Anyone who has been involved in trying to cope with emergencies on the ground, or in rallying support for crisis response efforts in world capitals will know only too well that the challenge consists not only in grasping the true nature of the problem, determining what is needed and producing a solid set of recommendations - though all of those things are necessary and difficult. There is also a crucial need to ensure that the world public and international opinion-shapers are made fully aware of all the relevant facts as well as any recommendations for resolving the crisis in order that they, in turn, can persuade their governments of the necessity to take early, concerted action.
Although many dedicated individuals and organisations are engaged in some form of crisis-related advocacy, the focus of their efforts is often necessarily limited by their primary activities, such as providing food or shelter, medical, mediation or peacekeeping services,or documenting human rights abuses. For a small pressure group, the process of researching and writing documentation, finding out whom to talk to and travelling to see them may place severe pressure on financial and human resources. At the other end of the scale, the extent to which inter-governmental organisations may intervene may be limited by the need to observe neutrality and thereby ensure that life-lines to needy populations are not cut or the lives of peacekeepers jeopardised. Some groups may be constitutionally opposed to military or other forms of coercive action under any circumstances and international civil servants may find themselves constrained in the arguments they can deploy by the parameters set by member states and the strictures of sovereignty. Moreover, representations made on behalf of particular groups, but conducted independently of one another, may risk duplication of effort and misdirection.
What, then, is needed? We believe that as soon as it becomes evident that international action is required, any response efforts mounted should have the following characteristics:-
Unilateral intervention in large-scale crises in other countries is no longer politically supportable for governments and quick fix solutions, even when attempted by multi-lateral interventions, tend not to be effective. Dealing with such crises requires the nurturing of multi-national coalitions, bolstered by long-term commitment. So policy-makers and their publics in perhaps several dozen countries at once may need to be galvanized into continuous, concerted action.
Ideally, persons who embark on advocacy in favour of a particular course of action should have the stature and independence to allow them to present their plans directly to key decision-makers and when appropriate to the media and the public. This is particularly so when the course of action being proposed runs counter to prevailing policies. For example, the international Eminent Persons Group, established by the British Commonwealth, deftly used its prestige and access to policy-makers and the media to forge and sustain an international approach to sanctions in South Africa thereby paving the way for negotiations.
In the same way, high-powered influence can help focus public and government attention on crises waiting to happen. It can find ways to try to prevent their escalation and marshal support for ongoing response efforts. It can strengthen in turn the ability of local institutions to advocate in favour of change at the national level or assist them to play a more active role in international advocacy.
If a course of action being championed is (or is perceived to be) divorced from physical or political reality, it will simply be ignored.In the early stages of a crisis, when the need for comprehensive information is at its greatest, hard facts are often in short supply. Decisions bearing on international response efforts have often to be made on the basis of fragmented, incomplete, or inaccurate reporting. Throughout a crisis, action plans need to be flexible enough to respond both to changing situations on the ground and to the changing practicability of engagement for the party concerned. It is therefore vital to utilise people with the experience and equipment necessary to make reliable assessments of genuine priorities in the field; people who can analyse such assessments in the light of existing or likely international policy, and as rapidly and as directly as possible convey the findings to opinion-leaders, decision-makers and the media.
The challenges posed by man-made disasters can seldom be met by humanitarian assistance alone; the military, political, economic and human rights dimensions must also be dealt with otherwise the crisis will either recur (as in Somalia), or aid will need to be provided indefinitely.When this happens (as in Bosnia and, for the past ten years, on the Cambodian-Thai border), international resources and patience are eroded. Saving lives is always the imperative, but sometimes that objective can be overtaken in the longer term, if humanitarian operations turn out to be mere palliatives,substituting for more fundamental measures which ought to have been taken at the outset; or if the presence of vulnerable relief personnel serves to narrow the political and military options available to governments.
The attempt to find the right balance between meeting compelling humanitarian needs and employing more fundamental means to deal with the crisis can produce a central, agonising dilemma - a dilemma which those advocating peace-plans must address head on by counselling integrative approaches whenever appropriate.
ICG's approach will combine different forms of advocacy at varying levels in order to support and reinforce a multi-faceted strategy for change. It will co-ordinate local, national and international level advocacy, monitoring and evaluating its efforts at regular intervals and integrating detailed policy work with public campaigning. In all its activities ICG will link action and analysis at local level with international efforts.
At all levels, the media play a crucial role in crisis response, focusing public and political attention on emerging crises as well as on ongoing relief operations. But in order for this to happen, media attention itself has first to be focused on the issues and high-profile lobbying on behalf of distressed populations is often necessary first to locate and then to maintain that attention. The media are ever hungry for instant, expert analysis, but those engaged in professional advocacy must also take into account the need to persuade the media to maintain their interest in crises; to preview and review crises wherever possible and to report not only on trouble brewing but also on the recurring problems faced by fragile societies.
Individual efforts to bring about peace should supplement the international response capacity not work against it and this is particularly important when international systems are subjected to criticism. By its own admission, the United Nations' capacity to respond to major crises is increasingly limited by its structure and resources. All too frequently member states rebuff its urgent appeals for funds and personnel for peacekeeping and other vital operations; or their response falls woefully short of what is required. So advocacy efforts aimed at individual governments should aim to convince national decision-makers of the necessity to support and fund the efforts of the international community, augment its institutional strengths, and wherever necessary promote reform.