Promoting humanitarian principles: the southern Sudan experience

Year of Publication
Document Publisher/Creator
Iain Levine
Overseas Development Institute
NGO associated?
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Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) seeks to integrate humanitarian principles and the protection of civilians
within its mandate and operations. This paper details the ways in which these laws and principles were promoted through negotiation, advocacy, dissemination and training and the monitoring and follow-up of violations and abuses. It seeks to distil specific lessons from working with armed opposition movements, as distinct from sovereign governments, in particular the concern of humanitarian agencies that they may provide or be seen to provide legitimacy to those who mistreat their populations.

Aid agencies working in south Sudan have sought to place the protection of civilians and the integrity of humanitarian assistance at the centre of their mandate. This approach sees complex emergencies as social and political phenomena, as much crises of human rights as of humanitarian need. In such situations, the victims of conflict require not only material assistance but also protection of their safety, dignity and basic human rights. A fundamental assumption of the paper is that, as pointed out by the detailed Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda (1996), lack of coherent political and policy leadership amongst aid agencies has led to many of their programmes failing those whom they seek to help.

Protection of civilians is achieved through the application of international law and principles such as the primacy of the humanitarian imperative, neutrality, impartiality, accountability, transparency and the protection of victims. The challenge lies not simply with the definition of the legal and ethical standards but in their implementation and enforcement.

The OLS experience is used to highlight broader dilemmas confronting the international humanitarian community. These include the lack of coherent political leadership in most humanitarian programmes,

sovereignty issues, the trade-offs between protection and assistance, the role of coordination in defining and protecting mandates, and the conditions under which the withdrawal of assistance might be considered morally acceptable.

Underpinning this paper is the assertion that

humanitarian principles and standards should lie at the centre of such programmes. While recognising that political authorities are ultimately responsible for protecting civilians and the integrity of humanitarian assistance, implementing agencies and those who fund them also need to address these issues more effectively.