Security and protection: ‘beyond technology’
by Humanitarian Practice Network May 1997

The Policy Planning and Strategic Analysis division of the European Community’s Humanitarian Office (ECHO) on 22 May organised a one day reflection seminar on security and protection. Representatives of the European and US NGO world were complemented by a representative from the ICRC, from NATO’s CIMIC office (Civilian-Military Cooperation) and from the office of the UN Security Coordinator. Exploratory in nature, the meeting highlighted several important points:

A distinction needs to be made between types of risk: war, crime and banditry, which require different responses. Risk is not necessarily reduced by more security ‘technology’. On the contrary, this in itself may attract violence. Insofar as threats are rooted in politics and perceptions, the development of broad-based relationships and cultivating a positive image may be more appropriate. There is no automatic correlation therefore between the protection of humanitarian aid and aid workers and the deployment of UN troops.

If relationships are important, the question of protecting aid workers and protecting civilian populations needs to be raised. It was felt unlikely that one group in the aid system, such as the UN, the ICRC or NGOs could take over responsibility for the overall security and protection. A number of proposals were made for donors to support improved security and to facilitate the learning of lessons related to security. Thus security could be included in the terms of reference of an evaluation or impact analysis. Importantly donor governments as political actors can help create a more secure environment by exercising legal, political and economic pressure on violent and organised groups. The possible repercussions of public steps and statements however need to be discussed in advance with agencies with staff on the ground.

ECHO will produce a draft report for discussion with EU member states in advance of the ICRC Humanitarian Forum to be held in Wolfsberg, Switzerland 8-10 June. This seminar will consider the issue of security within the wider debates to be held under the title of Threats to Humanitarian Aid. The seminar bring together senior ministerial, ICRC, UN, and NGO representatives and a report of the proceedings will be available in our next Newsletter.

Those interested in current UN policy on security could consult the UN Field Security Handbook, the April 1997 document ‘The UN Security Management System’ and ‘Security Directive SD/1996/2’ of January 1996.