Post-conflict contexts and humanitarian organizations: the changing relationship with states

  • Cunningham A
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The operational environments for humanitarian international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) are conflict zones and situations of natural and man-made disasters. To INGOs, these are defined as “humanitarian crises.” Post-conflict situations present far less clear-cut choices for humanitarian INGOs. This article queries whether humanitarian crises continue into post-conflict periods. Clearly, the question is not for humanitarian INGOs to answer on their own, as host governments have their own perspectives on the nature of crises, a perspective which generates political sensitivities for the relationship constructed between states and humanitarian INGOs. The nature of this relationship changes as a conflict transitions from active war to the early days of peace. This article researches the changing relationship between the humanitarian INGO Médecins Sans Frontières (Holland) (MSF-H) and the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) in the period 2009–2012. Many variables contributed to the decision-making on continued presence in post-conflict Sri Lanka by MSF-H against the security policies of the government of Sri Lanka. Priorities such as protection, witnessing, and medical aid were in tension with governmental policies related to the emerging peace and the changing context. A “war—immediate post war—post conflict” transitional framework based on Koselleck’s definition of crisis is proposed to help organizations understand the war-to-peace transition and construct their relationships with states. This crisis analysis is set against the background of the literature on linking relief, rehabilitation, and development and Walter Benjamin’s conception of peace. Throughout, the focus is on the concept of transition.




Cunningham, A. J. (2017). Post-conflict contexts and humanitarian organizations: the changing relationship with states. Journal of International Humanitarian Action, 2(1).

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