The evolution of humanitarian aid in France

2009 – 2021 : A brief history of humanitarian action by NGOs and the state in France, Assessment and perspectives.

In March 2010, we presented Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Minister of Health, with a report entitled “Analyses and proposals on humanitarian action in crisis and post-crisis situations”.

Some of our humanitarian colleagues warned us that this report was likely to join a large number already written and buried in cupboards at the Ministry. On the Quai’s side, some warned that this report was likely to be very critical of the Ministry. So how do we go about offering a useful and convincing reflection?

The report was produced on a voluntary basis and in order to broaden our field of experience and expertise, and to challenge and validate our analyses and proposals, we set up a committee of experts which included: Anne Héry (Handicap International), Kathrin Schick (VOICE), the coordination of humanitarian NGOs in Europe, Philippe Ryfman, a lawyer and academic, and François Grunewald from Groupe URD. We met with over 120 people (humanitarian, diplomats, military, politicians, international institutions, development) and carried out two evaluations in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Our contact at the Quai d’Orsay was Ambassador Régis Koetschet.

There was little room for manoeuvre, but we were convinced that this report should remedy the lack of strategy, resources and the lack of partnership. For the record, in 2009, the budget of the Humanitarian Emergency Fund of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was 12.2 million euros, including 4 million for NGO projects! Our objective was also to make the voice of our fellow leaders of humanitarian NGOs heard. It is thanks to their support and their proposals that we were able to move forward with this report, which in many ways reflects the expectations of our humanitarian community.

In our report, we have chosen 5 main areas of recommendations with 42 proposals, the most significant of which are:

  • Creation of a framework for regular consultation between the public authorities and humanitarian NGOs.
  • Increase the State’s humanitarian budget and create a post-crisis fund, which does not exist at the time.
  • Design a humanitarian strategy for France within the framework of a multi-annual programme.
  • Participation in international humanitarian bodies (European Union, UN) on the basis of the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid.

At the time, this report proposed nothing less than a major evolution, one could even say a humanitarian disruption for the State whose policy on this subject had not moved for at least 20 years.

However, it should be added that at the time the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was being restructured, with the creation of a well-equipped Crisis Centre and the General Directorate for Globalisation.

The challenge of implementing the proposals

Shortly after the publication of the Report, Bernard Kouchner left the Quai d’Orsay where he was briefly replaced by Michèle Alliot Marie and then by Alain Juppé. We then had to take up our pilgrim’s staff again to promote the Report and its 42 proposals. Reforming the State is not a simple matter. A diplomat will tell us that every major reform he has been involved in has taken 20 years!

We are going to tackle it with the conviction that it is indispensable and that the time has come. With the moral support of some NGO leaders, and with the constant support of the director of the Crisis Centre at the time, Ambassador Serge Mostura, we had a long meeting with Alain Juppé, Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Prime Minister.

This meeting was to be decisive for the future, as Alain Juppé decided to organise the first National Humanitarian Conference (NHC), which was held on 16 November 2011. In the concluding declaration of this conference, Alain Juppé announced the creation of a “Humanitarian Consultation Group” bringing together public authorities and humanitarian NGOs, and the regular holding of a National Humanitarian Conference (NHC). Finally, he decided that France should adopt a strategy that would be “inspired by the Boinet-Miribel report, which lays the foundations for a national humanitarian strategy”. From there, the HCG will develop this first “Humanitarian Strategy of the French Republic” which will be published on 6 July 2012. This is a huge step forward, with a real change in the way humanitarian leaders’ expectations and proposals are taken into account. What a change! Putting all of this to music seems to us to be the next step.

Alain Juppé during the first National Humanitarian Conference in 2011

It is obvious that humanitarian NGOs will have to organise themselves to make this partnership work and to be a force for change, as there is still a long way to go to give life to these new structures and to tackle the delicate issue of resources, as there can be no strategy without means!

The indispensable coordination of humanitarian NGOs

This triptych, Humanitarian Consultation Group, Humanitarian Strategy of the French Republic and National Humanitarian Conference, will naturally modify relations between humanitarian NGOs and the Quai d’Orsay, whose Crisis Centre is our main contact and which reports directly to the Minister. We must therefore organise ourselves accordingly.

To this end, with a few humanitarian NGO leaders, we joined the Agen Coordination created by Patrick Edel, which became the “Humanitarian and Development Coordination” (HDC), one of the founding groups of Coordination Sud. Xavier Boutin (IECD) became co-president with Alain Boinet, who was then elected to the Board of Directors of Coordination Sud and became the referent of its humanitarian commission. At the same time, Benoit Miribel took the initiative to create the “Humanitarian Space Forum” with Philippe Ryfman and Jean-François Mattéi. This forum meets every 18 months at the Fondation Mérieux in Annecy and creates synergy between humanitarian leaders and stimulates dialogue with public authorities.

