party interveners in confrontational situations between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces. They also negotiated the release of children or wounded persons arrested at military checkpoints and camps[12].

The UNRWA's RAO negotiation and protection activities derived their legitimacy from the principles of international law such as the Charter of the United Nations and the Fourth Geneva Convention (1946). Using these laws as the legal basis for their actions, the RAO negotiations not only ensured the safe movement of UNRWA's emergency aid but more importantly, defended the dignity and proper treatment of Palestinian refugees under Israeli occupation. The RAO programme conveys important lessons. First, the UNRWA did not restrict itself to carrying out traditional humanitarian assistance. Instead, it adopted an innovative approach that used humanitarian negotiations to protect the Palestinian refugees. Second, the UNRWA's response was case-specific; it addressed an important grievance of the Palestinian population under Israeli occupation[13]. Lastly, the programme contributed to creating conditions for peace by establishing a legal basis for the rights and protection of refugees.

The ICRC in East Timor: Establishing a Legal Basis for Civilian Protection

By networking with hundreds of local and international humanitarian organizations in East Timor, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) transformed a single organizational commitment to the Fourth Geneva Convention into a uniting force of NGOs promoting respect for international humanitarian law. The ICRC used networking to develop conditions for peace such as a strong legal basis for civilian protection. Since 1999, the ICRC actively engaged in bilateral dialogue with all political and military parties in the armed conflict to persuade them to abide by the Geneva Conventions on the protection and treatment of civilians and prisoners. The ICRC delegation contacted the governmental authorities at different levels and ministries, reminding them of their responsibilities to international law. The ICRC further established networks with other non-governmental, international, national and civil society actors that could influence armed actors' behaviors and their methods of conducting military operations on the ground.

Through regular dialogues with both headquarters and field offices of big and small humanitarian organizations, the ICRC raised strong awareness of its humanitarian concerns. The ICRC tried to balance the efforts of various humanitarian actors in terms of their mandates, methods of operation and expertise so that the diverse sets of humanitarian activities would complement each other[14]. The ICRC operations in East Timor demonstrated how multilateral cooperation encouraged the understanding of objectives and operation methods of humanitarian players, which developed "complementarity[15]" among agencies.

Furthermore, by coordinating the agencies' demands to armed parties, the East Timorese humanitarian community established an atmosphere of support for the international humanitarian law. Such a response from local and international humanitarian NGOs in turn pressurized armed actors to comply with the relevant international conventions, protect East Timorese refugees and civilians, and not intervene in humanitarian activities. The humanitarian community's support for humanitarian law also set the foundations for a future legal framework in order to "provide victims who have access to it with an objective means to identify and measure the magnitude of the wrongs they have suffered[16]." Thus, ICRC's humanitarian response created conditions for peace in which a permanent legal structure could be established.

Upholding Human Rights: the Rwandan Case

The increasing human rights atrocities in contemporary conflicts require the task of human rights monitoring to be integrated into the humanitarian agenda. In conflict situations such as Rwanda, Somalia, Bosnia, Angola and Sierra Leone, human rights monitoring and reporting should be an integral part of agencies' humanitarian mandate. For example, the investigations conducted by the UN Special Rapporteur and a Commission of Experts on human rights violations that occurred during the Rwandan genocide of 1994[17] are an important task to which humanitarian workers should contribute. Human rights monitoring may be considered as a "political" initiative rather than "humanitarian," which might lead to confrontations with the very actors in a conflict situation with whom humanitarian organizations seek to negotiate. However, it is unethical for agencies to tolerate mass killings and human rights atrocities merely for fear of upsetting the working relationships they have established with armed groups[18]. In addition, the human rights monitoring and reporting are vital for building peace in the long term. They can be used to uphold human rights, establish a fair judicial system, punish perpetrators and promote reconciliation[19] in the long run.

The failed mission of the human rights field operation in Rwanda initiated by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights[20] further demonstrates the need for humanitarian practitioners to be trained in international humanitarian and human rights law. They also need to acquire skills in carrying out investigations and reporting, and providing technical expertise to local human rights offices. Since humanitarian professionals are already on the ground, have better knowledge about the local conflict situation, culture, language and local sensitivities, and since their agencies have most likely established some credibility and legitimacy in the local society, they can serve as efficient partners for major human rights agencies such as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. By coordinating the UN's human rights efforts through partnerships with humanitarian organizations, the UN can avoid failed missions due to poor preparations and training prior to deployment[21].

