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Each year thousands of civilians, journalists, aid workers and human rights defenders are killed, injured or kidnapped while shining a light on corruption and atrocities or helping people living under war or repression. For many, the dangers are well understood, and unmitigated risk is simply seen as part of the job. Open Briefing seeks to reverse this ‘normalisation of danger’ by NGO workers and journalists.

There is a major debate within the humanitarian sector over how organisations can safely deliver aid in insecure environments. This debate is relevant to how we can ensure the safety of NGO workers from all sectors when working in remote or hostile environments. Two turning points, in particular, have shaped the discussion. The first was the bombing of the UN headquarters in Iraq in August 2003, which killed at least 22 people, including the UN Special Representative in Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello. The second was the execution of 17 local humanitarian aid workers working for Action Against Hunger in Muttur, Sri Lanka, on 4 August 2006. These and other security incidents have led to an overreliance by some organisations on fortification and deterrence, which only places further barriers between those organisations and the communities that they are seeking to help.

Thousands of aid workers, human rights defenders and journalists are killed, injured or kidnapped each yearClick To Tweet

An alternative approach is built around acceptance, which is a consent-based approach to security risk management. Open Briefing supports such an approach by providing intelligence and security services that recognise and address both the external threats to NGO workers and the internal vulnerabilities that place them at risk, thus freeing them to focus on building acceptance within the communities that they are working with.

As part of this, Open Briefing operates a no weapons policy. We only deploy unarmed security advisers, as we do not wish to add further armed actors into already volatile situations. We believe that humanitarians and aid workers are best secured through the acceptance of local communities, not through fortification and deterrence; fighting fire with fire will not work. All our protective services are intelligence-led and based on preventative strategies and proactive measures. This position was reached after consulting with stakeholders; however, we recognise that civil society needs honest conversations about the use of armed guards, as the present situation of, for example, aid workers relying on UN peacekeepers for protection or journalists being embedded with US or other forces essentially outsources the use of weapons to others. Open Briefing is committed to inspiring and participating in this debate.

Open Briefing is working to foster dialogue, forge creative partnerships and drive transformation in the way that civil society views and uses intelligence and security to effectively assist vulnerable communities in fragile and conflict-affected states while ensuring their own operational security. As part of this, Open Briefing is seeking funding to undertake a project to assess the current reality of the use and possible expansion of intelligence and security services within the NGO world. We will actively engage in the debates around innovation and best practise in this area, including dialogue with the relevant NGO associations, such as the European Interagency Security Forum (EISF) and the International NGO Safety & Security Association (INSSA), the boards of international funders, including Oak Foundation, and operational and innovation units of aid agencies.

The project will build on the findings of existing initiatives, including Humanitarian Outcome’s Secure Access in Volatile Environments (SAVE) research programme and their NGOs and Risk study and To Stay and Deliver Follow-Up Study, in order to move from recognition of the problem to invention of creative solutions. Our project will also look beyond the delivery of aid in insecure environments to include how human rights defenders and other civil society actors can benefit from a risk management approach and the security lessons of the humanitarian sector.

Open Briefing is launching an innovative project to keep aid workers, human rights defenders and NGOs safe in the fieldClick To Tweet

The project is in six parts:

Desk research in order to better understand the use of intelligence and security by humanitarians, aid workers, human rights defenders and other NGO workers and assess the range of services that are currently available from commercial providers and other NGOs.

Surveys of NGOs and NGO associations to ascertain the level and scope of their use of intelligence and security services from both internal units and external providers.

Roundtables with NGOs and NGO associations in order to further explore the issues and identify solutions for future development by Open Briefing and key stakeholders.

Working group of representatives from Open Briefing and other NGO stakeholders tasked with developing the potential solutions identified in the project.

Publication of a report detailing the findings of the project.

Awareness raising of our findings within the NGO community.

Please contact us if you are interested in funding or being involved in this project.