1st Edition

Authoritarian Practices and Humanitarian Negotiations

Edited By Andrew J Cunningham Copyright 2024
    274 Pages 17 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    274 Pages 17 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book examines authoritarian practices in relation to humanitarian negotiations. Utilising a wide variety of perspectives and examining a range of contexts, the book considers how humanitarians assess and engage with authoritarian practices and negotiate access to populations in danger.

    Chapters provide insights at the macro, meso, and micro levels through case studies on the international and domestic legal and political framing of humanitarian contexts (Xinjiang, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Russia, and Syria), as well as the actual practice of negotiating with authoritarian regimes (Ethiopia). A theoretical grounding is provided through chapters elaborating on the ethics and trust-building dimensions of humanitarian negotiations, and an overview chapter provides a theoretical framework through which to analyse humanitarian negotiations against the backdrop of different types of authoritarian practices.

    This book provides a wide-ranging view which broadens the frame of reference when considering how humanitarians view and engage with authoritarian practices. The objective is to both put these contexts into conceptual order and provide a firm theoretical basis for understanding the politics of humanitarian negotiations in such difficult contexts. This book is useful for those studying international politics and humanitarian studies, as well as for practitioners seeking to better systematise their humanitarian negotiations.

    Introduction: Authoritarian practices and humanitarian negotiations

    Andrew J Cunningham

    1 The friction of practice – reflecting on the Médecins Sans Frontières experience with ‘authoritarian regimes’

    Sean Healy and Andrew J Cunningham

    Commentary: Reflections on discourse

    Tom de Kok and Andrew J Cunningham

    2 Humanitarian negotiation: Challenges and compromise in hard-to-reach areas

    Anaïde Nahikian and Emmanuel Tronc

    Commentary: ‘Security reasons’

    Indira Govender

    3 The vocabulary of negotiations: Sovereignty and authoritarian arguments in the Security Council

    Maximilian Bertamini

    Commentary: A critique

    Dennis Dijkzeul

    4 The Xinjiang case and its implication for the rights debate in China: What role for NGOs and humanitarian negotiations?

    Claudia Astarita

    Commentary: A personal reflection on working in China

    S Mahdi Munadi

    5 Daily negotiations with state agencies in the field – reflections from refugee camps in Western Ethiopia

    Imri Schattner-Ornan

    Commentary: Independence

    Peter Buth

    6 Dilemmas of humanitarian negotiations with the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan

    S Mahdi Munadi and Rodrigo Mena

    Commentary: A brief critical reflection on Afghanistan

    Mera Bakr

    7 Roma structural discrimination in contemporary Russia: Institutions involved and measures (not) taken

    Iana Vladimirova

    Commentary: Different types, different responses

    Andrew J Cunningham

    8 Humanitarian apparatus of silence: Authoritarian denial and aid assemblage in Venezuela

    Fernando Garlin Politis

    Commentary: Between instrumentalisation, depoliticisation, and legitimation of humanitarian action in Venezuela

    Rodrigo Mena

    9 Mopping up, keeping down, and propping up: Ethical dilemmas in humanitarian negotiations with authoritarian regimes

    Kristoffer Lidén and Kristina Roepstorff

    Conclusion: Theory and praxis – constructing the relationship between authoritarian practices and humanitarian negotiations

    Andrew J Cunningham


    Andrew J Cunningham has been in the aid business since the late 1980s and has spent 25 years with MSF. He has a PhD in War Studies from King’s College London, and his research focuses on INGO–State relations. Andrew works as a researcher, strategic evaluator, and governance advisor for various humanitarian organisations. His last book with Routledge was International Humanitarian NGOs and State Relations: Politics, Principles and Identity (2018). Andrew is also a board member of the International Humanitarian Studies Association.

    This book unravels one of the most understudied and under-theorised aspect of humanitarian studies, namely the complexities of humanitarianism in the context of controlling – authoritarian – states. This poses many challenges where humanitarian organisations must adapt the theories defining their relationship with states and fine-tune their engagement strategies. This volume not only provides superior real-life analysis of state–aid relations, it also brings many pointers for humanitarians to improve how they negotiate humanitarian access with states.

    Dorothea Hilhorst, Professor of Humanitarian Studies at the International Institute for Social Studies of Erasmus University in The Hague

    Delivering vital aid to crisis-affected people often hinges on complex humanitarian negotiations within authoritarian environments. By combining concrete operational examples with political theory, Cunningham et al. offer a deeper understanding and sharper analytical lens for aid practitioners and scholars grappling with these issues.

    Abby Stoddard, PhD, author of Necessary Risks: Professional Humanitarianism and Violence against Aid Workers

    Charged with urgently saving in extremis, international humanitarian actors are often criticised as ‘state avoiding’ as they so often substitute, and undermine, state responsibilities. Yet, the reality is that the very presence, access and actions of aid actors in any country is predicated on challenging negotiations with often difficult authorities. This book offers an extraordinary insight into state-INGO negotiations to access communities at risk in some of the world's most hard-to-reach contexts: Afghanistan, Ethiopia, China, Russia and Syria. Pairing insights from international experts with critical insights from academics, this book spans conceptual theory, real-world experience and ethical dilemmas in some of the toughest places. It's a must read for practitioners, policy makers and academics working on humanitarian action today.

    Sorcha O'Callaghan, Director, Humanitarian Policy Group, ODI


    This book is designed to help humanitarian workers who are active in authoritarian states as they navigate ethical dilemmas, negotiate amidst uncertainty and make difficult choices on behalf of those they serve.  Its case studies will be especially valued.   

    Sir David Nabarro, Strategic Director 4SD Foundation, Geneva Switzerland