Rather than initiating an entire human rights field operation from the beginning of its post-conflict mission without a strong basis of local knowledge and experience, the UN can build upon the human rights work that has been performed by humanitarian professionals throughout a conflict. Prior to deploying its mission, the UN can devote greater energy in strengthening its leadership role, increasing coordination among its humanitarian partners, and providing strong resource support. The humanitarian agencies should, on the other hand, share[22] with UN agencies their humanitarian intelligence and political analyses of local conditions. This will enable UN missions to initiate case-specific and locally sensitive responses on conflict situations.

Effective Use of the Media: Countering Propagandist Messages

Although human rights monitoring is important in order to end human rights violations and to initiate reconciliation in post-war situations, humanitarian agencies need to develop skills and strategies that directly counter propagandist messages that incite conflict. In recent years, the international community has witnessed how media-based propaganda exacerbated conflicts in countries such as Rwanda, Somalia and Former Yugoslavia. In Rwanda, the Hutu radio station, "A mille collines", encouraged the Hutus to commit extreme acts of violence against the Tutsis. The Hutus were threatened to escape to Zaire using the same radio-based propaganda when the Rwandan Patriotic Front regained control of the country[23].

When operating in conflict situations where violence is driven by propaganda and misinformation, humanitarian organizations should broadcast messages of peace that counter languages of hatred and violence. The counter message should be accompanied with useful humanitarian information necessary for one's survival and safety during emergencies. The UN agencies have already attempted to broadcast such messages in cooperation with the BBC world service in Afghanistan and Cambodia[24]. In Rwanda, the ICRC has worked with BBC in efforts to trace separated families in different countries through a daily fifteen-minute "emergency radio lifeline[25]". Humanitarian agencies should develop the necessary communication skills and networks in order to transmit conciliatory messages and humanitarian information through the media. If done in a timely and effective manner, such attempts may be able to significantly pacify a conflict situation before the eruption of a full-scale violence. Thus, the proper use of the media can build conditions of peace by dissuading violence and encouraging reconciliation and non-violent resolution between groups.

Case of UNICEF in Lebanon: Education for Peace

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)'s humanitarian response in Lebanon in 1989 revealed how an agency can contribute to long-term peace building by influencing public opinion. In the beginning of 1989, education facilities began to close. Due to a lack of contact with children of other communities and daily exposure to adult propaganda[26], Lebanese children's perception of the world and of the "other" was invaded by fear and misery. In response, UNICEF wanted to transform this negatively colored perception through a creative educational opportunity where children interact with one another, learn together, and change their attitudes about each other's differences. The Education for Peace Project was different from any other education programs planned by UNICEF and other humanitarian NGOs because it represented an explicit peace building agenda with a powerful long-term impact. Once UNICEF set a clear goal for its programme, it mobilized local grassroots organizations around that objective.

By negotiating and collaborating with 240 local NGOs[27], UNICEF was able to mobilize children of different regions and religious and ethnic backgrounds. In 1989 even as the war persisted, UNICEF successfully organized 112 peace camps with considerable support from both local and international media. Around 29,000 Lebanese and Palestinian children participated in the camps. The following year, 40,000 children attended a total of 215 camps. The number grew to about 100,000 children in 1991[28]. For many of the children, it was the very first time that they lived, learned, and played with Christians, Muslims, and Druze. Moreover, 5,000 young men and women who had first-handedly experienced the violence throughout the war served as camp leaders in 1989, 1990 and 1991. They received training that allowed them to broaden their perspective and generate ideas to positively engage with children.

