African Union Commission (AUC), The Department of Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development (HHS) jointly with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Delegation to the Africa Union (AU) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) organized a one-day seminar under the theme ‘Preserving Humanitarian Space in Africa under IHL’ at the African Union Head Quarters on 17 August 2023.
Article 06 September 2023

The aim of the seminar was to reflect on contemporary challenges to humanitarian access and the applicability of IHL, highlight AU policy frameworks and guidelines on the thematic; exchange best practices and challenges in the facilitation of humanitarian access and accountability for serious violence of IHL including reflecting on concrete recommendations based on practical experiences.

The seminar kicked off with the opening remark delivered by Patrick Youssef, ICRC Regional Director for Africa. He stressed the significance of proximity to the affected communities which is imperative to build trust and gain safe humanitarian access. Noting that, "humanitarian space must be protected without restriction and the primary responsibility lies with the state to safeguard humanitarian space." He also pointed out the growing negative impact of sanctions and counter-terrorism measures on humanitarian aid in the absence of proper safeguards.

One prominent issue discussed during the seminar was the integration of the Kampala Convention on the protection and assistance of Internally displaced persons. One may recall that it wasn't very long since ICRC supported the drafting and negotiation process leading to the adoption of the Kampala Convention in 2009; particularly with respect to addressing issues of forced displacement and humanitarian access. Over the last years, 30 members of the AU have become party to the convention and several states have taken concrete steps to improve the situation of IDPs in their communities. Yet the plight of millions of internally displaced in Africa continues to give cause for concern. In addressing this issue, ICRC legal Advisor to Ethiopian Delegation, Mr. Romaric Ferraro, reminded states of their responsibility to adopt and implement the Kampala Convention which is an important instrument to facilitate humanitarian access and reach the communities in need.

Ms. Edem Wosornu, Director of the Operations and Advocacy Division of UNOCHA commended the AUC and ICRC for organizing the seminar and called on AU and its Member States to work collectively to better shield humanitarian operations from the political dynamics of conflict and to remove administrative and other barriers to humanitarian action. She advised that interventions be built on the commendable examples and good practices shared including efforts to facilitate visa issuance for humanitarian workers and to exclude impartial humanitarian activities from counter-terrorism legislation.
The seminar yielded solid recommendations, including advocacy for the AU to revise its sanctions regime and to implement a time-bound, targeted sanctions regime with humanitarian exceptions. There were also recommendations on the need to strengthen the AU's role in humanitarian diplomacy, the permanent representative committees (PRC), and the need for the upcoming African Humanitarian Agency (AfHA) to enhance coordination and communication between the AU, member states, the Regional Economic Communities (RECs), Regional Mechanisms (REMs) and humanitarian partners.
In addition, participants also recognized the role of National Societies on the ground and the need to factor in the voice of diverse actors – such as the youth, women, and people with disabilities – in the discussion on facilitating humanitarian access. Better systems, such as designating focal points to coordinate sharing of information and notification to ensure humanitarian workers' security and safety were also proposed.

The seminar saw attendance by a variety of stakeholders including, AU high level leaders and senior legal advisors, Representatives of Member states, African Union Peace Support Operations including the Heads of Mission of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), Heads of AU Mission in DRC and Sahel region, UK Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) Representative from London, Think Tanks including Amani Africa, Institute for Peace and Security studies (IPSS), UNOCHA Liaison Officer to the African Union, policy executives, and AU partners group.