Humanitarian advocacy

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Number of paper presentations 4


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International humanitarian agencies work to save lives in crisis situations, primarily through the provision of food, medical services, shelter, and other forms of material assistance. However, in armed conflict and complex emergencies, saving lives requires more than material assistance, and so humanitarian agencies have increasingly incorporated the ‘protection of civilians’ into their missions. With respect to protection, the aims of humanitarian and human rights actors overlap, but their modus operandi differ. Humanitarian efforts have traditionally focused on supporting the victims, while human rights efforts target the perpetrators of human rights abuses with public criticism. Unlike organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the bread and butter work of humanitarian agencies (providing lifesaving assistance) requires them to be physically present, and public criticism of authorities may have repercussions that threaten access to the victims they seek to support. Nevertheless, many international humanitarian agencies are now also engaging in some kind of public criticism—sometimes called humanitarian advocacy—and reflecting on whether and how they should do so. This panel invites papers focused on public criticism and advocacy by humanitarian agencies, addressing questions relating to the processes by which aid agencies decide to engage in public criticism of authorities, the issues they do and do not advocate on, the intended and unintended impacts of their advocacy, and the ways in which they assess impact and effectiveness of advocacy strategies.

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