Although it is difficult to measure the direct impact of the peace camps on the lives of the Lebanese children who participated in the camps, it is clear that UNICEF's initiative changed their biased perceptions of one another. The program presented — to the children, their families, the camp leaders and the local partner NGOs — the possibility of living together without resorting to violence. The camp also had a lasting impact on the young leaders who began to see themselves as agents of peace while teaching the younger Lebanese generation of kids to tolerate differences. Moreover, once the Education for Peace developed into a stable program, UNICEF helped the peace camp leaders initiate the program's activities in their own communities. The young leaders realized their capacity to build peace by reaching out to their communities[29] with the lessons of tolerance they had learned during the training and camps. UNICEF's project thus fostered lasting conditions for peace by changing people's perceptions.

Post-Intervention Evaluations: Assessing Negative Side Effects and Overall Impact of Humanitarian Assistance

An indispensable tool for humanitarian organizations operating in contemporary conflicts is evaluations. Evaluations are needed not only because agencies should be accountable to the demands of their local beneficiaries but also because of the wider political, social, and economic impact of humanitarian aid on a local society.

Despite the fact that humanitarian responses have such important bearings on the local society, humanitarian agencies often do not examine the long-term and broader impacts of their actions. For example, the international humanitarian community in Rwanda in the 1990s exacerbated the structural violence taking place in the Rwandan society by distributing aid and launching programs without considering the distributional impact on strong ethnic divides and those living on the margins of society[30]. After the Rwandan genocide, good humanitarian intentions led to a humanitarian disaster in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Tanzania. Hundreds of organization competed for humanitarian space, international funds, and setting up of ad hoc operations while 50,000 Rwandan refugees died from cholera[31]. The same mistakes were repeated by organizations in their response to the tsunami disaster. Problems arose during the relief operations in Aceh, Indonesia because more than 400 agencies were not only competing for international funds and local personnel, but many of them did not have the experience of dealing with the situation and failed to assess the local condition properly[32].

In order to draw lessons from these experiences, post-intervention evaluations must be carried out by NGOs. Certain progress has been made in this area. This includes the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) and the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership-International, which share ideas about better accountability to the recipients of humanitarian aid.

However, this is only the first step to the right direction. These cases strongly suggest the need to carry out "long-term monitoring of humanitarian responses," which evaluate the overall impact of an operation. This means that agencies should evaluate their aid's impact on conflict, more specifically the direct and indirect impact on structural violence[33], whether aid finances the government or insurgency group's war efforts[34], the effect on local economies and markets, and the distributional impacts of aid[35]. Such investigations might be difficult to conduct for agencies with limited funds for evaluations and especially during chaotic humanitarian emergencies. Nevertheless, humanitarian agencies should adopt a long-term approach that will help them determine the overall impact of their responses in a local context and better address the problems in the rehabilitation and recovery stages of a specific crisis. This is required in order to reduce the negative side effects of humanitarian aid. Applying the lessons learned in the past will also allow agencies to lead future operations more effectively, in turn strengthening their capacity to build peace.


In the face of contemporary conflicts in which civilians are often the direct victims who bear the brunt of war, this essay suggests ways in which humanitarian practice can be improved and suggests skills that are valuable for humanitarian professionals to possess. It is by no means a complete discussion of how humanitarian organizations should develop in the future. Nevertheless, the arguments and case studies discussed in this paper emphasize the need to thoroughly assess the challenges of contemporary wars and suggest practical steps that humanitarian organizations and practitioners should take to meet these challenges.

As highlighted in several case studies above, skills such as improved humanitarian intelligence, expertise on humanitarian and human rights law and human rights reporting are necessary negotiation and peace building tools that enable humanitarian access, protection of civilians, reconciliation in the long term, and case-specific response to a conflict. Networking with and coordination among both international and local actors, and use of communications and media power are also vital tools that ensure humanitarian work a wider and lasting impact[36] in the war-torn societies. Post-intervention evaluations are also essential in order for agencies to enhance effectiveness and reduce the harmful impacts of their actions on a society as a whole.

All these skills are important elements that make up the capacity of humanitarian organizations to build peace. Thus, humanitarian agencies' objectives and activities should not be confined to the traditional humanitarian mandate. In addition to providing basic needs, organizations should build the capacity for peace by adopting the skills needed to confront the challenges in a contemporary conflict environment. Regardless of the individual characteristics of agencies, humanitarian organizations should aim to cultivate conditions for peace.