Participants in the Humanitarian Space Forum which combine several humanitarian organisations.

From now on, CHD and Coordination Sud will participate in and contribute to both the dynamics and the content of the debates that we have within the Humanitarian Dialogue Group which meets every quarter and brings together some twenty leaders of humanitarian NGOs in France. The NGO members of the HCG are ACTED, ACF, Bioforce, CARE, Chaine de l’Espoir, Croix Rouge Française, Groupe URD, GRUPC, Fondation de France, Fondation Mérieux, MDM, MSF, OXFAM, PUI, Triangle Génération Humanitaire, Secours Catholique, Secours Islamique France, Solidarités International, Secours Populaire. Networking is therefore underway, both on the NGO side and on the part of the public authorities and international humanitarian actors (UN, EU) invited to the NHC and, on occasion, to the GCH.

Steps to confirm

There are several reasons for specifying here, in broad terms, how these changes have taken place since 2010. Firstly, to share the conditions that made this change possible and that still structure our relations with the State 10 years later. Secondly, to draw lessons and useful lessons here and elsewhere. Finally, to look ahead to the years to come and the next humanitarian challenges.

In the meantime, following the election of François Hollande and the establishment of a new government, we have a new minister, Laurent Fabius. While there seems to be no turning back, the question is what the minister’s mindset will be and whether we will continue to move forward and progress.

This will prove to be the case and confirm that the changes in the relationship between humanitarian NGOs and the state indicate a new look at the humanitarian world and a significant move towards a more contractual relationship. And the new director of the Crisis and Support Centre, Didier le Bret, will carry this vision like his predecessor.

NHC at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs.

The second National Humanitarian Conference is taking place on 31 March 2014 in the presence of the Minister, and guests worthy of the event, with Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs with guests from Haiti, Mali and Syria.

Amongst the themes discussed, the adaptation of France’s tools for greater efficiency aims to upgrade its capacities at a time when “over the last 10 years the population in need of humanitarian aid has doubled and the amounts allocated to humanitarian aid have tripled” according to Valérie Amos, although they remain insufficient!

Laurent Fabius confirms the commitment of the President of the Republic to double in 5 years the share of Official Development Assistance (ODA) implemented by humanitarian and development NGOs, i.e. 160 million euros. We are a long way from achieving this and, in retrospect, we can see how far behind we were. Moreover, under the mandate of François Hollande, and this had already begun at the end of the Sarkozy presidency, we are witnessing a continuous decline in ODA.

But we can be pleased with the creation, and this is a first, of a Programming Law for Development and International Solidarity in which we will introduce the notion of complementarity between emergency aid, reconstruction and development. The same goes for the creation of the “National Council for Development and International Solidarity” (CNDSI) of which Alain Boinet will be a member and which will make it possible to establish a link with humanitarian aid, the CICID, the GCH and the proposals of the Report.

Between two Conferences (NHC), the Concertation Group meets every quarter to review humanitarian crises and to discuss relations with major donors, invite the heads of the main partner institutions and carry out the mid-term review of France’s humanitarian strategy. We also plan to meet at least once a year with the Minister, as we will do on Syria with Laurent Fabius or with Pascal Canfin, the Minister for Development, whom we will meet regularly during the crisis in the Central African Republic and who will encourage us to include climate change in humanitarian action.

The World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016 stimulates the Quai d’Orsay

In 2012, the United Nations launched a broad debate on humanitarian issues. At the end of this debate, on 9 February 2016, the UN Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki-Moon, published a report entitled “One Humanity, Shared Responsibilities” for the first multi-stakeholder World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) which will be held on 23 and 24 May 2016 in Istanbul. It should be recalled that this Summit was shortly preceded by the so-called “Grand Bargain” process which will be integrated with its 10 priorities at the Summit.

The GMS will bring together 173 countries, including 55 heads of state, but none of the five members of the Security Council, 9000 participants who will make 1500 commitments.

It is very logical that on 23 February 2016, the 3rd National Humanitarian Conference will focus on the preparation, participation and commitments for the Summit. The SMH will undoubtedly stimulate the momentum generated by the Report and once again highlight the limits of France’s humanitarian funding.

