Can you get sued?

A new report launched by Security Management Initiative (SMI) and A4ID considers the legal obligations international aid agencies have to consider in looking after their staff.

The report, ‘Can you get sued? Legal liability of international humanitarian aid agencies towards their staff,’ is the result of an SMI research project that looked at current practice in the aid sector and, in cooperation with A4ID, legal reviews undertaken by law firms in five countries for the project.

Security concerns

In the ten years between 2000 and 2010, more than 1,900 aid workers were killed, injured or kidnapped undertaking their work. While security for aid workers is not declining worldwide, it is becoming significantly more dangerous to work in many volatile areas such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan.

However, it is these areas which most require help, and security concerns can seriously impede aid agencies’ ability to deliver vital humanitarian support to civilians in need.

Legal responsibilities

Aid agencies have taken many practical steps to respond to the changing landscape of humanitarian operations but they have often not considered their legal responsibilities towards their staff. Differing legal systems across the world have also made it difficult for organisations to know which one to apply in the international contexts in which they operate.

However, the aid and development sector’s risk and security management is subject to the same basic legal ground rules and responsibilities as any other enterprise: it is mandatory not optional.

Up until now most aid agencies have viewed protecting the safety and security of their staff as a moral requirement, the ‘right thing to do.’ But the systems are mainly self regulatory and often inconsistent.

Duty of care

This report considers the duty of care of humanitarian organisations as a legal term with corresponding legal responsibilities.

Since safety and security include legal obligations, this report argues that, while due safety and security may be viewed as matters of choice or conscience, they must also answer to objective laws, regulations, standards and norms that can be objectively evaluated, are open to scrutiny, and can be enforced.

Maarten Merkelbach, Project DirectorA director is responsible for the day-to-day management of a company. Directors are also primarily responsible for the company’s business plan. of SMI and co-author of the report said, “There is growing trend towards professionalising the aid sector and aid work as a profession and career choice. It is thus inescapable to take applicable legal frameworks on board like any other enterprise, commercial, public or associative.”

The study is the result of work with lawyers, non-profit organisations and donors around the world to develop a common standard and process for analysis to be applied by international organisations seeking to meet their legal obligations in looking after their staff.

SMI’s focus is on risk and security management of NGOs and international agencies working in hostile environments. SMI contributes to reducing the human and program costs of agencies operating in these environments, thereby enabling agencies to better fulfill their mission.

Read the full report here.

A4ID CEO, Yasmin Batliwala, gives some introductory remarks.
A4ID CEO, Yasmin Batliwala, gives some introductory remarks.