Humanitarian Experimentation

Humanitarian actors, faced with ongoing conflict, epidemics, famine and a range of natural disasters, are increasingly being asked to do more with less.

The international community’s commitment of resources has not kept pace with their expectations or the growing crises around the world.

Some humanitarian organizations are trying to bridge this disparity by adopting new technologies — a practice often referred to as humanitarian innovation.

Virtual Identity / Pixabay

This blog post, building on a recent article in the ICRC Review, asserts that humanitarian innovation is often human experimentation without accountability, which may both cause harm and violate some of humanitarians’ most basic principles.Read More

Inter-group Conflict: The Role of Weak State Structures and Exclusion

Why do non-state groups engage in violent conflict with each other? Non-state conflict has been widespread in several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, including D.R. Congo, Sudan, Somalia and Burundi. This type of fighting includes both formally and informally organised groups who fight each other without engaging the state, such as Al-Shabaab and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONFL) in Ethiopia, Christians and Muslims in the Central African Republic, and violence between Birom and Fulani in Nigeria.

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How Far Should We Go to Stop Migration to Europe?

The police, the military and militia groups in Libya are keeping refugees away from Europe. Reports link this situation to funding from the EU and Italy. The money passes through intermediaries, but Europe must bear responsibility nevertheless for making the funds available.

To restrict the numbers of refugees arriving from Africa, the EU and several of its member states are pursuing a policy that in practice relocates border controls from Europe to the mainland of North Africa. This started with measures at Europe’s land borders and then moved out into the Mediterranean with initiatives including Operation Sophia. Today we see European attempts to control migration being extended to the North African coast, and particularly to Libya. Measures include support to the Libyan coastguard, strengthening border controls in the south of the country, and offering people smugglers what are officially known as ‘alternative employment initiatives’. The latter may in reality be payments to militia groups to prevent refugees from coming to Europe.

Armed men in Sabratha refugee camp outside Tripoli. Photo: Between Libyia and Italy

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Nils Petter Gleditsch: Ted Gurr Has Passed Away

Sad news: Ted Robert Gurr died on 25 November

He was a true giant of our field, who will be remembered for his contributions to the study of civil violence, crime, genocide, democracy, and ethnic conflict – and more.

Ted’s main contribution to the study of civil violence, Why Men Rebel, was published as early as 1970 and quickly became a standard reference. His formula for what generates rebellion – opportunity plus motive plus shared identity – remains central to the field.

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A More Comprehensive Measure of Women’s Wellbeing

Despite major strides, women in many countries continue to face huge constraints in personal security, social and political inclusion, and legal protections that harm their wellbeing and hold back economies.

Several global indices endeavor to capture women’s status in countries around the world, distilling an array of complex information about their lives into a single number. However, most are limited to indicators of inclusion, such as whether women complete secondary school or are represented in parliament or paid work. These aspects of inclusion are important, but incomplete in the absence of aspects of justice and security. For example, to get a full measure of a girl’s well being, data on schooling alone is insufficient, if she is not safe in her community.

Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) have taken a new approach to measuring women’s wellbeing. Recent research has shown how this “scorecard diplomacy” can be a powerful agent for change. Highly comparative and easy to understand numbers call out low performers and help to reinforce good performance.

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Why Isn’t Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Treated the Same as Gender-Based Violence in Humanitarian Contexts?

The recent #MeToo hashtag and associated social media storm highlighted the extensiveness of sexual abuse and harassment and the exploitation of women and girls (and in some cases men and boys) by those in positions of power. It showed that the problem does not come down to a few “bad apples”, but is systemic, impacting people around the globe and of varying socio-economic levels.

UN Peacekeepers Day celebration in the DR Congo. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

Sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) is most prominent in contexts where people experience gendered and material vulnerabilities or inequalities, such as in conflict and post-conflict contexts and during natural disasters where unequal power dynamics, material deprivation and insecurity are rife. SEA perpetrated by UN peacekeepers is probably the most insidious and well-known example of this dynamic.

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Zimbabwe: from Coup to Democratization?

In the early hours of the morning on 15 November, the Zimbabwean military placed President Mugabe under house arrest. The coup against one of the longest serving rulers in Africa appears to have been a reaction to Mugabe’s ouster of his vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, to pave the way for his wife as the successor to his rule.

Robert and Grace Mugabe. Wikimedia Commons

Dictators are often deposed in military coups, and historically as many as 2/3 of all deposed dictators suffer this fate. The question now is: what kind of rule will Zimbabwe see after the fall of Mugabe? In a best-case scenario, this coup could be the beginning of the end of dictatorial rule in Zimbabwe.

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Europe’s Quiet Offensive Against People Helping Refugees

A look back on three years since the end of Operation Mare Nostrum.

Three years ago today, pressure by the European Union on Italy forced the end of one of the EU’s most successful humanitarian missions, Mare Nostrum, a search-and-rescue operation that in just one year brought 130,000 refugees safely to Europe’s shores.


As the death toll mounted in the wake of this decision, including 1,200 victims at sea five months later, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) stepped into the breach, launching their own rescue missions in a desperate attempt to save lives. Their efforts were part of a wave of compassion across Europe that year, as people organised convoys to refugee reception centers, warmly greeted arrivals at German train stations and lined highways to provide food and water to those making the arduous trek from war-torn regions of Syria and elsewhere.Read More

Migrant Smugglers Are Winning. Here’s Why

Migrant smuggling: moving people across borders for profit, is reported to be one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative forms of organized criminal activity.

Smugglers crowd their human cargo into shipping containers and onto boats and trucks. Many migrants arrive safely and consider the investment well spent. But migrant smuggling is a dirty business: excessive profiteering and exploitation routinely place the lives and wellbeing of smuggled migrants at serious risk.

Photo: UNODC

The current international narrative around migrant smuggling, most clearly spelled out in the ongoing negotiations around a Global Compact for Migration, identifies smuggling as a criminal enterprise that must be stopped at all costs – and clearly asserts that it can be stopped with sufficient resources and cooperation between states.

This analysis reflects a distorted view of reality. It makes the challenge seem straightforward, but it is fundamentally misguided. Smugglers are winning and they will continue to do so for the following reasons.Read More

Conflict Portrait: Afghanistan

The armed conflict between the Afghan government, along with its international allies, and armed radical Islamist insurgents intensified after 2014. At the end of that year, the mandate of the NATO-led ISAF combat mission expired, and the responsibility for security was officially handed over to the Afghan authorities.

ISAF was replaced by a far smaller follow-on mission, “Resolute Support” (RS), and a separate US anti-terrorism mission, “Freedom’s Sentinel”. RS will continue to train, advise and contribute logistical support to the Afghan armed forces. The largest RS contingent comes from the US, with the official number at 8,400 troops, as well as an additional 3,500 soldiers on short-term deployments and an unknown number of Special Operations Forces and other agencies’ forces. There are also 23,500 military contractors, 4,500 of which are trainers and on security duty.

Street scribe in Kunduz. Afghanistan has the highest illiteracy rate in the region and worldwide, yet currently in Afghanistan, only 3.7% of GDP is being spent on education. Photo:Thomas Ruttig

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