It was the newspaper Le Monde that headlined “France gives to development, less to humanitarian aid”. Indeed, France’s budget dedicated to humanitarian aid, the FUH, which was 12.2 million euros in 2021, rose to 14.5 million in 2015! To this should be added the budgets of the Interministerial Committee for Food Aid (CIAA) and the Directorate for International Organisations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (NUOI), which are also very limited.

This 3rd Conference will therefore mobilise a lot of energy with a very active director of the Crisis Centre, Patrice Paoli, and very involved guests such as Antoine Gérard, head of the World Humanitarian Summit secretariat, Stephen O’Brien, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, and Christos Stylianides, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Action (ECHO).

More than ever, NGOs will be mobilized and 14 of them will publish a document of commitment with Coordination Sud for the HMS. In the following months, France will join the “Grand Bargain” with its 15 humanitarian financial institutions, its 15 international agencies and its NGO coordination. There is no doubt that this first SMS will contribute to accelerating the implementation of a French strategy with all the necessary attributes.

The CICID turning point on 8 February 2017

The Inter-ministerial Committee on International Cooperation and Development (CICID) is the body that, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, defines the main orientations of France’s development aid policy. Created in 1998, it meets on average every 3 years. The CICID of 30 November 2016 devoted three lines to humanitarian aid and the Crisis and Support Centre, a distressing lack of interest and lucidity on the international humanitarian situation! Moreover, as Coordination Sud notes, ODA in France has gone from 0.45 of GNI in 2012 to 0.38% in 2016!

Fortunately, the CICID of 8 February 2017, under the presidency of Edouard Philippe, will finally bring the expected decisions that are needed. Finally, France declares that it wants to address crises and fragility on a humanitarian level. We must believe that the devastating effects of poverty and conflicts, such as the one that is devastating the Middle East, as well as the tireless advocacy of NGOs, Coordination Sud and Humanitarian and Developpement Coordination, have finally produced the expected effects.

To get to the heart of the matter, the new government, following the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of the Republic, has decided to increase ODA to 0.55% of GNI by 2022 – on an upward curve. Within this framework, France will devote 500 million euros to humanitarian action (FUH, NUOI, CIAA) in a progressive manner, instead of 150 million euros. Finally, the French Development Agency will have an annual budget of 200 million euros to address vulnerabilities in fragile and post-crisis states.

This is truly a disruption, a major change in France’s humanitarian response. We remember the people who have been telling us for 30 years that this was not possible! What has happened to make it change so much? It is a change of era and mentality made possible by a long maturation within the State apparatus in contact with the realities and humanitarian actors. It is above all a political decision.

The 4th National Humanitarian Conference held a few weeks later, on 22 March 2018, was chaired by the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who played a decisive role in obtaining this humanitarian budget of 500 million euros, which was not a foregone conclusion with the Ministry of Finance! For this NHC, and for the first time, a meeting is organised between a dozen parliamentarians and NGO leaders.

Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the podium of the 4th NHC on 22 May 2018.

A new Humanitarian Strategy of the French Republic for the period 2018-2022 has been elaborated in the framework of the Humanitarian Dialogue Group (HDG). Let us be precise. It is not the strategy of the NGOs, each of which has its own, but that of France, to which humanitarians have been invited to contribute and validate. Based on the previous strategy (2012-2017), this one is more comprehensive and is updated in line with the dynamics of the SHM and the CICID.

Since the submission of our report to the Minister in March 2010, our commitment has had only one meaning: that France should play its full part in meeting the humanitarian needs of populations at risk in conflict and disaster situations. And this is highly topical. Let us judge. The number of refugees and displaced persons rose from 39.5 million in 2006 to 65.6 million in 2016. Disasters affected 124 million people in 2012 and 204 million in 2016. According to the United Nations (OCHA), the number of people in need of relief increased from 61.7 million in 2012 to 135.7 million in 2018. But, as we shall see, there are other challenges ahead!

On the way to the 5th National Humanitarian Conference

In the meantime, the Humanitarian Dialogue Group continues to meet every quarter at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs under the chairmanship of its current director, Eric Chevallier. Humanitarian crises are discussed, whether in Syria, Yemen, the Rohyngias in Myanmar and Bangladesh, the Sahel, the CAR, as well as relations with the European Commission and ECHO or the United Nations Agencies, which are major partners.

The HCG also deals with all the administrative issues that humanitarian actors are confronted with and sometimes hindered in their action. This is increasingly the case with the difficulties encountered by humanitarian NGOs in transferring funds for their relief programmes due to anti-terrorism laws which force banks to take draconian measures.

