ESIL Paper Series – Sofie and Ansgar’s publication on humanitarian exemptions

Published: 1st December 2022

Following their presentation at the ESIL Research Forum 2022, Berlin team members Sofie-Marie Terrey and Ansgar Münichsdorfer had the opportunity to publish their paper as part of the ESIL Paper Series.

The full paper, ‘Humanitarian exemptions : illusive progress in safeguarding humanitarian assistance in the international counterterrorism architecture?‘ is available for viewing here.

Abstract: Given the negative effects of global counterterrorism on the work of humanitarian actors in conflict zones, scholars and humanitarian practitioners currently promote the introduction of humanitarian exemption clauses in counterterrorism frameworks. This paper challenges the assumption that humanitarian exemption clauses are the best way to safeguard humanitarian assistance from the ever-expanding scope of counterterrorism legislation. We argue that the progress promised by their emergence remains at least partially illusive. The clauses remain shaped by a security-centric conception of humanitarian assistance which manifests itself in their preoccupation with actors. As a result, they are likely to be beneficial only to the largest humanitarian actors established in the Global North while neglecting small and local humanitarian actors in conflict areas. Thereby, they contradict not only IHL’s deliberate openness regarding both the actors providing humanitarian assistance and their modi operandi, but also violate the obligations of non-belligerent states under IHL. We show that the obligation to allow and facilitate free passage of relief consignments under IHL equally protects transnational financial support to local humanitarian actors and this regardless of who provides it. Disregard for these specific guarantees in attempts to safeguard humanitarian assistance is counterproductive. We conclude that instead of focusing on humanitarian exemptions as a ‘micro-solution’, advocacy should pursue a more comprehensive critical approach towards the global counterterrorism architecture.

Congratulations to Sofie and Ansgar!