The rise of intrastate conflicts over the course of recent decades has led to an array of challenges and dilemmas for humanitarian actors, particularly for national staff. Efforts to implement humanitarian assistance and protection programming are continually impeded by insecurity, access restrictions imposed by state and non-state actors (including armed opposition groups, pro- government militias, and criminal organizations); and the need to engage with armed groups and local communities that may lack familiarity with, or overtly express hostility toward, international humanitarian law (IHL) and the humanitarian principles. To be sure, state actors are also responsible for access restrictions, security incidents affecting humanitarian practitioners, and violations of IHL. Nevertheless, a growing body of literature focuses on the implications of NSAGs’ perceptions of humanitarian actors, humanitarian principles, and IHL. There is a perception (perhaps correct, perhaps mistaken) among humanitarian professionals that these difficulties derive, at least in part, from the ideologies that drive these non-state groups.
While humanitarian agencies have worked toward enhancing staff leadership and negotiation capacity in order to operate effectively in these environments, humanitarian actors continue to struggle in their engagements with non-state actors, particularly those who do not appear receptive, or who seem to reject, the basic tenets of humanitarian action. To examine the nature of the resulting challenges and dilemmas that humanitarians face when engaging with such interlocutors, this thematic briefing aims to foster dialogue on practices across different agencies and different contexts with the aim toward contributing to more impactful engagements in the future.