All posts tagged Security

NGOs and the Security Challenge

Posted by / 30th January 2012 / Categories: Opinion / Tags: , / -

In the past years there has been amongst NGOs, and in particular amongst humanitarian agencies, a rising concern for the security and safety. They are increasingly confronted with more and more dangerous and hostile environments. This is especially true since 2001 and the beginning of the global “War on Terror” initiated by the Bush administration and his acolytes which marked a new dimension in the evolution of an already existing trend.

For decades humanitarian agencies would mostly operate in contexts of asymmetric warfare between territorial states, in which the objectives of the contenders were relatively defined and unambiguous. Moreover, each conflicting party had a hierarchical structure that – in theory – followed or claimed to follow and respect the rules of war and the related international conventions. Nowadays, the number of different actors, their objectives and their low or limited military training and hierarchical structure, combined with the changes in the nature of the conflicts, represent a significant transformation in the working environment in which humanitarian agencies operate. In the majority of cases the new conflicts or war settings do not correspond to the traditional pattern nor they obey to an element of territoriality. This results in muddied objectives. The different actors and forces are decentralized and typically do not recognize (nor know, in many cases) International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention. As a consequence, this results in an increase of attacks against civilians and humanitarian workers.

Many of these attacks are parts of political strategies that have a clear message and intention. It is therefore essential to develop an understanding of the nature of the conflicts, to be aware of these changing realities and of the different interacting actors, as well as of their interests and strategies. Simultaneously, humanitarian agencies need to transmit a coherent image, and develop clear strategies to communicate their specific principles, role and responsibilities and the humanitarian objectives of their action.

In recent years, NGOs have developed security policies, manuals and procedures to facilitate and help a better management of their own security. The degree and level of these tools vary according to the organizations and their capabilities. However, one of the most frequent deficiencies is the lack of understanding and knowledge of the contexts in which they work. With the exception of a few, most of the organizations have not been able to develop a constant and methodical analysis of their area of operations, and of the risks it entails. On the contrary, in most cases they simply tend to apply a set of protocols and procedures that – without a good analysis of the particular context – cannot, alone, mitigate the potential threats and risks towhich theycan be exposed.

This obviously affects any strategies adopted to maintain operations in volatile and insecure settings.

On the other hand, humanitarian agencies have increasingly “militarized” their security. Such “militarization”, as a consequence, deepens even more the gap and their ability to respond with an appropriate strategic vision.

One of the most significant changes occurred in the dimension of the “Security Triangle” (Acceptance, Protection and Deterrence) which vary depending on the working environments, organizations and available resources. The acceptance strategy is the primary, and by default, security strategy used by NGOs. Despite that, their misconception of this concept on the one hand and, on the other, the new complex contexts of most of humanitarian interventions, are today for the vast majority of NGOs a major challenge, a pending cornerstone.

Additionally, in the current and increasingly changing environment there is some controversy regarding the current value and effectiveness of acceptance as security strategy.

However, should we really question acceptance as an effective security strategy, or does the problem reside elsewhere? Certainly the lack of knowledge and analysis of the given context makes the agencies more vulnerable than they, perhaps, should be. Itisthereforefundamental to understandthat:

a)Acceptance must be a proactive strategy, which requires specific resources and actions. In most organizations this does not occur. The vast majority of them erroneously assume the acceptance strategy passively.

b)Acceptance is the result of how an organization is perceived and it depends on several factors, including most importantly its official position and the behavior of its personnel.

c)Acceptance requires a high maintenance in terms of staff, time and resources that not all agencies have or can maintain.

d)Most of the agencies lack experienced staff and knowledge of the dynamics of the conflicts and actors.

Simultaneously, in the daily work of NGOs, security remains a marginal element. This in many cases is seen as an impediment or obstacle rather than an element that aids them in their work in conflict and insecure settings.

Nevertheless, it should be emphasized that there has been an improvement of the security situation of NGOs. Security criteria have been integrated into organizational criteria, resulting in the development of security policies, procedures and practices, and well as in the allocation of resources (financial, human, etc.). Despite these achievements, most of the agencies lack the necessary resources and strategies to operate in complex and insecure settings. The security management starts, and does not end, in the knowledge of the working environment, its dynamics and actors. The deficiency of knowledge and understanding of the context, the lack of rigor in the analysis of the threats and risks makes the implementation of security protocols and procedures weak and, in some cases, inadequate. In order to ensure that these measures are effective and thus guarantee a better security management, it is essential to mainstream the analysis of the conditions, threats and risks where NGOs operates. Moreover, agencies must ensure a constant, regular and methodical assessment of the given context as fundamental tool not only for their security but also for their interventions and re-adaptation of programs and activities.  facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Humanitarian Action and the Security Challenge

Posted by / 15th January 2012 / Categories: Opinion / Tags: , / -

As Alfred Einstein noted, “not everything than can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted”. Paraphrasing Einstein, the humanitarian agencies today confront security challenges where not everything is what it appears to be and should be.

