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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. In 2015, for example, 515 aid workers were reported killed, injured or kidnapped by Aid in Danger, and 100 journalists and media staff were killed according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which also reported that 199 journalists had been imprisoned that year. Amnesty International reported that 122 countries tortured or otherwise ill-treated people and that war crimes or other violations of the laws of war were committed in at least 19 countries.

For many humanitarians and journalists, these dangers are well understood, and unmitigated risk is simply seen as part of the job. However, Open Briefing seeks to reverse this ‘normalisation of danger’ and help better protect NGO and media workers.

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 complex, hostile or remote environments.

There have been several supposedly watershed moments for NGO safety and security in the last decade or so, including the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003, which killed at least 22 people, including the UN Special Representative; the execution of 17 local humanitarian aid workers working for Action Against Hunger in Sri Lanka in August 2006; the landmark court ruling against the Norwegian Refugee Council after four of its employees were kidnapped in Kenya in June 2012; and the attack on the Terrain NGO compound in South Sudan in July 2016, during which South Sudanese troops raped and assaulted foreign aid workers.

While each incident has provoked urgent calls for change, too many organisations still fail to prioritise security risk management or allocate the necessary resources. Where there has been a response from NGOs, it has all too often been an over-reliance 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. Specifically, we seek to take the lessons learned and best practices of the humanitarian aid sector and apply them across the NGO community. 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 NGO security associations, the boards of international funders and the operational and innovation units of aid agencies.

In order to move from recognition of the problem to invention of creative solutions, our project will build on existing initiatives, including the work of the European Interagency Security Forum (EISF) and 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. 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 security risk management approach and the lessons learned by 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.