CDI Logo
New Frontiers in Humanitarian Policy
Humanitarian Access
Humanitarian Negotiations
Children and Armed Conflict
Other Humanitarian Policy Topics
Pressure Points in Conflict Resolution
Special Projects
Professional Training
Humanitarian Access
IDPs and Mediation

Please click on following link for information on our Regional Consultation Workshops:


This project, supported by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), aims to develop a practical Field Manual and Handbook on humanitarian access in situations of armed conflict for humanitarian actors, such as State actors, national authorities and international organizations.

The Field Manual contains operational guidance on the approach and rules pertaining to humanitarian access. The Handbook (currently published in Version 1.0 draft format) lays out the legal and normative framework to humanitarian access based on international law.

The draft Versions 1.0 of these documents were published in November 2011. Currently the project is in a field-testing stage and the revised and final versions of the resources are expected for release in spring 2013.


This project aims to contribute to improvement of the operational response to protection of civilians in situations of armed conflict through the development of resources that will assist in securing and sustaining humanitarian access. These resources strive to clarify and make accessible the legal and normative framework and to provide practical information and guidance concerning humanitarian access.

The methodology to develop the resources on humanitarian access includes the following components:

  • A comprehensive review of literature, projects and initiatives pertaining to humanitarian access;
  • Detailed review, compilation of the normative framework for humanitarian access;
  • Consultations and interviews with technical experts; case studies on humanitarian access;
  • Brainstorming sessions to capture past experiences and identify operational approaches; and
  • Drafting and review of Handbook and Field Manual.

This project has been undertaken with two inter-related consultation processes. First, the Consultation Group guides the direction and development of the initiative. Second, the project is undertaking a broad field-consultation process that engages practitioners and other stakeholders to solicit relevant perspectives, inputs and comments that feed into the development of the resources.


Enabling humanitarian access has been an ever-present challenge in situations of armed conflict since the birth of modern humanitarianism. However, contemporary armed conflicts have manifested more acute challenges to securing and sustaining access to facilitate delivery of humanitarian assistance and protection.

These more acute challenges have arisen due to a number of factors: (1) the preponderance of internal armed conflict since the late 1980s which has resulted in more frequent need to engage with a multiplicity of non-State actors; (2) the proliferation of emergency relief actors in situations of armed conflict, which has necessitated negotiations and coordination efforts with more actors to secure humanitarian access; (3) the engagement of military forces in relief operations, which has in some contexts tended to blur the lines between humanitarian and military/civil-military actors; (4) the active targeting of humanitarian personnel by parties to armed conflict in some contexts; and (5) the use of private military contractors for military or security operations in some contexts.

Furthermore, the types of constraints on humanitarian access include: ongoing hostilities or otherwise insecure environment; destruction of infrastructure; and attempts by parties to armed conflict to intentionally block access. However, these ‘external’ constraints are often complicated by a lack of clarity – among State actors, non-State armed groups and humanitarian relief organizations – on the normative framework pertaining to humanitarian access. Adding to these challenges has been the fact that humanitarian negotiations to overcome constraints on access have often been undertaken in an ad hoc manner, with less than optimal outcomes.

Recognizing this increased difficulty and complexity in securing and sustaining humanitarian access in situations of armed conflict, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs convened an expert meeting on humanitarian access in situations of armed conflict, in Montreux, Switzerland in mid-2008.

The meeting sought to identify the main constraints on humanitarian access and to explore means to overcome these constraints at the legal, political and operational levels. Among the constraints on humanitarian access identified by participants at this meeting were:

  • The lack of clarity regarding the existing legal obligations under the relevant bodies of law regarding the criteria for denial/constraint on access for humanitarian relief actors; and,
  • The need to create a practical handbook on the basic rules for humanitarian access.

This project is based on the premise of addressing these two key findings from the Montreux process.