On the initiative of Thierry Mauricet, co-president of the CHD and director general of PUI, a working group was set up to address this issue directly with the public authorities and the banks in order to find satisfactory solutions for the implementation of relief efforts.

It was then that the Coronavirus came from China and spread throughout the world, becoming a global pandemic with catastrophic consequences, both in terms of health and the victims of the virus, as well as the economic and social consequences. From March 2020 onwards and for many months to come, humanitarian actors will be faced with the interruption of air transport, which will paralyse the sending of humanitarian experts and freight to many countries in difficulty.

In addition to the system put in place by the World Food Programme (WFP), 9 French NGOs members of the Humanitarian Logistics Network (HLN), in partnership with Bioport and with the support of the CDCS and ECHO, are going to set up an airlift which will transport 1208 passengers and 785 tons of products and materials using 42 direct flights to the most urgent countries to be served. More than 108 organisations representing 22 nationalities will benefit from this humanitarian airlift. Once again, the humanitarian sector is innovating and reinventing itself in an emergency. The lesson of the added value of pooling capacities to increase efficiency will be one of the topics on the agenda of the 5th NHC. In this respect, it should be noted that Bioport was a forerunner in the pooling of humanitarian logistics with the creation of its dedicated platform in 1994 at Lyon airport.

However, a new tragedy will plunge the humanitarian community into mourning and raise the question of the safety of humanitarians and their access to populations in danger. On 8 August 2020, 7 members of the NGO ACTED, including one Nigerien and 6 French, were assassinated less than an hour from Niamey in Niger by an Islamic State commando in the Sahel.

The President of the Republic then decided to raise the issue of the security of humanitarians and the impunity of the aggressors and meetings were held at the Elysée with humanitarian NGOs. In September, during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Emmanuel Macron declared: “This is why, with French NGOs and our international partners, we are building an initiative to ensure the effectiveness of international law, the protection of humanitarian personnel and the fight against impunity.”

Meeting of the President of the Republic at the Elysée Palace with Coordination Sud and NGOs.

The Coronavirus pandemic and its multiple and long-lasting consequences, the issue of access to emergency relief and bank transfers for populations at risk, the security of humanitarians who are facing an upsurge in attacks in 2019, all contribute to reinforce the collective will within the HCG to organise a new conference that will have to be held at a distance.

The 5th National Humanitarian Conference, 17 December 2020

This conference has taken on a new dimension due to the presence of the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, which is a first, and by the number of commitments he has made for the humanitarian sector.

We must emphasise the dynamic partnership between the NGO-CDCS steering committee and the HCG, which prepared the programme of round tables and the guests, and the involvement of many parliamentarians, including Hervé Berville, Fabien Gouttefarde and Bérengère Poletti. All the humanitarian NGOs were present at the round tables and Philippe Jahshan, President of Coordination Sud, took part in the concluding session with the President of the Republic, the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs and other guests including Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize 2018 and Runa Khan of Friendship.

In conclusion, the President of the Republic made 17 commitments, notably on bank transfers, the criminal risks for humanitarians as a result of anti-terrorism laws, the fight against impunity, and respect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL), in the presence of Janez Lenarcic, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Peter Maurer, President of the ICRC, James Lowcock, Deputy Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs at the United Nations, David Beasley, Executive Director of the WFP, and the Director of the CDCS, Eric Chevallier. Throughout his presidency of Coordination Sud, Philippe Jahshan has played an active, positive and unifying role with the active support of Rachid Lalhou, Vice President and President of Secours Islamique France.

The President of the Republic during the 5th NHC on 17 December 2020.

With this conference, a new stage of commitment and partnership has undeniably been reached. After the setting up of structures (HCG, HNC, SHRF), after the budgetary means, here are 17 commitments made at the highest level which are already being followed up at the interministerial level and within the framework of the HCG and joint State-NGO working groups.

This article is mainly devoted to the relationship between the State and humanitarian NGOs in France since 2010. However, NGOs also have their own strategies and resources and are members of NGO coordinations. They also cooperate with various institutions, at national, European and international level, to fund aid projects, launch advocacy campaigns and join collective initiatives. For a long time, France was not a major partner in international humanitarian aid compared to its international responsibilities within the European Union and the United Nations Security Council. This is now the case and the humanitarian community can congratulate itself after more than 10 years of uninterrupted efforts.

What happens now?

Will we stop here, what remains to be done, what will be the impact of the next Development Programming Law, what are the prospects for the next version of the Humanitarian Strategy of the French Republic 2023-2027?

