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Colombo, Sri Lanka

Lessons and Humanitarian Decision-Making in Sri Lanka

The Norwegian Refugee Council sponsored an inter-agency workshop in Colombo to generate discussion within the humanitarian and development community on how lessons could be applied from its 2008/9 response to the current context.


With the transition from humanitarian response to development, this dialogue among humanitarian practitioners and donors aimed to assist them to undertake critical analysis of the decisions being made about the provision of assistance, such as when and how to engage. The focus was on situations that challenge the Guiding Principles for Humanitarian and Development Assistance in Sri Lanka and the principle of Do No Harm.


While there is a commitment to foster greater accountability and principled action within the humanitarian and development community, the challenge remains how to put principles into practice, and balance apparently competing priorities. Beechwood used various interactive methods during the discussion to ensure that it was engaging, collaborative and action-oriented.  One of these included a decision-making exercise, which mirrored the same process that humanitarians used during the conflict period (2008-2009).


At that time, agencies at different levels (Vanni, Colombo, London) reviewed in real-time how they should respond to the dilemma of providing support to 300,000 displaced civilians and staff in the North when they were detained in army-controlled camps against their will. They questioned how best humanitarians could assist people in need when direct material support is at risk of legitimising and facilitating their ongoing abuse (BBC Sri Lanka report).


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