European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

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Civil-military relations in humanitarian crises

© WFP/Praveen Agrawal

Why is this important?

The changing nature of modern conflicts, natural hazards, and crisis situations makes dialogue and interaction between civilian, humanitarian and military actors ever more relevant, resulting in various forms of civil-military coordination for humanitarian operations.

Certain humanitarian emergency and disaster situations may require capabilities only available from the military community. Such services include communications support, sea and airport repairs and operation support, fuel management, road and bridge repairs.

Civil-military coordination may also be needed in situations where the humanitarian and civil protection community does not have the assets or expertise to assist (such as strategic airlift, strategic sea transportation, and engineers). Examples of such cooperation are the use of the Dutch Royal Navy vessels in Haiti (2016) for the transport of relief items and engineering capacities to restore and clean the hospital in Les Cayes, and the Ebola response. 

Exceptionally, assistance by the military might also be required in order to create appropriate safety conditions for humanitarian workers to deliver aid and operate in complex emergencies. Interaction with the military always depends on the context.

How are we helping?

The European Commission's European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department (ECHO) coordinate closely with the crisis management structures of the European External Action Service (EEAS). This collaboration ensures that whenever EU military assets are mobilised in support of humanitarian operations, this is done in accordance with the guidelines on civil-military coordination agreed by UN member states, international organisations, and humanitarian actors and managed by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The Commission promotes civil-military coordination at UN level through OCHA, and has among other things, contributed to the establishment of the aforementioned guidelines on civil-military coordination.

These guidelines aim at ensuring that the humanitarian space is not endangered and that humanitarian assistance abides by the principles of independence, neutrality, and impartiality. By maintaining a clear distinction between the identities, functions and roles of humanitarian and military actors, civil-military coordination ensures the consistency of relief efforts, by avoiding duplication and, when appropriate, pursuing common goals.

The Commission also liaises closely with the EEAS and the EU Military Staff on the planning and execution of Common Security and Defence (CSDP) missions and operations.

This coordination is done in line with the Council Conclusions on the EU Integrated Approach to External Conflict and Crises, endorsed by EU foreign ministers on 22 January 2018. The Conclusions stress that while humanitarian aid is a key part of the EU overall response to crises, it is not a crisis management instrument as such. Therefore aid should only be provided on the basis of needs of the affected populations, in line with the humanitarian principles.

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