In the immediate future, the priority is to fulfil the commitments that have been made. On the one hand, there is the objective of 500 million euros for humanitarian aid each year from 2022 onwards, compared to 150 million euros in 2018, and on the other hand, there are the various projects listed above (bank transfers, IHL and counter-terrorism, climate and environment, etc.). To avoid any confusion, let us recall that this 500 ME budget is divided between the FUH, NUOI and the CIAA in the proportion of one third for each programme. We will come back to this later.

Since 2017, the budget of the Humanitarian Emergency Fund, which is the financial instrument of the CDCS, has continued to increase as the table below shows. For 2020 and 2021, the figures communicated by the CDCS correspond to a total executed budget of 126 million euros for the HEF, compared to 92 million in 2019. For 2021, the director of the Crisis and Support Centre announces an envelope of 110 million euros in the initial finance law, whereas it was 72.3 million euros the previous year, to which 53.7 million euros of additional credits for Syria and the Middle East were added during the year.

The Director of the CDCS wanted the Humanitarian Emergency Fund to be subject to an inter-ministerial evaluation, with the active participation of the humanitarian community. Benoit Miribel has been invited to chair this Evaluation Committee for the period 2012-2018. This can be seen as a nod to our Report which was very critical of the lack of resources for the GUF at the time. Of course, much remains to be done and the means are still lacking given the humanitarian needs today. However, we note that every time humanitarian actors raise their level of reflection and proposals, their interlocutors within the public authorities respond. We must pay tribute to the commitment of all the directors of the Crisis Centre who have succeeded each other since Serge Mostura, then Didier Le Bret, Patrice Paoli and now Eric Chevallier, who was present alongside the Minister Bernard Kouchner when our mission was decided in 2009.

The objective is therefore to reach 500 ME next year, of which at least a third for the CDCS, i.e. about 170 ME. At this stage, we have to ask ourselves about the distribution in 3 thirds between CDCS, NUOI and CIAA. In 2017, the CDCS budget was 49 ME and the CIAA budget was 7.586 ME. If we are convinced of the usefulness of the food aid delivered by the CIAA, particularly at the present time, is it necessary to increase the budget from 7.586 ME to 170 ME? It seems to us that the distribution of this 500 ME could at least give rise to a strategic reflection.

Concerning the trajectory of the entire 500M, the director of the CDCS, Eric Chevallier, indicates in his interview with Défis Humanitaires that the initial finance law increased from 150M in 2018 to 287M in 2020, then to 330M in 2021, with the objective of increasing to 500M euros in 2022.

Naturally, the increase in the State’s humanitarian budget over this period implies a reinforcement of the implementation capacities of the CDCS, which we know how much it is solicited and often even overwhelmed, knowing that it is also in charge of the security of French people abroad. The challenge of this reinforcement is both to maintain the same level of reactivity, flexibility and adaptability in the face of successive emergencies, and to reinforce the capacities for monitoring, processing, controlling and consulting with partners and foreign representation.

Beyond the budget, there are 16 other projects that are just as essential in various ways. On 4 March, at an exceptional meeting of the Humanitarian Dialogue Group, a full presentation was made of the inter-ministerial action plan for the implementation of the commitments made by the President of the Republic at the 5th NHC in the high-level presence of all the ministries concerned. Without claiming to be exhaustive, let us note in particular :

  • The creation of a joint working group on the humanitarian-climate and environment link.
  • The study of case-by-case derogations for humanitarian reasons in the face of the risks posed by anti-terrorist laws.
  • The organisation of an international humanitarian conference at the end of 2021 in a joint format between UN member states and NGOs.
  • The possible creation of a tripartite steering committee between the State, NGOs and banks.
  • The forthcoming distribution of a circular from the Minister of Justice to public prosecutors’ offices to make them aware of the specific nature of humanitarian organisations facing anti-terrorist laws in conflict zones.

The role of the Humanitarian Dialogue Group will therefore be to monitor all the work relating to the 17 commitments with the aim of achieving them by 2022, while at the same time opening the way for the next version of the French Republic’s Humanitarian Strategy, 2023-2027.

Conclusion

The very objective of our Report is identical to that of humanitarian action, which is to save lives and to mobilise the resources and capacities to achieve this. Budgets, structures and strategies are dedicated to this ultimate goal.

The Covid 19 pandemic causes millions of victims worldwide, and its economic and social consequences are often disastrous for the poorest countries and the most vulnerable populations, particularly in conflict and disaster situations.

The figures are clear. In 2020, the United Nations has launched a humanitarian appeal for $29 billion to help 168 million people at risk around the world with its partners. In 2021, the UN’s appeal is for 235 million people for an aid appeal worth 35 billion dollars.

