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While the global pandemic has interrupted capacity building efforts such as the AHA Centre Executive (ACE) Programme, the Centre continues to provide education for ACE Programme Graduates. The AHA Centre has been implementing a webinar series to support its objectives of capacity-building, networking, and utilising leadership competencies to improve national and regional coordination response mechanisms and disaster management more broadly. As part of the AHA Centre’s 9th Anniversary celebrations, the final instalment of the ACE Programme Webinar Series 2020 was held on 18 November 2020, with a focus on the area of humanitarian diplomacy.

In collaboration with the Asian Institute Management (AIM) – an Asian pioneer in management education – the AHA Centre had the fortunate opportunity to engage H.E. Ambassador Laura Quiambao-Del Rosario (Distinguished Fellow in Development Management of AIM) as a resource speaker, as well as Dr. Miguel Manuel C. Dorotan (Adjunct Faculty of AIM) as the moderator for the humanitarian diplomacy webinar.

The webinar itself began with a poll to identify the geographical background of participants, their role in their organisation, and their experience or involvement in diplomatic negotiation. This was done to support the aims of ensuring that the webinar materials could successfully cover all aspects and needs of the participants related to humanitarian diplomacy. Out of all webinar participants, 95% were located in the ASEAN region, and one each were from Europe and the Pacific. A third of the participants were in middle-management, 15% were in senior management, another third (31%) were technical specialists, a fifth (21%) were rank and file. 38% said they have previously been involved in diplomatic negotiations.

Ambassador del Rosario started by describing the difference between Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law as basis for humanitarian diplomacy. While both legal frameworks aim to protect life, health and dignity of humanity, human rights law applies in both peace time and war, while International Humanitarian Law applies only during war and conflict. Under such circumstances some human rights can be suspended for internal security reason, except the right to life, the prohibition of torture, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the prohibition of servitude and slavery.

Humanitarian diplomacy is specifically needed in circumstances that include: densely populated areas of need; during unstructured conflict; where there is displacement of people; where there is a breakdown of systems of health, education, distribution of food and water, and; where there is sexual violence. The Ambassador highlighted that as part of diplomatic negotiation during humanitarian situations, it is important to know the interest or objectives of other parties in the conflict. A lot of questions were raised with regard to the role of the AHA Centre during conflict. The Ambassador emphasised that the application of neutrality as a humanitarian principle must be maintained. The role of any humanitarian in a situation of conflict is to alleviate the suffering of affected people, while addressing the root of the conflict should be left to political stakeholders.

Dr. Dorotan summarised the key takeaways on humanitarian diplomacy by spelling out an acronym using DIPLOMACY itself. Know the discipline of humanitarian diplomacy, international human rights law, and humanitarian law. The Ambassador suggests to not only focus on the problem but also on the people affected. Openness to share your views among each other across different level of population is important in negotiations. Just as in any other profession, one must have a mastery of the craft one is doing. As a diplomat it is important to be a communicator. And finally, y stands for “yehey”, as a term of expression for celebrating the small but successful accomplishments.

Written by : Shella Ningtyas, edited by Gaynor Tanyang | Photo Credit : AHA Centre