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Taking humanitarianism from “do no harm” to “do more peace” This is an expanded speech of a statement delivered by Lidet Tadesse, LPI Horn of Africa Regional Programme, Policy Advisor at the Permanent Representatives Committee on Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) on Monday marking the beginning of African Humanitarian Week.

Photo: Life & Peace Institute

Thank you very much for the opportunity to contribute to this dialogue on sustainable and home-grown solution to humanitarian crisis in the continent. While several essential and timely contributions have been and continue to be made by African or international humanitarian actors, cases where well-intended humanitarian responses have had inadvertent and negative consequences on conflict human rights violations including and (most notably gender based violence) are not a few.

The Life and Peace Institute would like to, therefore, implore governmental and intergovernmental actors, donors, civil society actors and all others that are engaged in humanitarian work especially those that work in conflict driven crises to be sensitive to the conflict dynamics under which they work. Go a step beyond doing no harm to promoting peace, and synergize with peacebuilding actors.

Humanitarian crises’ in Africa are complex and often caused by violent conflict. While the immediacy and magnitude of each humanitarian crisis might be overwhelming and compels immediate action, it should not blind us from the need to do a thorough analysis of social, economic, cultural – and most of all – peacebuilding needs of the people and regions we’re serving.  Hence, governmental and nongovernmental actors working in conflict driven humanitarian crises should analyze the local, national, regional and even international conflict dynamics in which they operate, in order to ensure that they themselves do not exacerbate the conflict around them.

While this might sound like a reiteration of the do no harm principle, our appeal for conflict sensitivity goes beyond ‘doing no harm’ to ‘doing more peace’. We would like to challenge all humanitarian actors to integrate conflict analysis and conflict sensitivity in the planning and implementation of their interventions so that they not only uphold their duty to do no harm but also embrace their responsibility to promote peace.

Again, this is not a call for the integration of peacebuilding in humanitarian action programming. Rather it’s a call for more synergy and strategic thinking in how we ensure our immediate responses to the needs of refugees, returnees and IDP’s, are also in sync with midterm to long-term peacebuilding needs of the community/region at hand. This means that strategic humanitarian interventions should be in the interest of not only cost efficiency and service effectiveness but also peace.

Therefore, considering that states are duty bearers for the protection of refugees, returnees and IDPs as well as for the promotion of peace and security on the African continent the African Union and its member states should take the lead in promoting conflict sensitivity in all humanitarian responses. Similarly, governmental and non-governmental humanitarian actors should work together to seek innovative ways that would allow them to serve immediate humanitarian needs of refugees, returnees and IDPs while complementing long-term peacebuilding needs. Ultimately, it falls on all of us humanitarian actors to ensure our well-intended interventions do not reinforce the negative forces that engendered the humanitarian crises we’re trying to address in the first place.

The Permanent Representatives Committee is composed of the permanent representatives (ambassadors and high commissioners) of Member States to the African Union. They are act as an advisory body to the Executive Council and facilitate communication between the AU Commission and the capitals of Member States.