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Negotiated Exceptions at Risk of Manipulation
Maelle L’Homme

In the absence of a normative framework, the concept of humanitarian corridors lacks a consistent definition and is highly vulnerable to political interpretation. The notion underwent multiple semantic shifts, from referring to a right of passage in situations of armed conflict, to an appeal to facilitated access in the face of bordure closures or bureaucratic constraints. The diverse range of situations in reference to which the terms ‘humanitarian corridor’, ‘relief corridor’ or ‘access corridor’ are used, often interchangeably, is matched only by the diverse range of actors that use them. Calls for their opening have become so common that corridors seem increasingly considered a relevant modality of humanitarian action despite much ambiguity around what they are expected to achieve, how much protection they offer, and how they are likely to affect the overall dynamic of conflicts. Meant to allow the unobstructed deployment of humanitarian aid and/or the evacuation of civilians, humanitarian corridors are by definition temporary and limited in geographical scope. As such, they are a timid assertion of the principle of free access to victims, prone to manipulation by belligerents or third parties to serve war strategies or to project an image of civility. Looking at the wide array of its application in history, the author puts the use of the concept into perspective, drawing on a variety of examples to illustrate how both the idea and its implementation have been problematic. A few operational recommendations are then derived from this analysis for humanitarian practitioners to consider and adapt in light of their particular context.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Humanitarian Disruption in Conflict Settings
Maelle L’Homme

In March 2022, intercommunal fighting forced Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to suspend its activities after nearly fourteen years of operating in Agok, a small town located in the disputed Abyei Special Administrative Area (ASAA) on the border between Sudan and South Sudan. After the shock of having to close a 185-bed hospital unexpectedly came questions about the unintentional consequences of MSF’s presence. With the benefit of hindsight, the organisation deemed it important to examine the potentially destabilising influence it might have had on the local environment. This article builds on an internal capitalisation exercise conducted with the aim of documenting MSF’s experience and critically reflecting on the potential of aid being a factor in disrupting local balances, or worse, a factor in fuelling violence. By exploring the premises that MSF was an anchor factor for the population and that the economic fallouts made Agok a place worth fighting for, the author investigates the long-term, unintended impact of MSF’s presence on the local political economy of conflict, as well as the organisation’s possible share of responsibility for aggravating intercommunal grievances. Based on the observation that aid inevitably benefits some more than others, the author also asks to what extent MSF was aware of the adverse consequences of its presence and whether more awareness would have led to different operational choices and mitigating measures. This questioning does not detract in any way from the project’s achievements in terms of providing high-quality secondary healthcare in a context where there was none, in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs