1. Contextual background

1.1. Humanitarianism and advocacy

The literature on conflict-related humanitarianism seems to reveal that the transformations occurred within this field have impacted on the humanitarian policy, the humanitarian community and the humanitarian action and have led towards new policies of intervention, the emergence of new actors and the expansion of their activities. The premise of this paper is that they have also had a strong influence on the development of the advocacy initiatives and a deep impact on the evolution of its concept.

1.2. Evolution of conflict-related humanitarianism

Since the end of the World War II, the intertwined principles of sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs of sovereign states have represented a controversial aspect in the implementation of the humanitarian action. The external ‘humanitarian intervention’ in its classical sense of forcible military intervention (Roberts 1996:19) was considered feasible when broad threatening and abuses of fundamental human rights in a country involved nationals of another state. Conversely, when the abuses involved only nationals of the offending state this option was considered not viable and technically illegal as it implied a violation of the principle of non-intervention (Roberts 1996:19). Therefore, a different legal basis to justify the use of force was required (Lillich 1967:326-334). An unresolved contradiction within the United Nations Charter, de facto, hampered the international ‘humanitarian intervention’ in most of the conflict-related crises on the United Nations agenda in the aftermath of World War II. On the one hand, the UN Charter states, promotes and encourages the respect of the fundamental human rights (UN Charter Articles 1.3, 55 and 56). On the other, it is deficient in offering any enforcement provisions to guarantee their observance while simultaneously recognizing to all its members states the respect for their principles of sovereignty and non-interference. The concerns for the lack of compliance with the fundamental human rights coupled with the frustrations stemming from the restrictions on ‘humanitarian intervention’ within countries invoking the respect for their sovereignty fostered the international humanitarian community to develop new mechanisms capable of overcoming this impasse.

The ‘droit d’ingérence’ (the right to interfere and/or intervene) emerged during the Biafra war as a new operational principle capable of giving the humanitarian community an alternative and necessary framework for accessing suffering people. This operational concept based its legitimacy on the “rights-based universalism” (Rieff 2002:311) and posited that the international community could no longer accept the option that, in the name of sovereignty, a government could prevent, interfere or even obstruct the delivery of humanitarian assistance to its population. In the eyes of the proponents, frontiers had to be disregarded as the prime responsibility was to the suffering (Ramsbotham and Woodhoouse 1996:119) of the people anywhere whose rights represented a “legitimate concern for people everywhere” (Tomasevski 1994:80). The ‘droit d’ingérence’ marked the beginning of the “contemporary humanitarianism” (Riff 2002:77) distinguished by both a new perspective on the humanitarian action and a new perception of the suffering populations. In the name of efficiency it affirmed the right of access ‘to’ victims for the providers of aid and largely disregarded the rights to access the humanitarian assistance ‘of’ the victims broadly “defined as objects of assistance rather than subjects of rights” (Tomasevski 1994:81-6). Yet, the ‘droit d’ingérence’ introduced two crucial and interlinked consequences. Firstly, by challenging the sovereignty principle, it exposed the humanitarian action to divergent interpretations by the warring parties and consequently to the risk of both becoming, in the wording of the international humanitarian law (IHL), “an unfriendly act of interference in the conflict itself” (Minear and Weiss 1993:25) and making “humanitarianism (…) irrevocably politicized” (Ramsbotham and Woodhoouse 1996:104). Secondly, the exposure of the humanitarian action to political reading challenged the bedrock operational principle of neutrality a milestone of the humanitarian action as it creates the necessary apolitical space needed to legitimize the humanitarian action and, together with the impartiality and independence, outlines the intervention in a way that is both “ethically justifiable and politically possible” (Leader 2000:5). The humanitarian assistance inspired by the ‘droit d’ingérence’ encountered growing challenges in the ‘new wars’ whose realities were progressively shifting from interstates to intrastate. When in ‘non international armed conflicts’ the suffering of the part of the populations represented a war objective, the ‘droit d’ingérence’ was decreasingly seen as an operational humanitarian principle and increasingly interpreted with politically delineated traits. “One man’s humanitarian relief is another man’s aid to the enemy” (Benthall 1993:217 quoting a passage from The Times Playing at peace 17 July 1992).

With the human rights-talk uncensored by the end of the Cold War, agencies were no longer tied by the “strait-jacketed humanitarianism” (De Waal 1994) and by its consequent operational opportunism that made unwise for the humanitarians to pursue human rights goals through their action (Slim 2002:9). Within the humanitarian community the ‘human rights-based perspective’ became the prevailing discourse and, in operational terms, the ‘right-based approach’ (RBA) progressively replaced the need-based modus operandi. The perception of suffering populations re-shifted accordingly as they were no longer seen as the object of organizations’ action but through the new lens of rights-bearers the agencies already had the right ‘to’ access. However, this shift seems to have engendered simultaneous positive and negative outcomes. On the one hand, guiding humanitarian action through rights and duties allowed the humanitarianism not to be left free-floating in the realm of the ill-defined concept of charity but to be grounded within an explicit framework of values and policies (Slim 2002: 21-2). On the other, this approach challenged even further the principle of sovereignty, weakened more the principle of neutrality and introduced a new defy for the principle of impartiality. Concerning the sovereignty, as for the previously claimed right of access ‘to’ the victims, the argument that the humanitarian interventions and actions were means to the end of fostering respect, protection and realization of human rights of suffering populations was interpreted as a façade to justify the Western interference. Concerning the neutrality, the two intertwined factors inherent the RBA of “creating legitimacy for one side (…) [and] playing judge and jury [with the other]” (Hilliard 2005:12) weakened more its acceptance as it implicitly meant to take side. Concerning the impartiality, the conditionality embedded in the RBA clashed with the reality of the multi-sided consequences of a conflict. And when the organization identifies who to assist on the basis of whose rights are being violated rather than on the basis of their needs the all idea of aid loses it contours of value and assumes those of the policy of a politicized action (Hilliard 2005:10-2).

The globalization fostered the end of the “absolute and exclusive sovereignty” (UN 1992: point 17) seen rather as a “partnership at the political level” (Hilliard 2005:15). In this new scenario, where responsibilities were globalized (Darcy 2004:120-1), the state was no longer seen as the sole responsible for creating an environment conducive to the respect, protection and fulfillment of the human rights (Gready 2008:741). On the stage of this new transnational responsibility, the old characters of the international community showed the latest tools called ‘good governance’ while new engaged non-state actors (NSA), such as the humanitarian agencies, appeared. Yet, if on the one hand in the rights-duties equation old and new players seemed keen in claiming their share of contribution in the realization of the human rights, on the other, they both showed inconsistence vis-à-vis the consequent liabilities. “Rights imply duties, and duties demand accountability” (UN OHCHR 2002 paragraph 23). Without “methods for holding those who violate claims accountable (…) the claims lose meaning” (Uvin 2004:131). Extending this concept, it becomes clear that “without accountability (remedies, redress) human rights mean nothing” (Gready 2008:741). In conflict-created emergencies the humanitarians took up their share of ‘governance’ by established the so-called ‘humanitarian space’ and assumed their quota of human rights duties by increasingly engaging in the rights-based advocacy. Yet, concerning their accountability they visibly became elusive. Seen liable in efficiency rather than in political terms and simultaneously to both donors and beneficiaries, humanitarians usually donned the “impenetrable armor of moral righteousness” (De Waal 1994) when questioned. This handy elusiveness put them in a pure win-win situation (Uvin 2002:8) where they could accuse while avoiding accusations. Usually, this left the government of the recipient country the only indicted in the court of public guilt.

