Literature Review: The Role of ‘Mandates’ in Humanitarian Priority Settings for International Non-Governmental Organisations in Situations of Armed Conflict

Wendt, K. & Hiemstra, H.
Publication language
Date published
02 Feb 2016
Research, reports and studies
Conflict, violence & peace, Working in conflict setting, Principles & ethics

This literature review has been drafted in support of the implementation of HERE-Geneva’s research study “The role of ‘mandates’ in humanitarian priority settings for international non-governmental organisations in situations of armed conflict”. The review is the product of a three-week desk-based research and analysis exercise, which has covered both primary sources, such as publicly available official standards and guidelines, and secondary works, such as articles, reports, books, and discussion papers. As an integral part of an ongoing project, the review has not aimed to provide an exhaustive account of all available literature on the topics covered, but rather to give a succinct view of the current state of research, and to facilitate further study.

Generally speaking, this literature review demonstrates that the ‘family’ of humanitarian organisations is large and eclectic, and any effort to type-cast a specific member of it on the basis of its ‘mandate’, requires careful consideration of a variety of issues. While this may indicate that it would be unnecessarily difficult, or even unjustified, to proceed with such an exercise, the literature however also highlights that there are linkages to be drawn between the ways in which organisations perceive their ‘mandate’ (broadly interpreted), and the ways in which they approach conflicts, the choices they make, and the problems and challenges they have to face. Literature that specifically—and empirically—evaluates the role played by mandates in humanitarian action is scarce, though there are numerous sources that discuss whether or not humanitarian organisations should focus only on humanitarian activities in its ‘purest’ form, or whether they should also take on a more developmental role. This debate remains highly theoretical however, and whether it is question of the way in which humanitarian organisations have approached their values and principles, their operational role or their level of accountability, the review demonstrates a lack of evidence and understanding with regard to the practical opportunities and limitations that arise from the different approaches.