ESIL Research Forum 2022 – Sofie and Ansgar present on Humanitarian Exemption Clause – A Recap

Published: 2nd May 2022

‘Protracted Conflicts need a shift to local actors but humanitarian exemption clauses are a move in the opposite direction’ – Ansgar Münichsdorfer (31.03.2022)

On 31 March and 1 April 2022, the University of Glasgow hosted the ESIL Research Forum 2022. The forum featured a keynote speech by Prof. Diane Marie Amann, a Rapid Response panel on the war in Ukraine and concluding remarks with Prof. Robin Geiß. Endless Conflict research assistants Sofie and Ansgar (Berlin team) presented their research on ‘Humanitarian Exemptions: An Illusive Progress in Safeguarding Humanitarian Assistance in the International Counterterrorism Architecture?’ 

Their talk was part of Panel 2 of the Forum on ‘The UN as a Security Actor – Promise and Perils’ chaired by Prof. Dr. Daniel Erasmus-Khan and discussed by Therese O’Donnell. See the conference programme for more information. 

Focusing on counterterrorism legislation, an area that is actively shaped by the UN Security Council’s Resolutions, Sofie and Ansgar presented their findings on humanitarian exemption clauses. Counterterrorism legislation often puts humanitarian actors at risk of prosecution for the very activities they are tasked to do, as providing services and relief, or even travel to a certain area, can be interpreted as supporting or financing terrorism. Exemption clauses are being introduced to bring humanitarian action back onto more stable legal ground. However, as Sofie and Ansgar show, many exemption clauses are limited in that they apply only to certain humanitarian actors, such as the ICRC or other previously accredited actors. Thus, these clauses create a ‘positive’ list of accepted humanitarian organisations, favouring larger and international organisations. Sofie and Ansgar, however, argue that a list of ‘acceptable’ humanitarian actors runs contrary to the deliberate openness of International Humanitarian Law to different humanitarian actors and creates an obstacle for local actors. 

In response to Sofie and Ansgar’s presentation, Therese O’Donnell questioned whether humanitarian actors deliver not only relief but also security and compliance, and how far this changes the character of a humanitarian organisation. There were also comments on the humanitarian principles by the panel’s attendees, especially regarding neutrality in situations where one side could be or is regarded as a terrorist organisation. 

These insights are particularly prominent in the case of protracted conflicts. The question of neutrality is often discussed within the nexus debate, where the humanitarian principles are pitted against development assistance. If indeed humanitarian actors were to embrace a comprehensive approach to the triple nexus providing not only instant relief but also a path to peace and development, this would necessarily change the organisations’ character, and would challenge the principle of neutrality Moreover, especially in protracted conflicts, hope is laid on local communities and humanitarian actors accountable to them. As shown, humanitarian exemptions clauses, however, are a step in the opposite direction.  

Prepared by Franziska Chyle (Glasgow, 12.04.2022)

Julia Franziska Chyle is a University of Glasgow LLM student who has joined the Endless Conflicts team as a research assistant. For more information about Franziska, click here.

The panel: chair Daniel-Erasmus Khan and discussant Therese O’Donnell
Sofie and Ansgar giving their presentation