III. Non – military actors
3.3. Non-governmental organizations
NGOs, which can play a role in international affairs by virtue of their activities, are predominantly private (not established by intergovernmental agreement), self-governing, non-profit organizations dedicated to specific aspects of humanitarian, philanthropic and development activity. They are not supposed to be part of (or affiliated with) any government.
NGOs exist at the local, national and international levels and pursue different missions and motivations. Some NGOs work in both humanitarian assistance and long-term development. They play a crucial role in the transition from short-term relief to long-term development. The work of international NGOs often strengthens the skills of local experts and trainers, reducing dependency on external assistance.
Many, but not all NGOs coordinate with the international humanitarian community through the clusters and other coordination mechanisms. Several of the large NGOs and the NGO consortia have their own guidelines and policies on whether and how to engage with the military. However, a proportion of the NGO community will most likely avoid direct interaction with any military force, regardless of nationality, to pursue their own objectives and to preserve their impartiality and neutrality.
Humanitarian NGOs, similar to the ICRC, will avoid the perception of being associated with any party to a conflict, but will have dialogue with all parties (including non-state armed actors) in order to gain security or access to all people in need. The military forces must understand and accept this premise.
In recent decades there has been a vast increase in the number and scale of NGOs. At one extreme, an NGO may resemble a multinational corporation, with significant budgets, international presence and considerable diplomatic leverage. At the other end of the scale, NGOs may pursue a narrow agenda with a low budget and limited means. NGOs are often highly motivated, displaying a vocational drive and belief in the causes championed by their donors. NGOs in general, and humanitarian ones in particular, are cautious about interacting with the military in case it compromises their impartiality and neutrality. Please note that carrying weapons and other military equipment in vehicles of humanitarian NGO is not allowed, also weapons have to be left outside of buildings run by the organizations prior entering.
NGOs are accountable to their trustees, donors and beneficiaries ensuring that the effects of their actions benefit those that they have taken upon responsibility to help and remain true to their organization’s values. Most NGOs will operate within a territory using a recognizable and flat command and control structure.
Establishing mechanisms and processes for cooperation during a crisis is essential, and regular peacetime liaison will help the military to understand the various types of NGOs and their sensitivities.