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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder24. Working with the Military
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentCategories of Military Forces
View the documentPossible Roles of Military Forces in Humanitarian Operations
View the documentCoordination Between Military Forces and Civilian Agencies
View the documentKey References

Possible Roles of Military Forces in Humanitarian Operations

Delivering Humanitarian Assistance

14. In exceptionally large emergencies and as a last resort, military assets could be used to deliver humanitarian assistance, for example in the form of an airlift.

15. UNHCR has entered into an understanding with a number of governments that those governments will provide pre-packaged, stand-alone emergency assistance modules, called Government Service Packages (GSP).

There are twenty different types of packages providing assistance in certain technical or logistical areas such as long range airlift, road transport, water supply and treatment, sanitation and road construction. GSPs are not designed to be substitutes for traditional implementing arrangements in these areas, but are to be used only as a last resort in exceptionally large emergencies, where every other avenue has been exhausted.

16. Due to their extraordinary scale and cost it is assumed that GSPs, if called upon, will represent additional funding and will not be deployed at the expense of funds that would otherwise have been available to UNHCR. The Military and Civil Defence Unit also has arrangements with governments to use these pre-packaged emergency resources, as well as packages covering other areas. Within UNHCR, the responsibility for the development and deployment of GSPs rests with the Director of the Division of Operations Support. Further information can be found in the Catalogue of Emergency Response Resources (see Appedix 1).

17. When these assets are deployed the operation must maintain its civilian character and appearance. The guiding principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence from political considerations must be carefully adhered to.

Information Support

18. Military forces usually have a greater capacity to collect information than humanitarian agencies. This includes aerial reconnaissance information which may be of value in tracking the movement of refugees and in site selection. Care must be taken, however, in the interpretation and use of such material: the information it provides needs to be carefully weighed against information available from other sources, in particular first hand information form UNHCR staff on the ground.

Security of Humanitarian Operations

19. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 (see Annex 1 to chapter 2 on protection) oblige the parties in conflict to grant access for humanitarian aid, but does not provide for its forcible imposition should access be denied. Parties to a conflict may be unable or unwilling to control threats to the safety of humanitarian personnel and operations. Peacekeeping mandates may therefore include specific duties relating to the security of humanitarian personnel, including creating the conditions in which humanitarian operations can be carried out in safety.

20. However, using force to protect humanitarian assistance may compromise the foundation of those activities, since the actual use of force, by its nature, will not be neutral. Before using peacekeeping or other forces to protect humanitarian activities, the priority should always be to negotiate with all the parties to the conflict to try to ensure humanitarian access. The use of military force to secure the provision of humanitarian assistance should never become a substitute for finding political solutions to root causes of the conflict.

21. Where it is necessary to use peacekeeping forces for the security of humanitarian operations, it is particularly important to maintain a neutral stance and to ensure that this impartiality and neutrality is apparent to all parties.


22. Any plan for evacuation of humanitarian workers should be coordinated with any military forces present (see Chapter 23 on Staff Safety).