This is a 40% year-on-year increase “almost entirely related to the coronavirus” according to Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Assistance. “The Covid-19 pandemic threatens to trigger another pandemic, that of hunger,” confirms David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP).

According to the FENAGRI (National Federation of Food Processing), the price of wheat has risen by 45% since April 2020, that of corn by 77% and that of sugar by 89%! According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), 45 countries will need food aid.

Other trends should alert us and lead us to act accordingly. Although the number of victims of wars has been steadily decreasing since 1946, there is now an increase in conflicts. In 2016, the number of countries in violent conflict was the highest it has been in almost 30 years. The number of refugees and displaced people has risen from around 40 million in the 2000s to 80 million by the end of 2019.

This is what we have to deal with now. Of course, the progress made since our March 2010 Report is considerable and we must welcome these changes and the spirit of consultation. But, as the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, quite rightly said in his speech at the conclusion of the 5th NHC about his decision to increase France’s humanitarian contribution to 500 million euros, “It’s a catch-up”.

We are convinced of the need to go further in the future. And there is room for manoeuvre. France is the world’s 5th largest contributor of Official Development Assistance (ODA), which it can be proud of. In 2019, it contributed 10.877 billion euros. But of this amount, it devoted only 2% of its bilateral aid to humanitarian aid, whereas the average for OECD countries is 14%! Germany spent 10% of its ODA, Great Britain 13%, the European Union 12% and the United States 15%.

It also seems to us that France should modernise its international aid and devote 10 to 15% of its ODA to humanitarian aid, which responds to urgent needs in the most fragile countries, from emergency to development and reconstruction/stabilisation phases. Of course, this also concerns development NGOs. Complementary to this is the question of the percentage of ODA implemented by NGOs. In a recent note by Coordination Sud, now chaired by Olivier Bruyeron, it is indicated that the share transiting through NGOs is 3.7%, compared to an average of 19% among 23 European Union countries. Here again, it would be relevant for NGOs to be responsible for implementing one billion euros of French ODA. There is an opportunity for synergy with what NGOs bring in terms of private funds, proximity to populations, innovation, commitment and capacity to raise public awareness.

In view of these developments and all the challenges that need to be addressed, we call on young humanitarian leaders to get involved in continuing this demanding but constructive dialogue with our partners at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and the Crisis and Support Centre. As we have seen, the more we raise our level of reflection and involvement, the stronger the partnership becomes for the benefit of a common interest, while respecting the distinctions specific to the nature of each. How will the debate between public authorities and humanitarian leaders be built and animated in the coming years? We will now be informed observers, always available for the new generation that will carry out this mission.


Who are Benoit Miribel and Alain Boinet ?

Biography of Benoit Miribel (in French)

 

 

 

 

Biography of Alain Boinet

The National Humanitarian Conference 2020: undeniable advances in the field of law

The fifth edition of the National Humanitarian Conference (NHC) was held on 17 December 2020. Although health constraints weighed on it, particularly because it was organised completely online (except for the final round table), the willingness of the Crisis and Support Center (CDCS) of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs (MEAE) to organise it against all odds – in close collaboration with French humanitarian NGOs – must be commended.

Statement by the President of the Republic at the 5th National Humanitarian Video Conference, ©Judith Litvine/MEAE

Many of the topics on its agenda have been waiting – for a long time – for public expression in a quasi-institutional setting, as well as for the beginnings of responses. Faced with the growing concerns of the humanitarian community, it has thus provided useful clarifications and a welcome acceleration of projects which have sometimes been underway for several years (such as bank transfers). In other cases, it has opened up new avenues which are now being worked on and put into practice. It has therefore played its role as a “forum for dialogue”[1] bringing together every actors and actresses involved in humanitarian action: the State, NGOs, Foundations, the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, United Nations humanitarian agencies and the European Commission’s DG ECHO.

This NHC brought together more than 500 participants who connected, totally or partially, during the course of the event. This is – it should be noted – far more than the physical capacity of the place where it usually takes place would have allowed.

In many ways, it marks a turning point. Firstly, because for the first time it has been concluded by a President of the Republic, which – unquestionably – enhances his position and reinforces his influence. Emmanuel Macron has – from the outset – kept a long-standing commitment, despite the effects of COVID-19, which he felt of that day. Secondly, because the public authorities listened to the demands of humanitarian actors and made important announcements (summarised in the closing presidential speech).

