Thematic Areas: Humanitarian Access

The Emergency Relief Coordinator actively facilitates, including through negotiation if needed, the access by the operational organizations to emergency areas for the rapid provision of emergency assistance by obtaining the consent of all parties concerned, through modalities such as the establishment of temporary relief corridors, days and zones of tranquility and other forms where needed. [A/RES/46/182]

Humanitarian access, mandated by the GA resolution 46/182, refers to a two-pronged concept, comprising:

  • Humanitarian actors’ ability to reach populations in need
  • Affected populations’ access to assistance and services.

Full and unimpeded humanitarian access is a fundamental prerequisite to effective humanitarian action, especially in situations of armed conflict, such as Somalia, the DRC or Sudan (Darfur), but also in the context of natural disasters (e.g. Haiti, Pakistan) or civil unrest.
Yet, multiple constraints impinge on access. The 2010 Report of the Secretary-General on the Protection of Civilians identifies the following:

  • Bureaucratic restrictions imposed by State and non-State actors on personnel and humanitarian supplies. This includes donor governments’ funding restrictions on engaging with Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Hamas in Gaza; and domestic legislations criminalizing the provision of “material support”  to designated foreign terrorist organizations
  • Intensity of hostility in civilian areas
  • Attacks on humanitarian personnel and theft of assets

Humanitarian access is a principled and negotiated business. In Resolution 1894 (S/RES/1894), the Security Council underscored the importance of upholding the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence.
Compliance – or non-compliance - with these principles affects humanitarian actors’ acceptance, and their ability to engage in negotiations with State and non-state actors with the aim of reaching affected populations. In particular, perceived alignment with political and military objectives results in increased threats on humanitarians and further restrictions on access.
OCHA develops tools and provides guidance to Humanitarian Coordinators and Humanitarian Country Teams (HCTs) to address access-related issues, including humanitarian engagement with non-State armed groups; and respect for humanitarian principles. More specifically, OCHA has developed an Access Monitoring and Reporting Framework, including a database and handbook, based on a typology of access constraints, in order to facilitate better data collection and analysis, and to inform policy and field operations access. 

Oxford Guidance on the Law Relating to Humanitarian Relief Operations in Situations of Armed Conflict

In October 2016, OCHA launched the Oxford Guidance on the Law Relating to Humanitarian Relief Operations in Situations of Armed Conflict, a critical tool for actors concerned with helping civilians in conflict zones receive life-saving assistance, including food, medical supplies, shelter, water and sanitation.

The Guidance will both provide a firm understanding of the relevant rules designed to allow the delivery of assistance and enhance policy-making and advocacy to improve humanitarian access.

It targets a variety of actors involved in humanitarian relief, including parties to armed conflict (both state and non-state), governments, international and nongovernmental organizations, the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly and other relevant bodies, as well as legal practitioners, scholars and the media.

Oxford Guidance on the Law Relating to Humanitarian Relief Operations in Situations of Armed Conflict - Conclusions
Cross-border relief operations - A legal perspective
Arbitrary withholding of consent to humanitarian relief operations in armed conflict
Glossary of Terms: Pauses During Conflict , June 2011 - OCHA
Humanitarian Access, OCHA on Message, April 2010  [Click here to see Arabic, French and Spanish versions
Fact Sheet: To Stay and Deliver - Good practice for humanitarians in complex security environments, 2011 - OCHA
Humanitarian Negotiations with Armed Groups, June 2008 - OCHA