The advancements of the information and communication technologies (ICT) made globally known the large-scale sufferings of the ‘complex emergencies’ that enchained during the 1990s. This simultaneously reinforced the trend towards both the “McDonaldization of human rights” (Volker 2004:23) and the consequent need for intervention to protect them. This new perspective shifted the international debates from the legitimacy of the ‘right to intervene’ to the need to find a new global mechanism capable of producing new worldwide solutions to respond to the ‘massive and systematic breaches of human rights’ seen to be causing these new large-scale sufferings and to increasingly threatening regional and global security. The UN, with its reinforced moral authority emerged within the ‘new world order’, came on the scene as the appropriate answer especially for its ambition to tackle the complex emergencies by assuming a simultaneous political, military and humanitarian role (Roberts 1996:11). The new UN operational framework for humanitarian intervention was outlined by the possibility to deploy peace-enforcement units to secure the ‘humanitarian space’ and by the ‘Agenda for Peace’, stating the reciprocally supportive character of the humanitarian assistance and the peacekeeping operations (UN 1992: Section V Preamble). The new interventionist approach was made viable by an unprecedented freedom to act in humanitarian emergencies via the Security Council (Slim and Penrose 1994:206-7) no longer powerless by the non-intervention norms or paralyzed by vetoes. This approach became more visible through the transformation of both components of ‘humanitarian intervention’. The ‘intervention’ component was transformed through the substitution of UN Charter article 2(7) for 2(4) in UN missions and the adoption of new forcible resolutions. The ‘humanitarian’ component was transformed by increasing the field coordination role of UN humanitarian agencies and by the inclusion of a full range of activities and approaches under the UN umbrella (Damrosh and Scheffer 1991:215). Yet, if on the one hand the forcible UN resolutions illustrated the new international consensus on the legitimacy to enforce minimum humanitarian standards within the states (Ramsbotham and Woodhoouse 1996:79; Chopra and Weiss 1992; Garigue 1993), on the other, they brought the humanitarian action to the fore of international politics (Roberts 1996:15). Furthermore, the creation of the ‘safe heavens’ pushed the concept of ‘military humanitarianism’ into the public domain (Weiss and Campbell 1991:451-65) marking the militarization trend of the humanitarian initiatives. Finally, researches seems to suggest that the new humanitarian action under the UN umbrella was tarnished by the lack of a coherent and transparent international and long-term policy framework addressing the root causes of the post-Cold War crises. Among the causes, scholars have identified the colliding priorities generated by the United Nations’ “split personality” (Ramsbotham and Woodhoouse 1996:153) acting simultaneously politically through the Security Council and non-politically through its various agencies. The related operational dilemmas clearly emerged during the Rwanda crisis. The consequent policy vacuum stemming from the UN incapacity to set clear objectives, often formulated through ad hoc resolutions, appears to have weakened even further the international community mandate to intervene (Macrae and Zwi 1994:26; Duffield et al 1994:228).

The new millennium saw the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine gaining currency in international humanitarian debates. This fostered the idea of a certain right/duty of the international community to launch “human rights protection operations” (Rieff 2002:268) whenever the sovereign states were no longer able to protect their own citizens from avoidable catastrophes. Within the humanitarian community, the ‘humanitarian protection’ replaced the obsolete terms of ‘relief’ and ‘assistance’ and became the overarching operational framework that guided and explained the entire action. Yet, the available literature seems to suggest that at the dawn of the new century the humanitarians were seen to interfere in other countries’ sovereignty and their action appeared to be implemented in a policy vacuum, irremediably perceived with politicized and militarized contours and having a clear human rights orientation. When in 2001 Colin Powell declared that the NGOs were “force multiplier (…) [and] an important part of our combat team” (Powel quoted in Burnett 2004) in the general eyes the humanitarian actors definitively became the ambassadors of the Western policy and the unarmed troops of the Western military forces. From the start, the crisis in Darfur was framed in the language of human rights protection.

1.3. Evolution of the humanitarian community

Humanitarian agencies responding to conflict-related emergencies are generally considered crucial players hinging between the crises and the relief, the haves and have-nots, the ‘North’ and the ‘South’. They are seen as a sort of “missing link” (Omole and Ajibade 2005:49) allowing the civil society at a global level to intervene and alleviate the suffering at local level. For this reason, to the multiplication of conflict-related emergencies, the international community responded also with the creation of new humanitarian agencies, the enlargement of their tasks and the reinforcement of their role and responsibilities. An aerial view of the humanitarian community operating in conflict-induced crises would reveal a motley assortment of interveners that for the purposes of this discussion will also be termed humanitarian organizations, agencies and actors in an interchangeable way. Conversely, a more historical overview would show an evolution associates to four generations of agencies: the first appeared in the 19th century, the second emerged in the aftermath of the WWII, the third grew during the 1960s and the fourth developed between the 1980s and 1990s. (West 2002: 27-33). This paper will focus on the 1960s and the 1980s during which the reinforcement of organizations’ role and influence occurred and on the 1990s marked by an important swing in the agencies’ humanitarianism philosophy.

During the 1960s, the humanitarian assistance channeled through government-government aid programs started to be considered both insufficient and ideologically biased because framed within the Cold War logic (Tomasevski 1994:60). This factor, coupled with the progressive disengagement of Western governments from the crises in less developed countries, opened the way to increasingly channel the humanitarian aid through private voluntary associations. Through the lenses of the neo-liberalism and the ideology of privatization of the 1980s, the involvement of Western states in third world development programs started to be considered no longer acceptable especially in the light of the achieved results generally considered disappointing. In line with the decline, if not suspension, of bilateral development aid, humanitarian agencies became “major players” (Duffield et al 1994:226) in the implementation of humanitarian assistance. These actors offered to Western countries the possibility to avoid the channeling of the aid through the Southern states (Borton and Shoham 1989; Duffield 1994:58). Furthermore, they were seen more reliable than some recipient governments’ agencies and more responsive to the suffering communities’ needs. Finally, and more importantly, in the case of intrastate conflicts they allowed to circumvent the official recognition of insurgent groups eventually implied by a direct involvement of a Western government in the humanitarian action (Ramsbotham and Woodhoouse 1996:153). During the 1990s, an increasing number of agencies started to shift from the ‘Dunantist’ to the ‘Wilsonian[1]‘ humanitarianism philosophy or from the need-based approach to the RBA and therefore to expand their interventions beyond the traditional task of distributing relief aid. Generally classified as either ‘Dunantist’ or ‘Wilsonian’, humanitarian organizations belonging to the former are seen to insist on the neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian action kept away from any political involvement and interference. Those belonging to the latter are seen to have a wider approach that aims at eliminating the root causes of the humanitarian suffering by attacking the responsible structures (Barnett 2005:728).

At the dawn of the new millennium a large number of agencies enjoyed plenty of leeway to “influence humanitarian policy and to operate on their own terms.” (Hilliard 2005:2-4). Yet, with the proliferation of agencies the response to international emergencies assumed the external contours of a ‘global enterprise’ showing internal divergent pressure and forces. The centripetal pressure to reach field coordination was vanished by the atomization of the agencies with often overlapping mandates, incoherence in their interventions and duplications of their field programs. The centrifugal forces transformed the ‘friendly rivalry’ within the humanitarian community into a real antagonism and pushed many agencies to both exploit their links with Western governments and to compete to occupy the global ‘mediascape’ for their advocacy, visibility and fundraising goals. Because of this competition, the future seems to prospect a flattening of the humanitarian community pyramid and a polarization of its actors with few BINGOs at the top and a galaxy of small local NGOs at the bottom (West 2002:217).

2. Advocacy

2.1. Advocacy and humanitarian advocacy

Advocacy is the process of speaking out about issues of concern in order to exert some influence aimed at pursuing effective outcomes directly affecting people’s lives (Cohen et al: 2001). In its general meaning of a mix of persuasive communication and targeted actions aiming at ‘pleading the cause of’, ‘acting on behalf of’ and ‘speaking out for or in support of others’, advocacy is designed to change policies, positions and actions on a specific issue or cause on behalf of the voiceless. Its characteristics have been summarized in three elements: protect vulnerable people, give them a stronger voice and promote their rights (Barnes quoted in Rai-Atkins 2002:5). In these respects, the concept of advocacy is at the heart of operational humanitarian organizations intervening in conflict-related crises. Besides their relief logistical exercise, they attempt to plead the cause of unheard suffering people by shaping the context conducive to appropriate political, economic and humanitarian responses to their unmet needs. In Perrin’s wording, advocacy also allows the agencies to fulfill their “duty to influence” (Perrin 2002) all key players in order to ensure that they assume their responsibilities to the victim and respect the IHL (Perrin 2002). Although advocacy it is not a novelty within the conflict-related humanitarianism (Meyer 1996), researches would confirm that, apart from notable exceptions, it was not included in the original mandate of many operational organizations. They would also reveal that it was especially with the shift in the humanitarianism philosophy seen above, that the majority of them broadened their initial scope of activities in order to include advocacy. Nowadays, it is considered a critical component of the international response to complex emergencies (Prendergast 1997:145) and listed among the core organizational competencies of many agencies. Yet, current literature shows a panoply of interchangeable terms for advocacy (ODI 2007 October) and suggests that the approach and extent of each agency’s involvement in advocacy initiatives varies making the contours of this function quite blurred and very difficult to establish communitywide guidelines.

2.2. Humanitarian advocacy: objectives, activities and its private/public approaches

In the available documentation of major agencies some commonalities can be found in terms of formulation of advocacy’s general objectives, strategies, tactics and type of activities to implement it. Main shared advocacy’s objectives seem to show a scope that is simultaneously at global and local levels. Within the former, advocacy is considered to aim at influencing the awareness of both international decision-makers and general public on specific humanitarian issues and concerns as well as on the agencies’ work. Within the latter, it is seen to seek to reshape the humanitarian perception of key political and military players operating in the conflict contexts and having a weight on both the plight of affected populations and agencies’ action. The expected outcomes are generally formulated in terms of changes in their general opinion, attitudes and behaviors. The mobilization of the necessary financial support to implement the humanitarian actions is also generally included within these general objectives. Advocacy activities are considered to fall within a continuum between passive involvements such as the ‘corridor lobbying’ and more proactive engagements such as lobbying; between a direct approach of key interlocutors and indirect pressure through the mobilization of public opinion; and between low-profile initiatives such as meetings and ordinary use of the media and high visible forms such as public campaigns. Humanitarian organizations seem to have usually addressed complex and sensitive issues related to conflict-induced emergencies through the behind-the-scene initiatives and the bilateral practices of the ‘humanitarian diplomacy’. Traditionally, this has been considered to be the most effective route to impact the future of humanitarian issues and concerns. Empowered by the privileged position gained during the 1960s the 1980s and 1990s, humanitarians succeeded in actively carving a niche for themselves at the table of the discreet and private advocacy. Yet, when deemed necessary to the interest of humanitarian purposes, the organizations have also been ready to use more visible advocacy initiatives with a clear public communication orientation. Nowadays, both private and public approaches have become fundamental components of a broad set of strategies put in place by humanitarian organizations for their advocacy purposes and in order to maximize the impact they are largely used in tandem.

Focusing a closer attention on the public humanitarian advocacy, this seems to show a threefold strategy at global level and a twofold strategy at local level. At global level, the first is to reshape the awareness of key political actors on the roots causes of the humanitarian outcomes of a conflict in order to influence their policy formulation or policy implementation. Patent examples are the International Campaign to Ban the Landmines, the campaigns on the Cluster Munitions, on the Control of Small Arms and on the Child Soldier. The second is to sensitize the decision-makers about the plight of affected populations in order to ensure that their humanitarian needs receive appropriate attention and resources. The UN Consolidated Appeal and the annual ICRC Emergency Appeals are two among other illustrations. The last is to raise the profile of a specific crisis or to frame a specific humanitarian issue in the public minds in order to both influence or shift targeted audiences’ opinion and rally their support. One example is the media-based and internet-based appeals regularly launched by the Disaster Emergency Committee. Another is the increasing exploitation of the prospect of “equal opportunity activism” (Facebook 2009) offered by the social networking. Through such mobilization, humanitarians aim at creating a context conducive to appropriate political, economic and humanitarian responses or, ultimately, at either putting an indirect pressure on decision-makers or shaking reluctant key leadership from inaction. The ability of the public opinion to provoke an eventual reaction of politicians is based on the “salience hypothesis” (Burnstein 1999:16) positing that when there is a discrepancy between the public preferences and the policy framework, increasing an issue’s salience in the public minds can have a strong impact on politicians (Mchale 2004:6). This capacity has gained a larger relevance in contemporary society where politicians are increasingly accountable to public opinion (Leonard 2000; Wedge 1968). In today’s ‘global village’ this pressure has obviously assumed global dimensions.

At local level, the public humanitarian advocacy initiatives aim, on the one hand, at shaping the perception of key political and military players in order to sensitize them on the hardship endured by the crises-affected populations and on the need to ensure that they access humanitarian assistance and protection. On the other, they seek to respond to the central imperatives governing the humanitarian action notably the guarantees for unhampered access to vulnerable populations and the security of the humanitarian staff in the field. Each organization would provide statistics on their activities such as the dissemination sessions, seminars and workshops regularly conducted to sensitize local key players as well as copy of their ‘Fact Sheet’ summarizing their response to the crisis. More original examples are the music projects launched in 1999, 2002 and 2006 by the ICRC delegation in Côte d’Ivoire that used the power of music to appeal for the protection of human dignity of war victims and for the respect for Red Cross humanitarian action and personnel (ICRC 2006).


3.1. Public humanitarian advocacy has become a ‘good word gone bad’

This paper claims is that in today’s conflict-related humanitarian environment, advocacy has become a ‘good word gone bad’. In recent years, when referred to this field advocacy, especially in its public forms, seems to have progressively lost its original and positive connotations and simultaneously assumed growing negative significances. Nowadays, it appears to be away from its original people-and-their-suffering-centered orientation, largely interpreted in political terms, widely used with a ‘speaking out’ approach intended to publicly denounce rights-violating governments and increasingly associated with initiatives aiming at pure visibility goals. Arraying the exercise of influencing key players through advocacy on a continuum ranging from negotiations behind the scenes to public denunciation (Perrin 2002), many organizations seem to increasingly prefer the latter to the former. This ‘deviated’ interpretation and the widespread association of advocacy with the denunciation approach would rally a large consensus within the humanitarian community. Outside analysts seem also to implicitly recognize this deviation when they wonder whether “advocacy in Darfur has gone too far” (Gidley 2007) or when they highlight the need for a better understanding of both the role of agencies in advocacy and the effectiveness of this function (HPG 2007:1).

3.2. Five main factors behind advocacy’s deviation

Five main factors seem to emerge as having particularly fostered this deviation. Firstly, the growing frustration stemming from the acknowledgement of the political contours of the complex emergencies and from the widespread perception that “there are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems” (Sadako Ogata quoted in Rieff 2002:22) oriented many agencies away from their ‘Dunantist’ approach considered to be producing only increasing dissatisfaction and “well-fed dead” (Barnett 2005:728). The international policy vacuum in addressing the post-Cold War crises coupled with the agencies’ reinforced tasks and responsibilities analyzed above prompted many humanitarians to take individual interventionist moves also in terms of advocacy enabling them to push for more appropriate actions to reach their new goals. Yet, with the shifts fostered by both the ‘Wilsonian’ philosophy and the ‘droit d’ingérence’ the issues at stake were growingly interpreted in political terms and the intentions behind advocacy’s process of persuasion were seen to swing from empowering the voiceless to increasing the power of the speakers. In the general frame of mind advocacy assumed political connotations while the advocates turned into propagandists.

Secondly, operating increasingly in intrastate conflicts-related crises characterized by their volatile, insecure and lawlessness nature, many agencies started to face serious challenges in the accomplishment of their tasks. When their humanitarian programs seemed jeopardized or when the ‘droit d’ingérence’ was hampered or when the advocacy initiatives did not produce any visible results, several mainline relief agencies started to openly deplore the restrictions to their actions and to plead Western governments and the UN for more political commitments and military protection (Barnett 2005:727; Rieff 2002:26). Yet, these appeals both reinforced the politicized and militarized perception of their action and weakened the credibility of their neutrality. Furthermore, the positive answers to these requests often put the humanitarian actors in the embarrassing and controversial situation to implement their programs next to international contingents deployed to the same area under an international political resolution in order to secure the ‘humanitarian space’. At field level, these generally labeled ‘westerners’ were seen helping and condemning at the same time in the same country and this blurred image shadowed the charitable character of agencies’ actions and highlighted the political nature of their advocacy.

Thirdly, the implementation of rights-based advocacy strategy seems to have engendered simultaneous positive and negative outcomes. As the RBA is “people-centered” (Jones 2000: 39) suffering populations were no longer referred to as ‘victim’ or ‘beneficiaries’ of Western generosity but as dignified ‘rights-holders’ the humanitarians could help to protect from the abuses of the corresponding ‘duty-bearer’. The consequent rights-based advocacy re-shifted the focus from the interveners and their right ‘to’ access the vulnerable people back to the war affected populations and their right ‘of’ accessing humanitarian assistance and protection. Yet, although “raising awareness of human rights is prerequisite to their achievement” (Jones 2000: 39) agencies did not re-shift the articulation of their discourse accordingly from the public denunciation of the operational restrictions back to the promotion of people’s rights. Instead, between the “violations and (…) promotional approach” (Jones 2000: 39) they seem to have married to the former and divorced from the latter and simply re-oriented the blaming formula towards the denunciation of human rights violations (OCHA 2007).

Fourthly, when the medium/long-term vision intrinsic in both the ‘Wilsonian’ philosophy and the realization of human rights collided with the urgency of the crises, agencies started to add a ‘hic et nunc’ element to their advocacy initiatives. In order to give an impelling character to their appeals they often chose to push the key players to publicly face their humanitarian responsibilities. In overestimating the assumption that “exposing the parties to the conflict to the judgment of the public is the best way to exert positive pressure” (Minear and Smith 2007:104) many agencies started to exploit the immediacy of the media and to attract their attention by privileging the ‘speaking out’ approach or pushing for highly mediatized forms of aggressive advocacy.

Lastly, the increased exploitation of the television to channel public advocacy coupled with the media’s practices of focusing on the latest ‘bad news’ often brought to the television screen the fundraising appeals for the latest sudden-onset complex emergencies while the humanitarian and financial needs of other chronic crises experienced more difficulties in receiving attention. Furthermore, the competition in the relief market becoming increasingly crowded with the mushrooming of new small agencies desperately looking for the mass visibility offered by the cross-border media sometimes produced perverse results. On the one hand, the rivalry to occupy the ‘mediascape’ pushed some agencies to attract media’s attention by “citing the highest numbers of victims” (Minear and al 1996:67). On the other, the interest of the media in a specific crisis promoted either the implementation of photogenic activities rather than the needed interventions or the concentration of humanitarian programs in zones more covered by television while ignoring other areas off the media light (Mohamed Sacirbey quoted in Gowing 1994:11). But, when these blameworthy circumstances came into light they cast serious doubts about the professionalism and accountability of humanitarian interveners and enhanced the perception that advocacy initiatives were primarily visibility-driven. Advocacy started to be seen aiming at exploiting the television to raise money, at promoting agencies’ work and at satisfying donors’ need to know that their money was being effectively spent rather than at pleading the cause of the vulnerable. The “distinction between doing good and being seen to be doing good” (Pupavac 2006:266) became increasingly blurred.

3.3. A conceptual explanation and a theoretical interpretation for the advocacy deviation

From the conceptual perspective, advocacy’s deviation seems to occur when the circle of the public humanitarian advocacy process is interrupted. In theory, this sees agencies using public advocacy to frame a specific humanitarian issue at stake in the mind of key political actors or to raise the general public awareness about a humanitarian concern. These initiatives are assumed to influence political leaders’ opinion and to mobilize large constituencies eventually enabling the agencies to put an indirect pressure on decision-makers and engender their appropriate responses and actions affecting the humanitarian issues. Yet, from a more realistic angle, the circle of such process is not always closed either because the advocacy does not succeed in influencing the political leadership or in mobilizing the constituencies or because the decision-makers do not feel the pressure of a successful mobilization. The list of the top-ten neglected crises that yearly shows the same few underreported emergencies highlights the challenges faced by the humanitarian agencies in mobilizing global attention and support. The delay of the international community intervention in Rwanda was also due to the limited impact of the advocacy efforts. The Sudanese government has demonstrated indifference to both activists’ international outcry and the pressure from western public opinion on the plight of the people in Darfur. Observations of past examples would reveal that when the efforts to mobilize the general public were unsuccessful some agencies have often entered into a spiral of public advocacy actions and kept on trying different strategies and initiatives. This insistence often transformed advocacy into an end in itself rather than a means to achieve agencies’ objectives and its initiatives into activities ‘just for the sake of doing advocacy’ or with strictly fundraising and visibility goals. Conversely, when decision-makers turned to be non responsive to successful public mobilization some humanitarians have often shown the penchant to increase the tone of their communication or to reorient their strategy of putting pressure by using direct attacks to governments and their responsibilities or calling for external political and military interventions. The crises in Rwanda and Darfur are cases in point. The general negative connotations that the word advocacy has assumed in recent years basically stems from the tendency of an increasing number of operational agencies to resort to this aggressive approach, not only, when the circle did not close but, also, as their deliberate main public advocacy strategy.