However, it is still difficult to draw up a complete assessment of the situation, given that, at the time of writing, there has been only a slight setback in time compared to the time when it took place. Beyond the future operational aspects, it is nevertheless possible, by adopting the focus of the law, to highlight several key elements. For – and this is another highlight – the NHC has been strongly illustrated by the importance of the legal fact. A characteristic that can be found in several of the 17 commitments made by the Head of State.

1. Promotion of the primacy of International Humanitarian Law (IHL)

Launch of IHL Square

Throughout the day, the importance of IHL and its full and complete respect was strongly emphasised, before the presidential intervention underlined it in turn. This amplifies France’s investment in this field. It seems obvious for humanitarians, but it is always better when you say it. Especially when concrete measures are or will be implemented, translating the commitments made into practice – beyond declarations. State actions to promote IHL within the armed forces and, more generally, to raise awareness of IHL within all State services, as well as civil society, will now be much more structured. They are part of a concrete programme that is being and will be developed over time. It will involve administrations as well as universities, researchers as well as associations, businesses as well as teachers. This should lead to a strengthening of its application and, above all, provide a better understanding of its fundamental role and the issues at stake.

Special Representative for Humanitarian Action

As part of this political will with regard to IHL, the creation of the post of Special Representative for Humanitarian Action to the United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) – and more particularly the Deputy UNSG for Humanitarian Affairs – will necessarily also have a legal dimension. This Special Representative should have in his or her field of mission the humanitarian law aspects of the work of humanitarian organizations and their employees in the field. Since these actors rely on IHL in order – in accordance with humanitarian principles (in particular impartiality, independence and neutrality) – to gain access to suffering populations and to legally legitimise their interventions.

Several of the NHC’s other main concluding announcements also include significant legal features.

2. Measures of a penal nature

Fight against the impunity of the aggressors of humanitarian workers

The assassinations and attacks committed against aid workers in the 11 months leading up to the HCN had a profound impact on the aid community. Particularly the massacre of seven employees of the NGO ACTED (6 French and 1 Nigerien) in Niger on August 9, 2020, as well as other murders in Nigeria and DRC. Faced with this rise in extreme risks, the issue of the almost general impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators and sponsors of such crimes requires to go beyond the mere technical measures to reinforce staff security.

Charline, Antonin, Myriam, Stella, Léo, Nadifa, Kadri Abdou Gamatche, Boubacar Garba Soulay. Victims of the 9 August 2020 attack in Niger.

Putting an end to the scandal of impunity by giving ourselves the means to combat is now becoming crucial. Not only to ensure that justice is done, but also as an instrument of deterrence or – at the very least – of limitation of such acts. The “Crimes against Humanity – Crimes and War Crimes” unit of the National Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor’s Office (PNAT) could therefore be given new functions in 2021. The question of a specific incrimination different from that of “terrorism” was debated during the Conference. Humanitarian NGOs – particularly as this also reflects a strong sensitivity on the part of their employees – should be attentive to the expected developments in this direction.  Beyond this – and with a view to putting an end to this scandal of impunity – some are considering pooling the information gathered by each of them on the potential perpetrators who ordered and were complicit in these abuses. In order to build up reliable and constantly enriched databases. The initiative to create a dedicated structure was not decided at the NHC, but discussions are ongoing and the state is likely to play its part.

Preventing the criminalisation of aid

The threat of criminalisation of humanitarian actors – as a result of the development and strengthening of both national and international legal standards aimed at fighting terrorism – is now a reality and a source of growing concern in the field. It was also widely debated throughout the NHC. From this point of view, the affirmation by the President of the Republic of the specific nature of the humanitarian mission through the task entrusted to the Minister of Justice, of drafting and distributing a circular to all public prosecutors reminding them of it, is a positive and strong signal.

It should make it possible – in the context of anti-terrorism (legitimate in itself, of course) – to drastically limit the risks of criminal proceedings. without justification. Especially since – for their part – the ICRC, the vast majority of NGOs and Red Cross/Red Crescent organisations have for several years now put in place particularly elaborate internal and external control mechanisms in this area. It would be welcome if – in the process of drafting the circular – exchanges and dialogue could take place with representatives of French NGOs.

Joint Technical Commission

The creation of a Joint Technical Commission – similarly announced by the President of the Republic – will probably also include this dimension of the fight against impunity. However, given the broader nature of the problem, its legal aspects remain to be clarified. In any case, it seems clear that its remit will include monitoring investigations into attacks against humanitarian workers and acting as a relay between organisations and families and the police and gendarmerie services, as well as the judiciary.

