Civil Society Organisations reflect on participating in ACMC’s Civil-Military-Police Interaction Workshop

Anu Mundkur, ACFID's civil society liaison to the Australian Civil-Military Centre and colleagues from across the sector, reflect on this year's Civil-Military Interaction Workshop.

Anu Mundkur

15 Jun, 2017

The Australian Institute of Police Management in Manly, NSW provided the backdrop to the Australian Civil-Military’s Centre’s annual feature - the Civil-Military Interaction Workshop (CMIW).  This week-long residential workshop brings together civilians, military and police focussed on developing effective partnerships and capabilities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to conflicts and disasters overseas.

The theme for this year’s workshop (March 19-24, 2017) was Delivering ‘Joined-up’ Government: Achieving the Integrated Approach to Offshore Crisis Management. With participants from Indonesia, Singapore, Japan, USA, UK and Australia, the workshop created opportunities to share our knowledge and experience of different national approaches to civilian-military-police interactions. It also allowed us to challenge deeply held beliefs, debunk myths and misconceptions about our respective organisational missions, mandates and ways of operating.

As we navigated through mind boggling acronyms and definitions of key terminology, one thing became abundantly clear – we are working in the same space but we use a different language.

Understanding the language used by other actors in the humanitarian space is vital if we are to build effective responses. For instance, so much of our informal discussions were spent explaining what we, as civil society organisations (CSOs), mean by the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence and why these form the core of how we work and hold us accountable. Similarly, military and police actors and CSOs have very different understandings of what “winning hearts and minds” means.

Undoubtedly, there are mutual benefits to be gained from cooperating during humanitarian crises. In fact, interactions between civilians, military and police in conflict and disaster zones is not something new and increasingly this is becoming more common. What seems new is the growing perception, among both some military and CSOs, that military and police should be viewed as humanitarian actors in “some situations.” The blurring of the lines between humanitarians and other actors poses challenges for the fundamental principles underpinning humanitarian work ensuring protection of those we are meant to assist. It also needs to be unpacked in the context of an ever-complicated relationship between humanitarianism and politics.[1] In this regard the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s work on ‘humanitarian diplomacy’ is worth exploring.[2] The important point is that without CSOs being in the room we would not be having these conversations.

The contributions offered by the humanitarian sector throughout the workshop provided valuable perspectives for government, military and police to consider. As the conversations evolved there was a greater understanding of accountability mechanisms, how humanitarian principles guide our ways of working, and recognition that our access to communities and the security of our staff depend on acting in accordance with these principles.

From a humanitarian perspective, it is important for government, military and police to understand the principles within which we operate, so that any refusal of military security or assistance to deliver aid is not misinterpreted as ‘snobbery’, but rather understood as being driven by the need to maintain impartiality, neutrality and independence. These discussions also enabled understanding that decisions on appropriate military assistance in any given response effort will be very context (and sometimes organisation) specific, while acknowledging the frustration that this can present for military actors. In addition, the variety of humanitarian representatives enabled appreciation for the complexity of the humanitarian sector, and the reality that organisations are very different, with different mandates, and sometimes different applications of humanitarian principles depending on the context.

The importance of not overly homogenising the humanitarian sector was in fact one of the week’s key learnings. The sector is a complex mix of aid, development and humanitarian organisations whose mandate, missions and cultural outlook can have a polarising effect on the way in which they respond during a humanitarian crisis. This in turn has significant repercussions for the way in which these organisations engage with the issue of civilian military police interactions.  In many ways, it is this respect for organisational diversity and complexity, rather than achieving any kind of ‘definitive’ understanding, that was the key takeaway across the week.  These conversations will become more and more important as many CSOs seem to be moving from a “palliative to a transformative agenda. It is shifting from simply seeking to relieve suffering to addressing the root causes of suffering. One aspect of this shift is the growing overlap between the delivery of humanitarian assistance and human rights advocacy,” (Morton and Hagan 2009: 5-6).[3]

CSOs’ participation in such workshops adds value to the discussions but also affords us learning and networking opportunities to inform our work. Being present helps us build relationships across the sector; explore the ‘pointy’ end of our possible collaboration (particularly in conflict settings); share and demonstrate our expertise that comes from our close links with affected communities; and provide specialists skills such as embedding a gendered approach in humanitarian assistance responses. At the same time, we gain insights into systems and structures that govern the actions of other civilian, military and police actors and the challenges in cross government coordination.

As CSO delegates who attended the week-long residential workshop, we recognise that our organisations are often stretched thin, meaning that finding the time for this type of capacity development can be difficult. This accepted, the contributions made and insights gained by both sides into the respective intentions, motivations and operational behaviours of civilian, military and police actors certainly justifies the investment.

Anu Mundkur, ACFID

Anna Foster, Australian Red Cross

David Simpson, RedR

Rachel Routley, CARE Australia

Stacey Sawchuk, ActionAid Australia


  • Anu Mundkur
    Anu Mundkur

    Dr Anu Mundkur is ACFID’s secondee to the Australian Civil-Military Centre.  Anu has worked for over 15 years in the field of gender development. She is also an active applied policy researcher whose areas of expertise include women peace and security; women's representation, participation and leadership in politics. Her most recent co-authored publications are: War-fighting and left-wing feminist agendas’: gender and change in the Australian Defence Force and A “Fair Go” in the Lucky Country? Gender Equality and The Australian Case.

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