Originally published in March 2016
To reduce the humanitarian consequences of conflict for civilian populations, specifically, NGOs and private actors involved in conflict mediation/resolution employ one of three general approaches: some pursue the more immediate approach of facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance in territory controlled by NSAGs; some promote international norms concerning the protection of civilians and combatants, with the goal of persuading NSAGs to change their behaviour; others seek the resolution of the conflict through dialogue, mediation, mediation support and negotiation.
In practice, states, international organizations, and specialized NGOs and private actors conduct their approaches in the same locations at the same time. To avoid duplication of effort, instrumentalization and unintended consequences, actors need to improve communication, coordination, collaboration and cooperation. This could additionally alleviate existing trust issues between states and NGOs.
Moreover, a consolidation of the approaches of states and international organizations with those of NGOs and private actors, and an appropriate mix and timing of strategies, may provide a more effective means of consistently engaging NSAGs and decreasing violence in contemporary conflict.
NGOs and private actors may supplement and support official policy that is designed to reduce humanitarian impact and foster political agreements, and may provide their specialized knowledge, capacities and access in support of official initiatives and policies.
Specialized NGOs may be capable of balancing shortcomings of state actors and international organizations by assuming responsibility for specific policy components entirely.
Specialized NGOs and private actors may be able to anticipate windows of opportunity for specific engagement in conflict that has the potential to decrease levels of violence, especially against civilian populations. Their practical experiences and first action on the ground may develop such opportunities for official initiatives.
External actors need to take into account the entire range of approaches and protagonists that exist and that may contribute, in a coordinated manner, to achieving specific goals and lasting solutions regarding NSAGs. The capacity for these approaches may differ considerably between specialized organizations and other humanitarian actors active in conflict areas.