Engaging with Non-State Entities
UNICEF Programme Guidance Note on Engaging with Non-State Entities in Humanitarian Action
Checklist for deciding to engage with NSEs
Community of Practice on Programming in High Threat Environments
UNICEF has a noted history of engagement with non-state entities (NSEs). In Biafra and Cambodia in the 1970s, the UNICEF Executive Director negotiated directly with all sides to allow the safe passage of relief flights. In Sudan in the 1990s, UNICEF, as the lead agency in Operation Lifeline Sudan, negotiated a multiparty "ground rules agreement" with the Government of Sudan and Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) that laid out the principles and parameters for humanitarian assistance in areas under SPLM control. More recently, UNICEF in Afghanistan used indirect engagement with Taliban leaders to obtain endorsement for immunization activities. UNICEF has a successful record of negotiating the release of children from armed groups, including in Uganda, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
However, experience within the humanitarian community also shows that poorly planned and executed engagement will be fruitless, and in the worst case counterproductive, damaging and even prompt violence. In all cases, the decision of whether and how to engage with NSEs is complex and challenging for managers and staff due to fast evolving and diverse country situations, the multiplicity of international actors involved in a given situation, the perception that national stakeholders have or may have of UNICEF as a multi-mandated organization, and the motives of the parties to a given conflict.
Looking for support?
To request support, further guidance, resources for learning, group training (e.g. workshop, webinar) or one-on-one training on engaging with NSEs, contact EMOPS' Humanitarian Policy Section.
Policy and Standards
Guidelines and Tools
- Normative Frameworks
- UNICEF Guidance
- More Guidance
- Learning & Training
- Why does UNICEF engage with non-state entities? (UNICEF 2011, From Programme Guidance Note)
- UNICEF's Approach to Engaging with NSEs (UNICEF 2011, From Programme Guidance Note)
- Decision to Engage with NSEs (UNICEF 2011, From Programme Guidance Note)
- Modalities of Engagement with NSEs (UNICEF 2011, From Programme Guidance Note)
- Risk Management (UNICEF 2011, From Programme Guidance Note)
- Humanitarian Negotiations with Armed Groups: A Manual and Guidelines for Practitioners (OCHA, 2006)
- Mancini-Griffoli, Deborah and Picot, Andre, Humanitarian Negotiation: A Handbook for Securing Access Assistance and Protection for Civilians in Armed Conflict (Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, 2004)
- To Stay and Deliver: Good practice for humanitarians in complex security environments (OCHA, 2011)
- The Paris Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups (UN, 2007)
- The Cape Town Principles and Best Practices on the Recruitment of Children into the Armed Forces and on Demobilization and Social Reintegration of Child Soldiers in Africa (UNICEF, 1997)
Learning & Training
- Webinar on the UNICEF Programme Guidance Note on Engaging with Non-State Entities in Humanitarian Action: Webinar presentation
- To request further guidance, resources for learning, group training (e.g. workshop, webinar) or one-on-one training on engaging with NSEs, contact EMOPS' Humanitarian Policy Section.
Lessons Learned on Engaging with NSEs
Building Country Office (CO) Capacity
- In building CO capacity for negotiation with NSEs, start with a specific analysis of capacities within the CO team. (See checklist of capacities.)
- In building CO capacity to enage with NSEs, some form of external coaching service for direct engagement negotiation is needed.
- In building CO capacity to engage with NSEs, there is a need to capture opportunities to continuously build capacity and change attitudes and office culture.
- In building CO capacity to engage with NSEs/NSAs, establish a formal core negotiation team as a support to field staff in direct engagement.
Engagement Strategy and Modalities
- It is important to use a mixture of different modalities of engagement, according to CO and partners' capacity and the dynamics between state and NSE. (See options.)
- In dealing with NSEs, pre-negotiations may be necessary for UNICEF and other humanitarian partners to explain their mandate and commitment to humanitarian principles.
- UNICEF can play an important role within the Humanitarian Country Team or other coordinating bodies, in bringing together different perspectives vis-a-vis engagement.
- The existence of UN system wide basic operating guidelines for engagement with NSEs can make it easier for UNICEF to focus on mandate-specific engagement.
- In Integrated Missions, the exposure/experience to child rights issues among the team members supporting the SRSG are potentially more important than the exposure of the SRSG him/herself.
- When the number of NSEs is overwhelming to engage with, focusing on simple, alternative strategies can be useful.
- Strong advocacy requires a balance between challenging governments and/or NSEs and preserving relations to maintain access.
- In engaging with NSEs, UNICEF must not only be neutral but be perceived as neutral; this requires balancing public messages, including those on non-conflict related children's issues.
- Not all incidents require a statement, but when an incident signals a policy or strategy shift by NSE or Government that adversely affects children, UNICEF most likely needs to make a statement and bring the issue out to the public.
- Strategically planned joint advocacy is important, providing strength in numbers, although this can create some external resistance to UNICEF using its independent voice.
- Direct engagement can present sudden opportunities; it is important to have worked through concrete plans with NSEs for key strategic activities so be ready to seize these.
- Empowering communities to engage with the parties to the conflict to protect the rights of children and women is feasible but requires certain conditions and sustained CO effort.
- It may be necessary to engage NSE senior leaders at decentralized (district) level.
- In conflict contexts, indirect engagement through partners can provide greater reach than UNICEF or partners alone could achieve.
- Effective engagement with NSEs requires a good system of information/knowledge management; for example, tracking individual contacts and child rights violations.
Key Risk Reduction & Recovery Resources
- Technical Note on Conflict Sensitivity and Peacebuilding, UNICEF, 2012
- Conflict-Sensitive Education Reference Tool, INEE, 2012
- Peacebuilding Brief, UNICEF, 2010
- Sphere Standards, "Do No Harm", p33
- Conflict-Sensitive Education Pack, INEE
- FAQ UN Integration, UNICEF, 2015
- Technical Guidance Note on Working with UN Integrated Presences, UNICEF, 2014
- Emergency Risk Informed Programming Section of Sit-An Guidance, UNICEF, 2012
- Programme Guidance on DRR, UNICEF, 2011
- Emergency Risk Informed Programming Process, UNICEF, 2010
- Guidance on Integrating DRR in CCA/UNDAF, UNDG, 2009