The Shortcomings of International Humanitarian Law in Access Negotiations: New Strategies and Ways Forward

Postdoctoral Fellow Jori Breslawski recently co-authored an article on humanitarian access negotiations with non-state armed groups in International Studies Review.

Most wars now take place within states instead of between them. In many cases, this requires humanitarians to contend with non-state armed groups in order to access civilians. While armed groups are widely perceived as a threat to the delivery of humanitarian aid, they vary in the extent to which they allow or hinder humanitarian access. Current understandings of this variation revolve around armed groups’ motivations to comply with international humanitarian law (IHL). However, most humanitarians acknowledge that using IHL in negotiations for humanitarian access with armed groups is not a viable strategy. In this piece, Breslawski argues that scholars should broaden their study of humanitarian access by investigating the viability of other strategies and, in particular, the strategy of community acceptance. Drawing upon interviews with humanitarian practitioners, this article discusses the shortcomings of IHL in access negotiations with armed groups, the promises of community acceptance, and the implications of these arguments.