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Armed Non-State Actors (ANSAs)

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Humanitarian Policy Section 

UNICEF’s Position on Engagement with Armed Non-State Actors (ANSAs):


UNICEF policy requires Senior Management at all levels (HQ, Regional, County, and Field Offices) to pursue and maintain systematic engagement with armed non-state actors (ANSAs) whenever operationally necessary to access children or to implement principled humanitarian programming on their behalf (Office of Emergency Programmes. (2020). Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action. New York, New York: UNICEF).

What are ANSAs?

ANSAs can be defined as groups that “have the potential to employ arms in the use of force to achieve political, ideological or economic objectives; are not within the formal military structure of States, State-alliances or intergovernmental organizations; and are not under the control of the State(s) in which they operate" (McHugh, G., Bessler M. (2006). Humanitarian Negotiations with Armed Groups: A Manual for Practitioners. United Nations, pg. 6.).

Why Engage with ANSAs?

There is wide consensus in the humanitarian and development communities that ANSAs are a typical, increasingly salient, and increasingly complicated feature of emergency settings. As such, they have a significant impact on humanitarian programmes and operations. More specifically, ANSAs:

  • control areas where vulnerable children and women might be assessed or served,

  • control areas through which humanitarians and populations must transit to access one another,

  • have an impact on the fulfillment or actualization of the needs or the rights of children and women.


Engagement with ANSAs is justified by the needs of children and women and the operational necessity of meeting those needs. It is reflective of only these practical humanitarian concerns, and, by law and by practice, it does not imply the acceptance of any ANSA’s agenda or the acknowledgement of any ANSA’s legitimacy. These are not humanitarian subjects, and, according to the principle of neutrality, UNICEF does not

take sides in conflict or engage in non-humanitarian controversies.


In addition to the principle of neutrality mentioned above, engagement with ANSA’s must also be guided by the principles of humanity, impartiality, and independence; and it is anchored in international, humanitarian and human rights law, as well as various UN frameworks.


What Are Risks to Consider When Working With ANSAs?


UNICEF should engage with ANSAs, based on programmatic or operational necessity, whenever the benefits of engagement outweigh its associated residual risks (i.e. risk after mitigation measures have been applied). In rare and exceptional circumstance, UNICEF could, on the basis of this type of risk related cost-benefit analysis, choose not to engage with groups, even when necessary for programmes or operations.


Relevant risks extend beyond security considerations. They also include reputational, legal, of fiduciary risks. Furthermore, according to a guidance document released by OCHA and the IASC (McHugh, Gerard and Manual Bessler. Humanitarian Negotiations with Armed Groups: A Manual for Practitioners. United Nations, 2006.), risks also include situations when:


  • engagement could cause harm to humanitarian conditions or to the security of affected civilian populations,

  • engagement could put interlocuters at risk,

  • armed groups attempt to use engagement to enhance their legitimacy vis-à-vis the sovereign government,

  • when armed groups are thought to be playing humanitarians against one another.

If these or other risks are present, caution should be taken during engagement, and the Regional Director (RD) and Director of EMOPS should be kept informed. However, to deliver on its child-centered mandate, adhere to policy, and account for operational necessity; UNICEF as an organization expects engagement with ANSAs to be the norm, and non-engagement to be an exception based on exceptionally high (and documented) levels of risk.


For advice or assistance related to engagement or its associated risks, contact the Humanitarian Policy Section (HPS) within EMOPS.


How Can This Site be Used?


On this site, UNICEF and partner staff will find policy and guidance to help them engage with ANSAs. Other related materials and links from other organizations can also be found.

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