11. Interacting with Armed Actors

Note: Some humanitarian organizations refer to “civil-military relations.” However, CARE uses “interacting with armed actors,” as CARE commonly engages with a range of actors, including non-state armed groups, peacekeeping troops, police, and security contractors, in addition to militaries.

As an operational development and humanitarian confederation, CARE and its partners may need to interact with armed actors for a variety of reasons, such as to negotiate and maintain access to people in need of assistance; share or gather information to keep themselves or others safe; or to advocate for compliance with international law.

These interactions might take place in various settings, including during complex emergencies, conflicts, peacetime, and responses to natural hazards. While these interactions may be necessary (and could even be beneficial), CARE and partner staff must remember that our objectives differ from those of armed actors. Consequently, all interactions with armed actors carry inherent risks. These include risks to the safety and security of CARE and/or partner staff or program participants, as well as to CARE’s reputation and how CARE and partners are perceived in particular contexts and around the world. These risks, and CARE’s decision of whether or how to interact with particular armed actors, will vary depending on circumstances and context, and may change over time.

CARE’s “Policy on Interacting with Armed Actors” was approved by the National Directors Council in June 2022. The policy specifically allows CARE to interact, or choose not to interact, with armed actors subject to specific guidance.

CARE’s policy applies across the humanitarian–development spectrum, in peacetime as well as during conflict. This is because the line between humanitarian and development settings has become increasingly blurred as conflicts and other crises arise quickly or linger for multiple years, and as the “nexus” approach gains more traction. At the same time, new technologies and ways of spreading information (or misinformation) have made stakeholder perception an increasingly important element to humanitarian and development operations. Given the rapidity with which a development context can transition to a humanitarian context (or vice versa), the ways in which armed actors may attempt to use aid for political purposes even in peacetime, and the role of perception in obtaining and maintaining access, as well as program participants’ and staff’s safety and security, the most prudent approach is to apply the humanitarian principles to all interactions with armed actors, to avoid making missteps that could compromise CARE’s or its partners’ ability to assist people around the world.

More fundamentally, CARE’s impartiality, independence, and neutrality are core values across all operating contexts, not just in humanitarian settings. Even in environments without active conflict, armed groups are inherently political actors, whether or not their social role at any particular time is politicized. While certain forms of interaction may be considerably less problematic in “development” settings, this guidance remains a framework for evaluating the tradeoffs and implications associated with such interactions.

CARE’s policy applies to interactions with all types of armed actors—whether they are state or non-state, military, police, or private security contractors—rather than having separate policies for different armed groups. This ensures clarity and maximum flexibility for CARE implementing units to make the best decisions they can, based on the unique contexts in which they operate. Furthermore, this recognizes that while armed actors may vary tremendously, the factors for determining whether or how to interact with them and the general guidelines for doing so remain the same. Context, the actor’s respect for civilians and safety, anticipated risks or benefits—these and other factors will always apply, regardless of how the actor is categorized.


West Africa Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak

2015 Nepal Earthquake