Additional Annotated Sources on Humanitarian Work

Anderson, Mary B. Do No Harm. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999.

This book provides humanitarian agencies with tools and strategies to help them tackle humanitarian problems they confront in war-torn societies such as issues of aid distribution. It is an easy-read compilation of experiences of humanitarian workers. It examines both the positive and negative impacts of humanitarian aid.

Anderson, Mary B. and Peter J. Woodrow. Rising from the Ashes. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998.

This book serves as a good introduction on useful strategies for analyzing humanitarian need and building local capacity in order to create self-reliance. The book also presents case studies in which it demonstrates how aid agencies have coped with practical problems on the ground.

Dichter, Thomas W. Despite Good Intentions. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003.

This book provides various reasons why development assistance to the developing world has failed. The author argues that development organizations pursue their own interests, and that the provision of most development aid, with the exception of humanitarian and emergency aid, should be stopped.

Eriksson, John. "The International Response to Conflict and Genocide: Lessons from the Rwanda Experience." Steering Committee of the Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda (1996): 33-41.

This report discusses the lessons learned from the Rwandan experience such as the transition from emergency relief to rehabilitation and development. It also assesses the shortcomings and failures of the current rehabilitation projects, and provides specific recommendations to resolve these problems.

Hoffman, Peter J. and Thomas G. Weiss. Sword and Salve. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006.

This book offers a comprehensive history of how the international humanitarian system has evolved. In the face of new wars and its complexities, it points out that humanitarian agencies should respond strategically by acquiring new skills and knowledge.

Mertus, Julie A. and Jeffrey W. Helsing., ed. Human Rights and Conflict. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2006.

This book serves as an extremely insightful and comprehensive guide to the relationship between conflict and human rights. It approaches the topic of human rights and conflict in the perspectives of different actors such as peace builders, human rights lawyers, and conflict mediators. Some chapters are followed by opposing views that argue against the previous line of reasoning.

Mancini-Griffoli, Deborah and André Picot. "Humanitarian Negotiation." Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (2004): 3-168.

This handbook is a how-to-do guide on humanitarian negotiations. It offers practical advice on what has to be done at each stage of the process of humanitarian negotiations during complex emergencies. The handbook is made in collaboration with academics and field workers.

Minear, Larry and Hazel Smith, ed. Humanitarian Diplomacy: Practitioners and Their Craft. Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2007.

This book explores the lessons learned by humanitarian professions during their experience of leading humanitarian operations in particular conflict settings. The skills and lessons presented are always analyzed in the context of a specific case presented in each chapter.

Newman, Edward and Oliver Richmond, ed. Challenges to Peacebuilding: Managing Spoilers During Conflict Resolution. Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2006.

This book examines how spoilers and spoiling behavior of conflict actors affect peace processes. It argues for a broader definition of spoilers by exploring the spoiling behavior from the spoilers' perspectives and interests. It analyzes the role of spoilers in conflicts such as Israel-Palestine, Northern Ireland, and Colombia.

Paris, Roland and Timothy D. Sisk. "Managing Contradictions: The Inherent Dilemmas of Postwar Statebuilding." International Peace Academy (2007): 1-14.

This article focuses on the tensions and contradictions involved in postwar statebuilding. It offers policy implications such as conducting conflict dilemma analyses in order to help the international community initiate effective statebuilding in the future.

Prendergast, John. Frontline Diplomacy. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1996.

This book introduces the discussion on how humanitarian aid can aggravate conflict and the ways in which international NGOs can reduce the harmful effects of aid. The book argues that apolitical humanitarianism cannot tackle the challenges posed by the complexities of contemporary humanitarian emergencies.

Uvin, Peter. Aiding Violence: The Development Enterprise in Rwanda. West Hartford: Kumarian Press, 1998.

This book offers explanations of how development aid has both directly and indirectly contributed to the structural violence in the Rwandan society, which consequently caused the genocide in 1994. It also presents a list of recommendations that development agencies must take into consideration and implement in the future to avoid the same mistakes.

Intractability Essays Relevant to This Essay[37]

Human Rights Violations

This essay is a comprehensive discussion on the types of human rights violations that occur in intractable conflicts. It also explores the question of what can be done to protect human rights such as humanitarian intervention.