Over the past decade, we have been witnessing an increasing level of insecurity in the different contexts in which humanitarian agencies operate. Unfortunately killings, kidnappings and serious injuries are not something extraordinary; rather they have become a common occurrence. The year 2008 generated the highest number of attacks, killings and kidnappings against humanitarian workers. It marked the highest point of seriously wounded since the data started to be collected, with 276 victims in 165 separate security incidents (according to “Aid Worker Security Report 2011″, Humanitarian Outcome 2011).

Despite recent data showing a decline of security incidents from 2009, this should not lead to the wrong perception that security has increased and that humanitarian agencies are less vulnerable. Nothing could be further from reality. On the one hand, there is no unique and standardized definition of what constitutes a “security incident”, and not all agencies systematically record them. On the other hand, the contexts where humanitarian agencies operate today are more complex, less predictable and increasingly volatile, making their work more difficult.

There is a diversity of opinions on whether today’s contexts of operation of humanitarian agencies are new contexts or whether there has been an evolution of already existing trends. Without entering into this controversy, there is no doubt that today humanitarian agencies have to confront an increasingly insecure environment characterized by globalization, polarization and radicalization of the conflicts, and they have to deal with their immediate consequences.

In this environment, aid agencies and their personnel have become targets. Former symbols of unequivocal protection such the Red Cross now find themselves unable to guarantee it. Others, like the UN flag, have become, on occasions, the opposite of protection. What has changed or evolved today in these contexts?

1. A notorious increase of internal armed conflicts -in comparison to international conflicts- and their internationalization (such as Somalia or the DRC), with an increasing presence and mix of local and international groups guided by diverse motives and agendas (political, economical, religious, etc).

2. An increase in the number of non-state actors that are very difficult to identify, hardly structured and without clear chain of command. Their violence is stimulated by an easy and rapid access to communications, copy patterns and weapons.

3. Strategic alliances are established between the different non-state actors resulting in an increase of criminal actions that in most cases are camouflaged under political and “claimable” agendas.

4. An increased number of National States trying to advance their diverse interest and political agendas, often disguising an interventionist political discourse or its military strategy as humanitarian aid.

5. An increasing tendency towards the privatization of the humanitarian assistance, where the Humanitarian Imperative is not longer the reason of the action. Rather, it is discarded or even worse, despised.

6. A proliferation of NGOs that under this “generic” name agglutinate a large variety of organizations not necessarily respecting and sharing humanitarian principles.

7. NGOs are often perceived by armed groups and non-state actors as competitors for the control over local populations on whom they depend mostly for supplies, recruitment and the possibility to hide among them (i.e. refugee camps).

8. Neutrality, as a traditional “protection shield”, has been disappearing and today is no longer synonymous of security and protection as it was in the past. Humanitarian agencies and their staff are perceived as aligned to one side, supporting or helping one of the parties in conflict. Parallel to that they are perceived as importers of certain “western/foreign” values.

The immediate result is a deep and substantial erosion of the humanitarian space with the deterioration of the respect of the rules of the game and of the International Humanitarian Law. Or even worse, its absolute ignorance. Indeed, humanitarian agencies are perceived as antagonistic to the interests and objectives of the conflicting parties. Parallel to this, the perception of agencies as instruments of foreign interest, combined with the increasing multipolarity of powers in the international arena, is used by armed groups to legitimatize their attacks against the humanitarian workers. This shows that the attacks perpetrated against the aid agencies are not only motivated by “a wrong perception of them”, but also that they are deliberated and strategically organized. Indeed, the growth of the unstable and highly volatile environments, characterized by fragile or failed states with ethnic conflict and with the presence of terrorist and criminal groups, makes it more difficult for humanitarian agencies to work under basic security conditions. The level of relative stability and normality that the presence of humanitarian agencies bring to the context is perceived by those actors as a threat to their interest. These groups remain restricted to their area of operations without seeking international recognition. This focus on the local provides them with a “sense of impunity”, attacking and targeting humanitarian agencies.

At present, humanitarian agencies and their personnel are confronted with difficult challenges in environments which continuously metamorphose, making it fundamental to depoliticize humanitarian aid and re-establish the respect for the independence, impartiality and neutrality of humanitarian action. At the same time, it also becomes fundamental to guarantee the respect of International Humanitarian Law and with it the free and secure access to the beneficiaries. It is essential that the NGOs establish confidence in their local work, and that their actions are based purely on the Humanitarian Imperative. This will certainly help to reduce security risks.  facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail