Reflections from the Exercise Viking18 on civil-military cooperation in multinational crisis response and peace operations

Viking18 Red Cross team

Viking18 Red Cross team

This guest blog by Lenin Tinashe Chisaira (candidate on the UCC LLM International Human Rights Law & Public Policy programme) reflects on his experience in the Viking18 civil-military training exercise in Custume Barracks, Athlone.

The Exercise Viking18 on civil-military cooperation in crisis response and peace operations was conducted from 16th – 26th April 2018 at sites in Brazil, Bulgaria, Finland, Ireland, Serbia and Sweden, with over 2,500 military personnel and civilian humanitarians simultaneously working on the same fictitious scenario in real-time. The Swedish Armed Forces are the primary coordinator and host of the exercise, in conjunction with the Folke Bernadotte Academy (the Swedish agency for peace, security and development). The Viking training exercises are held every four years; therefore 2018 was an opportune time for the dozen law and international relations students from University College Cork who applied and got selected to participate in the exercise. It was an informative and hectic week for students interested in international humanitarian law.

The exercise is conducted in real-time. The Exercise Viking focused on the fictional State of Bogaland, whose map, however, is modelled on Sweden. There is an excellent level of seriousness from both military, police and civilian participants and that makes the whole exercise worthwhile. The Exercise Viking indeed develops a sense of ‘on the ground’ experience for all participants.

In Ireland, the exercise was conducted at Custume Barracks in Athlone, County Westmeath. The participating UCC team was joined by other students from University College Dublin and NUI Maynooth. Students were divided amongst dedicated Irish Aid mentors, and they participated in the simulated ground operations of some humanitarian aid agencies. These agencies included the Red Cross, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), UN Mission in Bogaland (UNMIB), the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and non-governmental organisations (NGO).

As UCC students, we had some helpful prior pieces of training in Cork, conducted by our UCC coordinators Dr Dug Cubie from the School of Law and Dr David Fitzgerald from the School of History. We also had a briefing from Comdt Laura Fitzpatrick, from the Defence Forces Ireland. She is also the Chief Instructor at the United Nations Training School Ireland (UNTSI).

As a participant, I was first deployed to the Red Cross office and then to the OCHA office due to the availability of experienced mentors. My day during the exercise would start at 0700hrs each morning with breakfast and then going over the events of the previous night. Information was shared via email, telephone and especially dedicated social media and newspapers. I would draft emails to seek clarity on specific issues with the military side of the exercise.

There were also daily briefing meetings. As a participant, I attended the OCHA briefing meetings with humanitarian agencies where we planned activities such as the deployment of secure aid convoys to disaster-affected regions of Bogaland. This participation in meetings was very informative as it informed how civilians and the military should communicate in a conflict zone.

I also managed to attend some army briefings as an observer, notably the morning Commanders Briefing and the Operations Briefing. During the Commanders Briefing, leaders of each army unit from intelligence, operations, legal and others would brief the commander about the situation on the ground and discuss the planned activities for the next 24 hours. This method was also the situation with the Operations Briefing.

On the overall, the Exercise Viking was a critical and practical element to my LLM experience in Ireland. I imagine that it was similarly helpful and practical for all the other participating students, civilian, police and military personnel from around the world. It added a real-world dimension on what life and interaction would be like in a humanitarian situation, in conflict areas.

The only downside is that the exercise is only held every 3-4 years, which means such an opportunity would only be availed to students and other stakeholders in the year 2021.

For future participants, the training is a once in a lifetime event, and it adds to the practical side of learning. It is a welcome experience that holds together lessons from international humanitarian law, international relations, development planning, crisis response, and conflict resolution and human rights sides. And yes, in the end, we were awarded #Viking18 pins and certificates for successful participation in Exercise Viking 18.

The Food Assistance Convention 2012: a mouse that roars or a lion that squeaks?

In a previous post in March 2011 I discussed the background to the renegotiation of the Food Aid Convention 1999 (FAC 1999). In late April 2012, after a long-running and contentious series of negotiations by the major donor countries who were signatories to the FAC 1999, the text of the eagerly awaited Food Assistance Convention 2012 (FAC 2012) was published. The new FAC 2012 will remain open for signature until 31st December 2012, and will enter into force on 1st January 2013 if at least five of the signatories to the previous FAC 1999 have ratified the new convention.

First concluded in 1967, the Food Aid Convention 1999 was the only international legal instrument covering the provision of food aid to developing countries, and signatories were restricted to a small selection of donor countries: Argentina, Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Norway, Switzerland and the United States. Implementation of the Convention was overseen by a Food Aid Committee, based in the International Grains Council in London. Yet serious concerns were raised regarding the operational and governance structures of the Food Aid Convention. Critics highlighted the out-dated model of physical food transfers from donor countries to recipient countries and a lack of utilisation of new methods of ensuring food security, such as cash transfers and increased use of micro-nutrient enriched foods and special nutritional products.

So in my previous post I highlighted the need to move from a Food Aid Convention to a Food Assistance Convention. As this has now come to pass, does this signify a major shift in donor country thinking on the provision of food and nutritional support to vulnerable communities? And does the rebranding of the Food Aid Convention 1999 into the Food Assistance Convention 2012 indicate that the needs-based approach supported by the EU and Canada has trumped the resource-based approach favoured by the USA and Japan?

In March 2011 I noted there was a need to move from discussion of what food stuffs to provide people facing food scarcity and famine, to what overall package of assistance is required to meet the needs of affected populations. I highlighted a series of issues that were up for discussion in the negotiation process, including whether additional donor members should be allowed to become signatories to the Convention, the form that food aid should take, and where a Food Aid/ Assistance Convention should fit within the overall international response to food scarcity and insecurity. So how have these, and other structural and contextual issues, been resolved in the new Convention?

Forms of food assistance: the change from “food aid” to “food assistance” represents an important shift in attitude from the original trade origins of the FAC in 1967, to acknowledging best practice in delivering food and nutritional assistance to vulnerable populations through cash transfers, local and regional procurement of food stuffs, and innovative approaches to reducing food and nutritional insecurity at the household and community level. The new Convention also includes explicit recognition that food assistance should be untied from donor countries own agricultural and trade objectives, and that in-kind food transfers from donors can distort the local markets and therefore have negative impacts on the overall levels of food security in a region. However, the subordination of FAC 2012 to obligations under the WTO still places a country’s trade considerations well before humanitarian responses.

Amounts of food assistance: the FAC 1999 contained detailed provisions on the amounts of food aid that were to be provided by each signatory, recorded in tons of grain which implied the physical transfer of food stuffs from donor countries to recipients. The FAC 2012 has a discretionary, non-binding system, whereby signatories announce an annual minimum commitment of food assistance expressed either as a minimum value or a minimum quantity of food stuffs. Donor countries simply have to provide details of their annual minimum commitments by 15th December each year, and it is now up to each donor country to determine its level of commitment each year. This represents a major weakening of the binding commitments contained in FAC 1999. Furthermore, as seen during the 2007-8 food price spike and the famine in the Horn of Africa during 2011 and 2012, the availability of food aid is often dependent on global food prices – and the total amount of donor countries’ commitments can fall when global prices increase. So allowing countries to express their commitment in monetary value passes the risk of price fluctuations onto the recipient countries, when previously donor countries bore this risk. Nevertheless, as noted by a former Director of the World Food Programme for the Asia and Pacific:

 “The FAC always seemed to me an accounting device more than a guarantee for an additional volume of resources in times of crisis. All donors, but certainly the major ones always provided food when they had it and did not provide food when they did not have it.”

Signatories: While initial signatories to FAC 2012 remains limited to the original signatories of FAC 1999 (plus those States that have joined the EU since 1999), Article 13 allows for any other State to accede to the Convention once it has entered into force. This is to be welcomed if it leads to an expansion of the base of key middle income donor countries such as Brazil, China India, Russia or South Africa, who had not been included in the formal renegotiation process. Not only would this help widen the base of donor countries, it can assist in committing a broader range of countries to the principles of effectiveness and accountability promoted in the new text.

Governance and inter-agency co-ordination: the new text explicitly requires donor countries to regularly monitor, evaluate and communicate the outcomes of their food assistance programmes. This reflects the increasing emphasis placed by donors themselves on transparency and accountability in development and humanitarian programming, as set out in the OECD’s Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness 2005 and Accra Agenda for Action 2008. Such openness is to be welcomed, as are the indications that the Food Assistance Committee will act in a more inclusive and transparent manner, for example by including recipient countries and civil society organisations in their discussions and meetings. It would be hard for donor countries to press recipient countries to act in an open, transparent and accountable manner, and to promote these principles as a basis for aid effectiveness, without acting in the same manner themselves. However, it remains to be seen what level of engagement and input is actively sought by the new Food Assistance Committee from middle income donors, recipient countries and non-governmental organisations. Therefore organisations within donor countries will need to monitor the stances taken by the national authorities, for example Irish Aid and the Department of Agriculture here in Ireland, to promote compliance with the new commitments. Furthermore, as noted by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, it is not clear how the FAC 2012 will interact with existing food security structures, for example the UN High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis, the Committee on World Food Security and the global Food Security Cluster.

Considering that the FAC 2012 is a legal framework for the provision of humanitarian food assistance to populations facing major food insecurity, it is notable how many aspects of the FAC 1999 have been improved. Overall, the FAC 2012 has created a more supportive structure for promoting best practice in food and nutritional interventions by donor countries. While the Overseas Development Institute has questioned whether the new convention will lead to any changes in the attitude of large donors, such as the USA, this has been countered by Professor Jennifer Clapp and C. Stuart Clark, who argue that the FAC 2012 plays a fundamental role for middle sized donor countries, such as Canada, Switzerland and Norway. Perhaps of most interest is the clear acknowledgement of the right to food set out in the preamble to the new Convention. By bringing the operation and governance of the Food Assistance Convention 2012 into the public sphere and by clearly recognising the right to food, donor countries have signalled that they wish to take their humanitarian commitments seriously. It is now incumbent upon the rest of us to build on the re-commitment of donor countries to ensuring sufficient assistance is provided to those facing severe food and nutritional insecurity. This requires the signature and accession of the FAC 2012 by as wide a range of countries as possible, and for us to hold donor countries to their word.

New edition of the Sphere Handbook: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response

By Dug Cubie

This week sees the formal launch of an updated and revised edition of the Sphere Project’s Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response (most commonly known as the “Sphere Handbook”). Simultaneous events are being held in over 20 countries around the world, including a launch in Dublin organised by Plan Ireland, on 14th April 2011.

Following the complex international humanitarian responses in the early 1990s to the conflicts in Somalia, the former Yugoslavia and particularly in Rwanda, non-Governmental organisations recognised Governments were increasingly examining the need to regulate humanitarian aid. This possibility of external regulation coincided with many NGOs’ own desire to promote performance and accountability for their actions, and led a coalition of humanitarian NGOs to propose the introduction of quality standards in relief activities.

The resulting Sphere Project aimed to produce a set of industry standards for the provision of humanitarian assistance, prefaced by a beneficiaries’ charter to highlight the rights of those facing a humanitarian crisis. The dual mandate to create both industry standards and consumer rights was controversial, with organisations like Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) concerned that minimum standards would be difficult to implement in practice, except in camp-like settings where humanitarian agencies were fully responsible for the provision of basic services. Nevertheless, the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response was first published in 2000 and elaborated core principles and technical standards applicable for all humanitarian agencies. Drawing on existing international law and a diverse range of guidelines, the Sphere Handbook provided the first comprehensive set of standards and indicators for the provision of humanitarian assistance. The Handbook was subsequently revised and updated in 2004, with the third edition now being launched.

The 2011 edition of the Handbook follows a similar format as previous editions, but includes a strengthened section on human rights protection and a re-written Humanitarian Charter, as well as updated qualitative and quantitative indicators for each of the minimum standards. The Handbook now contains four interconnected sections: the Humanitarian Charter, Protection Principles, Core Standards and Minimum Standards.

The bulk of the Handbook is comprised of the Core Standards and Minimum Standards. The Core Standards refer to common process standards applicable across all thematic and technical sectors. These include: participation by beneficiaries; co-ordination and collaboration; assessment and design of programmes; and key competences for humanitarian workers. Detailed sector-specific Minimum Standards, with corresponding key indicators and suggested activities, are then elaborated in four areas: water supply, sanitation and hygiene promotion; food security and nutrition; shelter, settlement and non-food items; and health action. Cross-cutting these sectoral standards are thematic issues: children, disaster risk reduction, environment, gender, HIV/AIDS, older people, persons with disabilities and psychosocial support.

Preceding these is the Humanitarian Charter which forms the conceptual underpinning of the Handbook by drawing on international humanitarian law, human rights and refugee law to reaffirm the primacy of the humanitarian imperative in all actions to assist those affected by disasters or conflicts. In this new edition, the Humanitarian Charter has been re-written to make it easier to read and structured more coherently around common humanitarian principles, and is followed by a new section on Protection Principles to provide guidance on how to operationalise the rights contained in the Charter.

The Humanitarian Charter centres around three overarching principles: the right to life with dignity; the right to protection and security; and the right to receive humanitarian assistance. In other words, the Charter is premised on the fact that civilians affected by natural or human-made disasters or armed conflict have a right to life with dignity, and therefore have a right to protection and assistance. It follows that an individual’s right to life entails the right to have steps taken to preserve life where it is threatened, and a corresponding duty on others to take such steps. Implicit in this is the duty not to withhold or frustrate the provision of life-saving assistance.

However, the Charter is explicit in recognising that these rights are not formulated in the same terms under international law, and while they reflect international law, the rights set out derive their force from the fundamental principle of humanity. By reflecting the ethical and moral obligations of humanitarian agencies, as well as the legal rights and duties of States, the Humanitarian Charter exceeds accepted binding norms of international law. It invokes the general principles of humanity and impartiality, and humanitarian agencies are expected to act in accordance with these principles.

Yet this expansive view of the relevant legal obligations raises the question of the legal validity of the Charter, and by extension the role that “soft law” or “non-legal normative standards” play in the development of new international norms. The Sphere Handbook is only one, albeit the best known, of several Quality and Accountability initiatives in the field of humanitarian assistance. The interplay and coherence between these non-Governmental regulatory approaches, and the potential codification of international law relating to the protection of persons in the event of disasters being led by the International Law Commission has yet to be determined.

Nevertheless, the development of the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards, and their revisions in 2004 and 2011, comprise the input of over 400 organisations from 80 countries. Many donors, including Governments and UN agencies, now require organisations to commit to the “Sphere standards” to access funding opportunities. Therefore, not withstanding its lack of legal enforceability, the Sphere Handbook should be viewed as a key text for the development of an international legal framework for international disaster response law. The Sphere Handbook represents the majority consensus of numerous humanitarian agencies and staff, and the inclusion of a specific reference to a right to humanitarian assistance is to be welcomed as part of the growing understanding of the rights-holders and duty-bears in disaster settings.

Copies of the new edition of the Sphere Handbook can be ordered from the publisher at: http://practicalaction.org/publishing/sphere