Parties to Intractable Conflicts:

People Involved (Parties)

This essay gives a brief introduction into the roles people involved in an intractable conflict can play.


Disputants are the people primarily involved in a dispute. They are the ones most affected by the outcome of the conflict and the ones who are pursuing it.

Stakeholder Representatives

When a conflict has spread to a large group such as a nation or a religious group, not everyone can participate directly in the conflict resolution process. They must choose a representative to act on their behalf. This is a demanding and risky position.


Whether formal or informal, intermediaries can help disputing parties work through a conflict more effectively than they would have been able to do alone.


Large-Scale Communication

This essay discusses ways to communicate to large groups and even whole societies. While the media is the most traditional way of doing this, other approaches are also sometimes utilized, such as community dialogues or even "national conversations."


Propaganda involves the obscuring, manipulating, or misconstruing of information for political gain. It may involve efforts to garner support amongst followers or to dampen the spirits of one's opponents.

Assessment and Evaluation:

Conflict Assessment

Conflict assessment is the first stage in the process of conflict management and resolution that begins by clarifying participants' interests, needs, positions, and issues and then engages stakeholders to find solutions.

Conflict Mapping

Conflict mapping is one approach to conflict assessment. Originally developed in the 1970s by Paul Wehr, it has been adapted and used by many scholars and practitioners since. Many others have developed their own conflict assessment "tools," with 100s of different categories. But Wehr's approach to complex mapping is one of the simpler and easier to use tools and is a good example of the kinds of things people should look at as they become engaged in or start to study a particular conflict.

Evaluation and Assessment of Interventions

Winston Churchill said, "True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information." This essay explains how evaluation can make interventions into intractable conflict more effective.

Evaluation as a Tool for Reflection

This essay argues that evaluation and systematic reflection provides for the learning and knowledge necessary for effective dispute resolution processes. At the same time, it poses significant difficulties.


Negotiation is bargaining — it is the process of discussion and give-and-take between two or more disputants, who seek to find a solution to a common problem. This overview essay discusses basic strategies and tactics of negotiation

Human Rights Protection

There is growing consensus that the protection of human rights is important for the resolution of conflict. This essay discusses various ways the international community is attempting to bring an end to human rights abuses.

Humanitarian Aid and Development Assistance

This essay examines the definition of humanitarian and development assistance, the actors of this aid, the problems that challenge humanitarian and development organizations, and common criticisms of such agencies.

[1] Peter J. Hoffman and Thomas G. Weiss, Sword and Salve: Confronting New Wars and Humanitarian Crises (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006), 73.

[2] Classical rules of warfare refer to laws such as the Geneva conventions and Additional Protocols. Additional Protocol I, article 48, states the "Basic Rule": "In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives." Ibid., 91.

[3] Ibid., 55.

[4] Peter J. Hoffman and Thomas G. Weiss, Sword and Salve: Confronting New Wars and Humanitarian Crises, 204.

[5] Humanitarian strategies and missions, like sustainable state building, should be designed with the longer term in mind. Roland Paris and Timothy D. Sisk, 2007. "Managing Contradictions: the Inherent Dilemmas of Postwar Statebuilding." International Peace Academy (November): 8.

[6] The case studies mentioned in this essay are about large international organizations. The essay does not suggest that small humanitarian agencies should imitate the activities of big organizations. It does suggest, however, that all humanitarian organizations should strive to make case-specific responses in conflict situations that build conditions for peace with lasting impact.

[7] Deborah Mancini-Griffoli and André Picot, Humanitarian Negotiation (Geneva: Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, 2004), 45.

[8] Peter J. Hoffman and Thomas G. Weiss, Sword and Salve: Confronting New Wars and Humanitarian Crises, 204.

[9] Roland Paris and Timothy D. Sisk, 2007. "Managing Contradictions: the Inherent Dilemmas of Postwar Statebuilding." International Peace Academy (November): 1.

[10] Roland Paris and Timothy D. Sisk, 2007. "Managing Contradictions: the Inherent Dilemmas of Postwar Statebuilding." International Peace Academy (November): 7.

