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Geneva Peace Week: a behind-the-scenes look at high-pressure negotiations


“When lives are at stake: Exploring high-pressure negotiations through storytelling” took place at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) on 5 November from 13:30-15:00.

At the Geneva Peace Week 2019, Fight for Humanity in partnership with the Centre of Competence on Humanitarian Negotiation (CCHN), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) organized a joint event on field negotiations under pressure. The event aimed to demonstrate how frontline negotiations and humanitarian and human rights issues more broadly are intertwined with building peace through dialogue, advocacy and public communication.

Voices from the Field


During the first part of the event, the speakers shared personal stories about how they had dealt with high-pressure negotiations in different countries affected by armed violence.

Mehmet Balci, Fight for Humanity’s Co-Director shared his experience back in 2015 when he was able to access to North East Syria to negotiate the demobilization of child soldiers. “Negotiating the access to a territory can be even more complicated than negotiating the release of children from an armed actor!”

He also explained how stress about security can affect the humanitarian work and the negotiations itself. "You can mitigate the risks and prepare security plans when on the frontline, but you also have to rely on your instinct" he added.


ICRC Senior Crisis Manager, Pascal Hundt told a story about a highly sensitive negotiation for the evacuation of foreign workers who suddenly found themselves on the “wrong” side of the frontline.


“You have to be ready from the beginning for a long negotiation,” Hundt said. “Mentally, you prepare yourself and your team. Get ready to be confronted with extremely difficult choices and ethical dilemmas, and to know your interlocuters and stakeholders, as well as their interests.”


The second speaker, Julie Dunphy, UNHCR Senior Policy & Liaison Officer (Field Security Service) recounted a negotiation with military commanders surrounding a return operation.

Nicolas Eva Fell, ICRC Audiovisual Producer asked the audience to take actions to negotiate in the field using the ICRC interactive storytelling project.

We negotiate


In the last part of the event, the audience was asked to take action itself in the course of an interactive presentation about “How well could you negotiate on the frontline?”, a project created by the ICRC. The storyline is inspired by the CCHN Field Manual on Frontline Humanitarian Negotiation.


“This interactive storytelling project that we created together was a great way of talking about the work of frontline negotiators,” said Nicola Eva Fell, ICRC Video Producer. “This work has all the elements of strong storytelling: the stakes are high, it’s dangerous and secretive, and it really matters if it works.”


"I don't see myself as a negotiator, but more as someone who conducts advocacy. I raise awareness, to make armed and political actors understand the long-term impact of their behaviors." added Mehmet Balci at the end of the event.