3. Administrative and financial security provisions

4th National Humanitarian Conference, 2018 ©F. de La Mure

Bank transfers and sanctions regimes

Another important aspect of the NHC’s conclusions is the announcement that practical solutions will be put in place within a short period of time (6 months) to remedy the considerable difficulties encountered by NGOs in making bank transfers to certain areas of the planet under sanctions or embargoes. They will probably involve the construction of a tripartite mechanism (State / NGO / Banks) proposed since 2017 by the French humanitarian community.

The law will – in this respect – be a useful tool for framing a practical device. Whether it concerns the nature and content of the documents to be provided or the applicable compliance rules (in order to put an end to practices of over-compliance which – as Emmanuel Macron acknowledged – “unduly hinder the action” of the Organisations). Or the security to be provided to financial institutions in order to allay their fears of being prosecuted on an extra-territorial basis (notably by the United States government) on charges of direct or indirect financing of terrorist structures.

Screening and humanitarian exemption

As for the continued extension – particularly at the request of French, European and international donors – of the screening requirements [or screening in the language of aid] for humanitarian agencies, this was an essential aspect of the preparatory work for the Conference, as well as of several of its round tables and numerous interventions during the conference. It resulted in a strong and explicit demand for legal recognition of a “humanitarian exemption”. Both ICRC President Peter MAURER and Deputy UNSG Mark LOWCOCK supported this request – at the NHC. The recent adoption by the Swiss Parliament of such provisions (and similarly by an African state, Chad) was cited as a reference. However, President MACRON has ruled out the introduction of a blanket exemption, particularly in areas subject to a sanctions regime. He stated his preference for a “case-by-case” treatment.

While French NGOs were undoubtedly disappointed that the principle of exemption was not recognised, they nevertheless noted that the problem of an exemption mechanism is recognised and understood. Consequently, over the coming months, it will be necessary to work with public authorities – particularly CDCS – and the other major national public aid donor, French Agency for  Development (FAD) on the criteria to be determined for this “case by case”. In this respect, a normative mechanism will necessarily have to be put in place, both to objectify them and to avoid any breach of equality and to provide legal security for the organisations. This is all the more necessary as the distinction sometimes made by certain donors between “humanitarian aid” and “development aid” is a grey area, with no real legal basis, and many projects in the field combine these two aspects.

Furthermore, perhaps even more than its predecessors, this 5th NHC, which is far from being an end in itself, will, over the coming year and most of the following year (2022), constitute a source and a reference to which the entire humanitarian sector will draw inspiration. Although – probably – they will continue to promote what could be called these four points: advocacy / pedagogy / proposals / practices in their relations with the State and the various administrations, the 3rd and 4th points will henceforth constitute an essential focus, both from an organisational and normative point of view. The NHC has shown – in an exemplary manner – that in these times of multiple uncertainties and increased, if not excessive, humanitarian needs, actors cannot simply remain at the declarative or demonstrative stage. The imperative – and quickly – is to conceptualise the normative and then implement it in order to facilitate operationality.

Philippe Ryfman


Who is Philippe Ryfman?

Philippe Ryfman is a specialist in non-governmental and humanitarian issues on the international scene. A lawyer, specialist in the law of associations and foundations as well as in humanitarian law and Expert-Consultant, he is also an honorary professor and associate researcher at the University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne. Co-founder and Coordinator of the Forum Espace Humanitaire (FEH). He works – within teams and think tanks – on the strategic prospective of the NGO and humanitarian action environment up to 2030. Author of various books ” Last published, co-edited with S. Szurek & M. Eudes: Droit et Pratique de l’action humanitaire, Paris, LGDJ, 2019. Last published article: ” Se donner les moyens de lutter contre l’impunité des agresseurs de travailleurs humanitaires “, Alternatives Humanitaires, n° 15, 11/20.

 

 

 


[1] Term used on the France Diplomatie website in the summary page of the results of the NHC.

More about the NHC :

Alain Boinet’s editorial summarising the issues at stake at the 5th National Humanitarian Conference.

The article by Françoise Bouchet-Saulnier, MSF’s International Legal Director, on the impact of anti-terrorism measures on humanitarian action.

The interview with Thierry Mauricet, Director General of Première Urgence Internationale, on the consequences of sanctions regimes on bank transfers linked to humanitarian action.

Videos of the National Humanitarian Conference interventions.

Isabelle Moussard, Director of Operations at ACF, on the impact of sanctions regimes. 1:12:38.

Coordination Sud’s press release “Following the NHC, first reactions from humanitarian NGOs“.