Acting on behalf of the victims – the advocacy work of humanitarian aid
Should the SDC provide food aid to a country ruled by a dictatorship? Should the Humanitarian Aid Department build water pipelines while remaining silent about the genocide in the same region? The Advocacy Guidelines of the SDC attempt to offer answers to these and similar questions and show possible ways to proceed.
Industrialized countries delivery surplus grain to the poorest countries of Africa. What is not widely known is that this can put a stop to specific development cooperation efforts. In such a situation how should Swiss humanitarian aid officials react? Humanitarian tradition demands that it point out the bad state of affairs and place the needs of the victims first.
What does advocacy mean to the SDC?
In development cooperation, when a development agency such as the SDC, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) or an interest group pleads in favour of a cause, this is called advocacy. The main goal is to make known the needs and preoccupations of forgotten or marginalised communities or nations. Issues such as human rights, humanitarian principles, refugees, child trafficking, fair trade or policy making can be advocated for.
In the case of violent disputes, conflicts or natural catastrophes, Swiss humanitarian aid works on behalf of the victims. Advocacy means that support is provided without political strings and that the assisting organization always acts in the interests of the poor and marginalized.
Advocacy involves sharpening perceptions, improving humanitarian aid, strengthening respect for humanitarian principles, drawing attention to international law and discussing thematic issues.
Operations in countries with different cultures lead to contact and confrontation with behaviour patterns that are intolerable from the humanitarian perspective. How far should the consideration for other cultures go? At what point is this invisible frontier crossed? How should programme managers in the field or at headquarters deal with such contradictions? In what cases should they speak out and how should they go about it?
Fundamentals and guidelines
Because these questions cut across all spheres of humanitarian work, the SDC’s Humanitarian Aid Department has drawn up a number of fundamentals and guidelines. The Advocacy Guidelines include five priority topics to which humanitarian aid applies its advocacy principles:
- Violence against woman and children
- Sexual abuse of women
- People in forgotten wars and crisis situation
- Protection of particularly vulnerable groups
Advocacy however is not the exclusive domain of humanitarian aid or foreign policy. The Democratic Republic of the Congois a case in point. Because of its wealth in mineral resources, the eastern part of the country was torn by war involving international and national armies and militias. Many foreign firms, including those from Switzerland, took part in plundering the mineral wealth of the region. The people were victims of extensive acts of barbarity. Humanitarian aid was largely impossible and humanitarian aid workers constantly risked their lives.
In Switzerland SDC’s Humanitarian Aid Department proposed making the growing contradiction a theme and working more strongly on behalf of the victims. But humanitarian aid alone cannot solve complex problems. It needs the commitment of all actors, political, economic, military and humanitarian, to take responsibility for their ethical behaviour.
The Advocacy Guidelines are also seen as an impulse for an urgent debate, an idea which is gaining support internationally (UN attempts). This initial step needs continuing development particularly as concerns the spheres of action and international networking.
Additional Information and Documents
- Humanitarian Aid - Advocacy guidelines
Strengthening the responsibility and obligation towards the victims
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