[11] Deborah Mancini-Griffoli and André Picot, Humanitarian Negotiation, 85.

[12] Toni Pfanner, "Principled Humanitarian Action in the East Timor Crisis," in Humanitarian Diplomacy, ed. Larry Minear and Hazel Smith, Tokyo, 2007, 186.

[13] Continuation of human rights abuse can "set the stage for future conflicts." When victims cannot stop the abuse inflicted upon them and when these grievances are not properly addressed, the victims may desire revenge. Thus, the RAO programme sought to address the sense of powerlessness of Palestinians and helped them regain their dignity through negotiations. Ellen L. Lutz, "Understanding Human Rights Violations in Armed Conflict," in Human Rights and Conflict, ed. Julie A. Mertus and Jeffrey W. Helsing, Washington, D.C., 2006, 28.

[14] Toni Pfanner, "Principled Humanitarian Action in the East Timor Crisis," in Humanitarian Diplomacy, ed. Larry Minear and Hazel Smith, Tokyo, 2007, 190.

[15] Coordination of humanitarian activities and services also allows agencies to avoid collective action problems. Ibid., 201.

[16] Ellen L. Lutz, "Understanding Human Rights Violations in Armed Conflict," in Human Rights and Conflict, ed. Julie A. Mertus and Jeffrey W. Helsing, Washington, D.C., 2006, 29.

[17] John Eriksson, 1996. "The International Response to Conflict and Genocide: Lessons from the Rwandan Experience." Steering Committee of the Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda (March): 38.

[18] Knowledge about the negotiating counterparts' human rights records can actually strengthen a humanitarian agency's leverage and negotiating position. By wisely using the information, an agency may persuade its counterparts to allow humanitarian access or to comply with international humanitarian law. In order to avoid confrontations with governments or armed actors, humanitarian organizations can choose to release such information using disguise or distancing tactics. Deborah Mancini-Griffoli and André Picot, Humanitarian Negotiation (Geneva: Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, 2004), 57.

[19] John Eriksson, 1996. "The International Response to Conflict and Genocide: Lessons from the Rwandan Experience." Steering Committee of the Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda (March): 38.

[20] Ibid., 39.

[21] Ibid.

[22] This is precisely why it is important for humanitarian organizations to develop institutional memory. They must devote greater resources and energy into documenting their activities, the impact and outcomes of such activities, and the lessons they have learned through humanitarian events. Peter J. Hoffman and Thomas G. Weiss, Sword and Salve: Confronting New Wars and Humanitarian Crises, 205.

[23] African Rights (1994a) Rwanda: Death, Despair and Defiance. London.

[24] Loizos, P. with G. Adam and J. Subotic (1994) Broadcasting for Restraint: Crisis Reduction through UN-Supported Initiatives. Centre for the Study of Global Governance, Discussion Paper No. 11, London School of Economics, London.

[25] Crosslines (1994) Vol. 2, Nos. 4-5, October.

[26] This propaganda consisted of reiterations of messages of hatred, intolerance and the idea that violence is the only way to settle differences.

[27] André Roberfroid, "Negotiating for Results in the Lebanon," in Humanitarian Diplomacy, ed. Larry Minear and Hazel Smith, Tokyo, 2007, 101.

[28] Ibid., 102.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Peter Uvin, Aiding Violence: The Development Enterprise in Rwanda (West Hartford: Kumarian Press, Inc., 1998), 143.

[31] Robert Glasser, "Why we need to look hard at the NGO's flaws," Europe's World (2008): 151.

[32] Ibid., 152.

[33] Peter Uvin, Aiding Violence: The Development Enterprise in Rwanda, 143.

[34] This is more applicable for humanitarian agencies that operate "during" a conflict.

[35] Mary B. Anderson, Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace or War (London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999), 39.

[36] Peter J. Hoffman and Thomas G. Weiss, Sword and Salve: Confronting New Wars and Humanitarian Crises, 206.

[37] The descriptions of these essays are copied and pasted from the Beyond Intractability website, at

Use the following to cite this article:
Kwak, Hyun Jin. "Important Skills for Humanitarian Professionals Working in a Contemporary Conflict Environment." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: March 2008 <>.

Additional Resources