Conner’s “strategy and stance advocacy framework” (Conner 2005) provides a more theoretical structure through which the different advocacy approaches can be interpreted. Referring to advocacy in its general terms, Conner argues that the ‘strategies’ that can be used to “cause the target [of advocacy] to change (…) can be arrayed along a continuum from ‘push’ to ‘pull’ where push strategies are coercive and pull strategies are invitational” (Conner 2005:7-8). Conversely, the ‘stance’, which is the attitude or frame of mind through which an advocacy person/agency “relates to the target (…) [of advocacy], fall[s] on a continuum between friend and foe” (Conner 2005:7-8). The combination of these strategies and stances produces four broad styles into which advocacy initiatives can be categorized. Limiting the application of this framework to the focus of this paper it can be said that the ‘pull-friend’ combination seems to be typical of advocacy initiatives producing the expected results and therefore typical of a closed circle of the advocacy process. Conversely, the direct attack on decision makers and their responsibilities would fall into ‘push-foe’ box characterized by the strategy of delegitimizing the other and the attitude of considering the other through negative lenses, if not an enemy. Conner warns that when falling within this last combination both sides enter what he calls the “advocacy trap” (Conner 2005:10) in which each side feels justified to continue using ‘push-foe’ tactics and to blame the other’s behavior. Conner sees two risks connected to this approach. The first is that both sides enter what he calls the “circle of blame” (Conner 2005:13) that intertwined with the advocacy trap might distort advocacy person/agency from “fulfilling the calling that drew them into public advocacy in the first place” (Conner 2005:15). The second is that both sides become “locked in [a] ritual combat” (Conner 2005:10) in which they continue to use push strategies from a foe stance long after it is evident that they can no longer achieve their advocacy objectives (Conner 2005:10). The case of Darfur is a relevant illustration of this latter scenario. At the beginning of the crisis, some agencies started to speak out to condemn the ‘genocide’. The Sudanese authorities responded by accusing them of Western interference. The agencies denounced the operational hampering and so on. The ritual combat still continues today with these two foes still reciprocally blaming and delegitimizing one another.

3.4. Challenges, limits, defies and dilemmas

Differently from other field, when in conflict situations agencies engage in advocacy initiatives with the expanded ‘Wilsonian’ scope and ambition the potential for confrontation with the local leadership increases (Haug 2001:2) for its obvious political implications. Together with this expansion, the burgeoning of public initiatives brought to light the challenges of balancing advocacy with the concept of humanitarian imperative as well as with the core principles of humanity and neutrality. The tension with the humanitarian imperative seems to stem from the mainly medium/long-term view of the advocacy’s goals aiming at attacking the root political causes of suffering that collides with the short-term pragmatism of the humanitarian imperative aiming at saving lives and providing immediate assistance. The clash with the principle of humanity seems to be two-fold. The first arises because the expanded political contours of advocacy diverge from the principle of humanity whose formulation ensures that the humanitarian action remains non-political and that the political considerations do not prevail over the humanitarian concerns. The second relates to the conflict between the advocacy initiatives calling for ethical military interventions to protect populations in severe danger and the moral aspect intrinsic in the principle of humanity stating that all human beings are to be treated humanely. When such appeals resulted in the killing of some people in order to prevent and alleviate the suffering of other, advocacy showed its double standard that clearly deviated from the equality of treatment promoted by the principle of humanity. The framing of public initiatives in terms of condemnation of human rights violations seems to highlight the challenges of reconciling advocacy with neutrality. By promoting the rights of one side or condemning the other for abusing or violating such rights, advocacy becomes visibly incompatible with the equidistant position outlined by the principle of neutrality.

In the humanitarian crises increasingly induced by politically-laden and intrastate conflicts five aspects seem to have both engendered additional challenges in the implementation of the rights-based advocacy as strategy and introduced some limits to its use. Firstly, in situations like the conflict ‘where the stomachs are empty’, talks about rights lack legitimacy (Uvin 2009). Secondly, the fact that the Human Rights Law (HRL) expresses its content largely in the genre of “manifesto” (Feinberg quoted in Finnis 1980:214) listing a series of “peremptory” and “conclusory”, “assertions” (Finnis 1980: 218) seems to have fostered a militant attitude in agencies’ advocacy efforts. Thirdly, in order to ‘come to earth’ this body of law requires to be translated into “specific three-term relations” (Finnis 1980: 218) in which the rights-holder(s) and the duty-bearer(s) are clearly indentified and the elements of the rights-duties equation clearly outlined (Finnis 1980: 218-9). Yet, while in the human rights system the accountability of the state is clearly defined as “the principal duty holder under international law” (Windfuhr 2000:35) the liability of the others duty-bearer(s) seems not. Harbored in their vague, split and morally impenetrable liability, humanitarian were in their ‘win-win position’ that allowed them to use the militant attitude and the accusatory tones in their advocacy while avoiding the blame. This approach has exacerbated their already challenging relationship with duty-holders. Fourthly, HRL is an international binding instrument for the signatory states but not for non-state actors (NSA). This appears to make the essence of the right-based advocacy workable with the former but unsuitable for the latter. Unless the NSA declares its sensitiveness to the HRL, any attempt of rights-based advocacy to use the denouncing tones would produce feeble results. Lastly, the fact that human rights form a single indivisible package and that they cannot be ranked on a hierarchical scale seems to weaken also the strategy of the right-based advocacy with the states. Uvin argues that in the reality of the conflicts, where the needs are huge and the resources scarce, even the most committed government would face serious defies in implementing core rights such as the right to food (Uvin 2009). Advocating for impossible core rights would weaken the strategy. Advocating with less decisive tones for core rights difficult to implement due to the objective restrictions would justify exceptions that are simply unacceptable from both the RBA and HRL perspectives.

The overuse by the operational organizations of public advocacy initiatives structured in the deviated form of public denunciation widened further the challenges of advocacy that became increasingly “difficult (…) not to be judged as deeply politicized” (ODI 2007 October). This pushed agencies’ action, apolitical by mandate, to face the growing defies stemming from being perceived as integrated into the realm of politics. Two other elements complicated even further their position. The first is the mushrooming of purely human rights advocacy agencies that, generally speaking, privilege provocative outcries aimed at calling for interventions against rights-violating governments or at blaming state authorities for not acting appropriately. The extended use of controversial and strong approaches by the operational organizations blurred their differences from the purely advocacy agencies fostering the tendency to put all the agencies under the same label and to consider all public humanitarian advocacy based on political and public denunciation actions. The second is the globalization that extended the consequences of their strong public advocacy positions across political and geographical boundaries and increased the risks of double standard criticisms stemming from a global/local public communication inconsistency.

Sometimes, local authorities reacted to this deviated connotation of advocacy by re-framing the agencies’ action within the political terms of interference with their sovereignty and by interpreting their human rights-based advocacy as a further articulation of the Western cultural and values imperialism. The public advocacy in Darfur is a case in point. Although within the humanitarian community it is not denied that especially during the 2004 it helped both to rally the global attention on the barely known plight of Darfurians and to push the crisis onto the international agenda many humanitarians emphasize the complex drawbacks that this engendered. At best, strong advocacy actions triggered the rift between the humanitarian community and the Sudanese Government. The reference of the Sudanese President to the humanitarians as “the real enemies of Sudan” (Reeves 2008) summarizes this thorny relationship. At worst, they created significant operational complications. One practical illustration of this is the arrest of MSF’s senior official in May 2005 after the publication of a report about their concerns for the rape in Darfur. But examples of harassment, arrest or of a ‘persona non grata’ stamp on aid workers’ passport abound. In some occasions, the retort of local authority translated into the expulsion of the agencies from the country with serious humanitarian consequences stemming for the impossibility to provide further assistance. In the 1980s, because of their public position, MSF and the ICRC were forced to dismiss their operation in Ethiopia (Minear and Weiss 1993:67). In March 2009, the Sudanese government expelled several humanitarian agencies whose reports and public declarations are believed to have helped the decision of the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for President Al-Bashir (Rice 2009).

These and other similar incidents fostered many operational agencies to evaluate the impact and repercussions of their strong advocacy on both the ongoing and future field programs as well as on the security of their field staff. The growing challenges forced them to face the dilemma to which extent an aggressive public advocacy is compatible with their pragmatic priorities. For, when the consequences of a strong advocacy are that the implementation of their programs is hampered, their presence in the field is vetoed and the security of aid workers is threatened, their raison d’être of accessing vulnerable populations is undermined. Yet, when the alternative of eschewing strong stands or of relying on softer options was considered a second dilemma surfaced. Some operational agencies started to ponder whether through this latter approach they were entirely fulfilling their responsibilities in line with their ‘Wilsonian’ philosophy and those that did exposed themselves “to criticism for having applied a Band-aids to systemic problems” (Minear and Weiss 1993:67). Research on the communication initiatives about the crises in Darfur would show that at a later phase, some agencies that had faced operational problems started to adopt a lower profile, if not a virtually silence. Furthermore, apart from few exceptions, agencies started to re-centre their advocacy on issues relating to humanitarian assistance (ODI 2007 October; Gidley 2007; HPG 2007:3) and to avoid further strong public positions that could complicate and restrict their actions or oblige them to dismiss their operations.

Today, there seems to be two tendencies. The first is to doubt that advocacy is critical to successful humanitarian actions or at least to agree that its “positive impact is by no means proven” (O’Callaghan quoted in Gidley 2007). The second is to reduce the above dilemmas to the equation of discretion with efficiency and to the dichotomy of ‘speaking out’ or ‘remain silent’. This paper shares the views considering these conclusions too simplistic. Concerning the first, the above analysis shows that the essence of the issue is not the validity or effectiveness of the public advocacy but rather its past misuse that transformed its initiatives limitless in their range and blurred in their objectives. Vague public actions aiming at appealing the international community to ‘do something, anything’ or invoking the ‘never again’ formula make the strategy blunt and its eventual poor results should not put in to question the usefulness of humanitarian advocacy as a whole. Concerning the second, juxtaposing public advocacy to operational constraints and strong public advocacy to the failure to tackle roots causes of crises seems to be a superficial conclusion as in both cases the former is only one of the arrays of variables influencing the latter. Furthermore, humanitarian agencies do not walk on the tightrope of public advocacy between accusation and silence. There is a vast spectrum of stances available in-between. Among them the possibility to engage in public initiatives framed within strict humanitarian terms or based on the advocacy’s original meanings. The following two examples seem to confirm the feasibility of a more balanced approach.

3.5. Public humanitarian advocacy in humanitarian terms and within the advocacy’s original meaning: two examples.

The first example concerns the specific ICRC’s public communication approach. Its analysis seems to confirm that even in a highly mediatized and politicized environment, such as for instance the Darfur crisis when it started to be a cause célèbre, it is possible to advocate the plight of the suffering populations and raise awareness on their hardship without falling into the political and public denunciation framework. During the most intense phase of the humanitarian advocacy on Darfur, the second and third quarters of 2004 (HPG 2007:2), the framing of public advocacy of many agencies progressively shifted from matters concerning the humanitarian context, assistance and funding needs to issues relating to insecurity, international intervention to resolve the crisis and human rights violations (HPG 2007:2). In his function of ICRC communication coordinator in Khartoum, the author[2] recalls the strong advocacy positions of some agencies denouncing the plight of the populations in Darfur in terms of ‘genocide’ and their ‘speaking out’ approach about the operational hampering they were experiencing. He also remembers the effort of some agencies to mark their distance and distinction from this general strong public stand (HPG 2007:6). Finally, the author recalls the nuanced approach of the ICRC that, in line with its public communication policy[3], did not join the condemnation euphoria of the moment often reducing the conflict to the stereotyped dichotomy of ‘good and bad guys’. During this intense communication phase on Darfur, the ICRC’s public communication was based on regular bulletins and operational updates and on the appeals to the parties to the conflict to respect the fundamental rules of the IHL. With a better understanding of the situation in Darfur, based on the results of a food-need assessment published in September 2004, the ICRC started to frame its public communication in the humanitarian terms of food insecurity of the rural communities and, in line with its communication policy, kept people’s daily challenges and needs at the centre of its messages (ICRC 2004). In this later phase, the ICRC continued to use its typical communication framework urging all parties to the conflict to abide by the IHL’s obligations demanding the respect and protection for the ‘non-combatants’ which represent a concrete way of pleading the cause and the ‘rights’ of the vulnerable but from its mirrored perspective. The author recalls that within the ICRC there was the widespread confidence that such approach had allowed the organization to experience less challenges in keeping its access to vulnerable populations.This is not to suggest that the ICRC never condemns. It does. In August 2004, talking about Sudan, ICRC President publicly referred to grave violation of IHL. Another example dates June 2007 and concerned the situation in Myanmar. But, in line with its public communication policy, the ICRC usually considers this option its second or third best alternative, it delivers carefully worded statement avoiding one-sided or at least too explicit condemnations of individual parties to conflict and typically uses it when other persuasion means have failed and this option shows clear benefits for the victims (Kellenberger 2004:600-4).

