Civilian Protection

Civilians in conflict areas often receive scant protection and support. Despite increasing international attention paid to this issue, conflict continues to generate extreme civilian suffering including killings, rape, displacement and forced armed service. Civilians suffer human rights abuses at the hands of different armed actors, including governments and non-state actors and often there is little coherence in international and national responses.

HD has regularly been called upon to provide advice on civilian protection issues in conflict resolution processes, for example, in Aceh, where it oversaw a ceasefire that included civilian protection aspects, and in Darfur, where it helped convene a meeting between the belligerents to agree a humanitarian ceasefire. Knowledge gained in house and from the field has been disseminated via a number of manuals, and through close engagement with targeted agencies.



In this field, the aim of  HD has been to give clarity to key issues of ambiguity around civilian identity, the main reasons that parties reject the principle of civilian protection; to equip those who encounter directly anti-civilian ideologies with better arguments to confront them, and to develop a dedicated HD programme designed to offer practical expertise on negotiating, designing and implementing civilian protection measures in peace processes.



HD has undertaken three major projects: Protection through Presence, Negotiating Civilian Protection and a Humanitarian Negotiation Manual.

Humanitarian Negotiation Manual

A first project developed by HD focused on humanitarian negotiations. HD  was the first organisation to publish a handbook on humanitarian negotiations in 2004. The manual was designed to enhance the negotiation skills and capacity of humanitarian workers and the organisations that employ them. Three parallel projects have since been undertaken by other organisations: a UN manual on humanitarian negotiation with armed groups, Max Glaser’s work on humanitarian negotiation with armed groups, and Tuft’s University’s project on humanitarian diplomacy.

Protection through presence

The second HD  project on civilian protection began in 2004 and followed work to improve awareness of the effectiveness of unarmed monitors in conflict situations. Despite promising examples of unarmed monitoring by the United Nations, other intergovernmental collaborations and NGOs, unarmed monitoring remained a severely under-utilized tool. HD ’s ‘Protection through Presence’ project aimed to increase the willingness and capacity of international organisations and governments to deploy large unarmed field missions in conflict zones to protect civilians.

Research throughout 2005 involved field visits to Darfur, Colombia and Sri Lanka, and more than 250 interviews with staff who have experience of such deployments. In 2006,HD published the findings in the form of a manual entitled Proactive Presence – Field strategies for civilian protection. The report was widely disseminated among humanitarian, human rights and governmental organisations in Geneva, the United States, Colombia, and Sri Lanka. A summary version of this manual is also available in Spanish and French and Spanish.

Throughout 2006,HD carried out briefings and workshops with the World Food Programme (WFP), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Inter-Agency International Displacement Division, the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, AusAID and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canada (DFAIT), to encourage them to implement recommendations from the manual.

Negotiating Civilian Protection

A third initiative of HD, the Negotiating Civilian Protection project, was designed to clarify key issues of ambiguity around civilian identity, the main reasons that parties reject the principle of civilian protection and seven ways civilians suffer as a consequence. It thus also aimed to equip those who encounter direct anti-civilian ideologies with better arguments to confront them. Field visits to Northern Uganda, Liberia and Israel/Palestine took place in 2006 to interview victims of violence, current and former combatants, as well as armed groups leaders on motivations behind the targeting of civilians. Internally Displaced People camps and sites of former civilian massacres were also visited.

A book, Killing civilians – methods, morality and madness in war, based on the research, was published in 2007. The book seeks to present how civilians suffer in war and why people decide that they should. Using detailed historical and contemporary examples, Killing Civilians looks at the many ways in which civilians suffer in wars and analyses the main anti-civilian ideologies. It also exposes the ambiguity of civilian identity used to justify extreme hostility, and also underlines why civilians should be protected.

A practical guide, Interpreting Violence – Anti-civilian thinking and practice and how to argue against it more effectively , drawing on the main ideas of the Killing Civilian book, was also produced in 2007. This small handbook aims to help anyone concerned with the protection of civilians to think through the anti-civilian ideologies and methods being used in a war so that they can better recognize them and negotiate against them more effectively to limit violence against civilians.

2007 onwards

Given HD ’s renewed focus on Africa and African conflicts, and coinciding with the opening of its regional office in Nairobi, the project was redeveloped in 2007 and given a regional focus. Thus ‘Promoting Civilian Protection in Conflicts: African Dialogues’ was developed and included a comprehensive mapping of Africa-based organisations engaged in protection-related activities. The project provided a platform for international and national entities to review best practice and lessons learned in the field of civilian protection. HD highlighted different aspects of protection, such as sexual violence, with regional inter-governmental actors, governments, UN agencies and civil society, in an attempt to strengthen their awareness of, and interaction on, civilian protection.

A first meeting in a series of African Dialogues took place in Nairobi in 2008 with more than 40 participants and focused on the promotion of protection through presence, sexual violence in conflicts (Democratic Republic of Congo), and protection in specific locations such as Somalia and Kenya.

A second meeting, a Roundtable on Somalia, took place in Nairobi in April 2008 to discuss practical measures to improve the protection of civilians in south central Somalia. The two-day discussions, took place between members of UN agencies, IGOs, regional and sub-regional organisations including the AU and IGAD, as well as various members of the Somali diaspora community and civil society.

HD also seconded a Humanitarian Adviser to the UN mediation team in Darfur, to specifically address humanitarian issues in the peace process.

Since then, the focus has shifted to providing opportunities for dialogue and mediation on humanitarian issues to belligerents, state and non-state actors and humanitarian agencies in Africa and Asia through HD ’s Humanitarian Mediation Programme .

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