The second example concerns the International Campaign to Ban the Landmines (ICBL) widely celebrated as one of the most successful examples of public humanitarian advocacy. Its main comparative advantages have been summarizes in three dimensions: effective coalition building, favourable negotiating conditions and clear campaign messaging (Hubert 2000a:57). Knowing that advocacy by individual agencies is necessarily limited, the humanitarian community succeeded in building a transnational activism around the landmine cause and in acting as united “global conscience” (Nye 2002:66) capable of fostering a worldwide “mobilization of shame” (DeChaine 2005:115). This collective approach was buttressed, at global level, by a strategic use of a powerful mix of communication tools including media, campaigning, lobbying, celebrity and the Internet and, at local level, by a ‘strategy of localism’ allowing to tailor the advocacy efforts. The analysis of the campaign shows four points relevant to the present discussion. Firstly, its structure allowed tackling one of the worst causes of suffering in conflict-related crises keeping the messages away from the slippery ground of politics. By “reframing the (…) issue away from its status as political and military issue to the realm of humanitarianism” (DeChaine 2005:107; Hubert 2000a:xii) it succeeded in persuading the decision-makers of the humanitarian dimensions of the concern and in making very difficult for them “to resist the logic of the ban” (Hubert 2000a:xii). Many other arguments could have been used to buttress this initiative but the essence of its messages was continuously focused on the human costs that outweighed the military utility of the landmines (Hubert 2000a:29). It is the framing of the issue in humanitarian terms that constituted the main strength of the advocates and the main weakness of their opponents (Hubert 2000a:64). Secondly, its approach made possible to ‘denounce’ the responsibilities, instead of the people responsible, without fearing the repercussions on humanitarian field activities (MSF website quoted on Lindenberg and Bryant 2001: 199). Being a single issue of concern to many countries, those producing or using the landmines were not publicly blamed. Yet, by deciding not to sign the Ottawa Treaty few notorious countries singled out their own responsibilities vis-à-vis an issue on which there was a large global consensus. Thirdly, its communication pushed into the background the right of access ‘to’ victims of humanitarian agencies and repositioned at the center of the public advocacy the plight and the right ‘of’ the victims. Finally, its advocacy and communication objectives were clear since the beginning: the ratification of an international treaty. To sum up, this advocacy success seems to confirm that although an issue might be at the intersection between the political domain and the humanitarian action, it is still possible to intervene in the former without compromising the latter. Moreover, it suggests that “even where multiple discourses are available (…) advocacy is often best couched within explicitly humanitarian terms” (Hubert 2000a:65).

3.6. Other examples

Researches would probably reveal other agencies’ communication initiatives equal/similar to the ICRC’s example analyzed above. Yet, they would also highlight the lack of consistency showed by the ICRC and this, most likely, due to an ill-defined communication strategy if not the absence of a public communication policy. Conversely the analysis of other campaigns shaped on the ICBL model and its humanitarian framing is possible and this could help identifying the main limits of such approach useful for future initiatives. These campaigns are the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the banning of Child Soldier (CS) and the restriction on the proliferation of Small Arms (SA) campaigns (Hubert 2000a: 41) considered, together with the ICBL, both the “innovations in humanitarian advocacy” (Hubert 2000b) and the learning cases for future initiatives. In order to remain focused to the subject, the investigation will concentrate on two common aspects relevant to the present discussion. These are the campaigns’ focus on humanitarian objectives and their messages coined within an explicit humanitarian discourse (Hubert 2000a: 57). The analysis will also attempt to evaluate the weight of such humanitarian framing on the varying degrees of their acknowledged results.

There seem to be a large consensus on considering the ICBL and ICC as winning campaigns and their produced results, the Ottawa Treaty and the Rome Statute, respectively a ‘triumph’ and an “impressive success” (Hubert 2000a: xiii). Furthermore, there seems to be a shared opposite opinion on the CS campaign whose advocacy “can hardly be called a success” (Hubert 2000a: 47) and on its outcome, the optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, rather considered an ‘accomplishment’. Finally, in the case of SA campaign, the agreement seems to be that the progress in recognizing the issue in humanitarian terms is relatively modest (Hubert 2000a: xiii) and that the impacting results of its advocacy campaign are still to come.

Two fundamental elements could help explaining this decreasing chart. The first is the different relevance of each issue to the “normative space” (O’Dwyer 2006:78) of the IHL and its overall objective of reducing the human costs of war. While for the ICBL and ICC campaigns the relevance of their issue to the normative space of IHL is self-evident for the other two this is more challenging to establish. For the CS, it would be arduous to claim a direct correlation between the reduction of the number of active young soldiers and the decrease of the human costs of war. For the SA, it would be difficult to stress the relevance of the issue to the normative space of IHL because this is applied only during the armed conflicts while the small arms are equally common in conflict and peace time. As the prevention and reduction of the human costs of war represents not only the main IHL’s objective but also the essence of the humanitarian framing of the issue in a campaign, the weak relevance to the IHL’s normative space of the CS issue and the essence of the SA issue diluted between the IHL and HRL seem to have contributed in making the humanitarian discourse of their campaigns less convincing.

The second element concerns the provisions aimed by the campaigns and the impact they could have on the countries’ internal and military affairs if they are ratified. Banning and replacing the landmines with other weaponry capable of obtaining the same military results, but with a reduced human cost, could still satisfy armies’ warfare needs. Therefore, the Ottawa Treaty could hardly be seen as interfering in internal military affairs. Countries committed to ‘play the game’ by the rules do not consider the ratification of the Rome Statute a hindrance to their warfare capacity but rather an opportunity to publicize they law-abiding attitude. Conversely, the impact of the provisions aimed by both the CS and the SA campaigns seems to be relevant. Concerning the former, the recruitment of new soldiers responds not only to the need to confront the ‘other side’ but also, if not more, to the need to defend ‘our side’. Differently from the landmines, troops are irreplaceable and although countries might be sensitive to the humanitarian discourse of the CS issue some of them are more reticent to subscribe clauses that by restricting the recruitment could, de facto, weaken their defense capabilities. Concerning the latter, the impact is even stronger as the provisions would collide with the ‘right’ to use the small arms for self-defense in peace time deeply rooted in some cultures (O’Dwyer 2006:91). The clear potential impact of the intended provisions of the former on the countries’ military affairs and of the latter on their internal affairs seems to have contributed to undermine the humanitarian framing of their campaigns.

4. Conclusions

Despite being at the heart of conflict-related humanitarianism, nowadays advocacy seems to have lost its value-neutral denotation and its original and positive meaning. In this sense, this paper has argued that it has become a ‘good word gone bad’ especially when referred to public advocacy. The discussion has evidenced that with the time advocacy has assumed a negative significance due to its widespread political interpretation, denouncing strategy, aggressive approach and visibility goals. The analysis has highlighted the main reasons behind this deviation, explained and interpreted it through conceptual and theoretical frameworks and outlined the challenges, limits and dilemmas that it has engendered. The examination of the ICRC’s public communication approach during the emergency phase in Darfur and the ICBL have shown the feasibility of advocacy initiatives framed within its original and positive meaning. From the study of these examples and other international campaigns few elements seem to emerge that could contribute to stimulate the future reflections on the contours of this core humanitarian function.

The promising path for future campaigns in conflict-related humanitarianism seems to be within the boundaries of “enhancing restrictions on the production and use of weapons and strengthening the legal protection afforded to civilians in situations of armed conflict” (Hubert 2000a: 65). Such ‘public issue-based advocacy’ at cross boundaries level (either regional or global) seems to show two main advantages when it is implemented by a coalition of agencies that share the vision of a ‘glocal’ strategy, the approach based on the ‘shame’ rather than on the ‘blame’ and the policy of denouncing the responsibilities rather than people responsible. The coalition could exert a stronger pressure while the single agencies could face less repercussion on their field activities. The humanitarian concerns with a strong relevance to the normative space of IHL and a weak impact on countries’ military and internal affairs seem to offer better chances of success. Issues seen to cause human consequences that go beyond the immediate and direct effects engendered by the conflict appear to present even more promising prospects. Framing the conflict-related issue in humanitarian terms is possible and advisable but this discourse tends to lose its strength when the issue behind the advocacy fails to be perceived in equally strong humanitarian terms. Humanitarian concerns relevant to simultaneously peace and conflict times seem to encounter deeper challenges in their promotion. The consequent advocacy campaign with its ambition to aim at multiple goals difficult to equally achieve and its discourse diluted between the IHL and the HRL frameworks would produce modest outcomes and a watered impact on the issue.

At country level, single agencies could integrate the follow ups of such ‘public issue-based advocacy’ campaigns with ‘public need-based advocacy’ initiatives that appear to be successful when they are implemented by an actor knowledgeable about the needs it intends to meet. From the analysis above it appears that the ‘public rights-based advocacy’ is a less suitable approach in today’s humanitarian crises increasingly induced by politically-laden and intrastate conflicts. Its penchant to exacerbate the unresolved contradiction between the principle of sovereignty and the promotion of human rights widens the potential of confrontation between the humanitarians and local governments making this tool inappropriate. Its production of questionable short-term results and unsatisfactory scenario for the humanitarian action on the long-term make this strategy blunt. Instead, agencies should complement their public advocacy efforts with an ‘IHL-based advocacy’ and make more explicit links between HRL and IHL that continues to offer significant comparative advantages in today’s ‘complex emergencies’. Among other the fact that IHL framing does not involve politicization; that with its “bilingualism” (Slim 2002:9) IHL clearly outlines the rights of non-combatants and explicitly define the rules/duties of the combatants; that the rights expressed in the IHL, representing the so-called ‘noyeau dur’ of human rights common to both HRL and IHL, are non-derogable rights; that all the parties to the conflict, both states and NSA, are bound by this body of law. In other words, as Slim suggests, “the best means of maintaining a humanitarianism of rights when those rights are contested is by emphasizing IHL over human rights law” (Slim 2002:24). The boundaries suggested by Hubert for future campaigns seem in line with this view as they correspond to the two main objectives of IHL. However, agency should not expect everyone to be knowledgeable about international law and include knowledge creation among their core tasks. Furthermore, due to the security challenges increasingly experienced by the aid-workers this country level public communication activity should receive particular consideration and resources.

The behind-the-scenes approach seems to be more appropriate for the ‘rights-based advocacy’, at both global and local level, as it would most certainly defuse the confrontation and therefore allow the agency to have a more constructive exchange with its interlocutors on both their duties to respect core human rights and their eventual responsibilities for not respecting them.

The reality of today’s conflict-related humanitarianism seems to evidence that the credibility of the action is compromised, that the meaning of the word advocacy is discredited and the validity of this core function put into question. The post-9/11 reality seems to have added an additional challenge as it has weakened humanitarians’ voice by pushing out of contexts their expertise on ‘soft issues’ overshadowed by the ‘crusade’s priorities’ of the global agenda (O’Dwyer 2006). The ‘Cluster Approach’ seems to be the latest tool developed to improve effectiveness of the humanitarian response to emergencies by enhancing agencies’ commitment to coordination and accountability. Concerning advocacy, community wise there seems to be a clearly expressed need to better understand its role and limits. This need should inspire the internal debate aiming at fine-tuning a public communication strategy in line with each agency’s financial and human assets if not at outlining a public communication policy shared communitywide. This strategic thinking could also help the humanitarian community identifying how to formulate and convey a ‘humanitarian story’ capable of winning, in the short and long terms, the heart and mind of all its interlocutors and, possibly, contribute to improve the credibility of its action.


[1] Dunantist refers to Henry Dunant founder of the Red Cross Movement. Wilsonian refers to Woodrow Wilson’s who believed that is was possible and desirable both to transform political, economic, and cultural structures so that they liberated individuals and produced peace and progress and to attack the root causes that leave populations at risk. (Barnett 2005:728)

[2] The reflections included in this paragraph reflect the views and the analysis of the author alone and not necessarily those of the ICRC.

[3] In 2004, ICRC Assembly adopted an internal doctrine on public communication policy titled “ICRC public communication: Policy, guiding principles and priority audiences” (ICRC internal document). Broadly speaking this policy is based on the guiding communication principles of credibility, identity and impact. It establishes a public policy framework within which both the ICRC communication initiatives are originated and developed and its communication strategies at local, regional and global levels are outlined.


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Visited websites

Care International http://www.careinternational.org.uk/

Catholic relief Service http://crs.org/

Center for War, Peace and the News Media http://www.nyu.edu/cwpnm/

Central Emergency Response Fund http://ochaonline.un.org/Default.aspx?alias=ochaonline.un.org/cerf

Communication Initiative, The http://www.comminit.com

Control Arms Campaign: http://www.controlarms.org/en

Cluster Munition Coalition: http://www.stopclustermunitions.org/

Department for International Development (DFID) http://www.dfid.gov.uk

Disaster Emergency Committee: http://www.dec.org.uk

ECHO European Union Humanitarian Aid Office http://europa.eu.int/comm/echo/information/publications/index_en.htm

Facebook: http://apps.facebook.com/causes/about

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) http://www.fair.org/international/iraq.html

Geneva Humanitarian Forum http://www.genevahumanitarianform.org

Global Policy Forum http://www.globalpolicy.org

Google http://www.google.co.uk http://www.google.com

Humanitarian Practice Network http://www.odihpn.org

Humanitarian Reform http://www.humanitarianreform.org/

Humanitarianism and War Project http://hwproject.tufts.edu/

Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) http://www.iwpr.net

International Crisis Group http://www.crisisweb.org/home/index.cfm

International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD) http://www.iicd.org

International Rescue Committee http://wfp.org/english/

IRIN United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks http://www.irinnews.org

Médecins du Monde http://www.medecinsdumonde.org/

Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) http://www.msf.fr

Office Coordination Humanitarian Affairs http://ochaonline.un.org/

Oxfam GB http://www.oxfam.org.uk

Oxfam Australia http://www.oxfam.org.au/

ReliefWeb http://www.reliefweb.net

Reuters AlertNet http://www.alertnet.org/

Save the Children UK http://www.savethechildren.org.uk

UN http://www.nn.org

UN Peacekeeping http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/lessons/

UNHCR http://www.unhcr.org

UNICEF http://www.unicef.org

World Food Program http://wfp.org/english/

World Vision http://www.worldvision.org.uk/

World advocacy: http://www.worldadvocacy.com/animal_1.html

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