9:00 am EST - 2:00 pm EST

Past Event

Exploring Civilian Protection: The Role of the International Community

Thursday, January 13, 2011

9:00 am - 2:00 pm EST

The Brookings Institution
Stein Room

1775 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC

This seminar was the third in a series of three on the protection of civilians. The first seminar was held on September 14 and the second seminar
was held on October 28, 2010.  

This seminar on the protection of civilians focused on the role of the international community in the protection of civilians. Elizabeth Ferris of the Brookings Institution and Lawrence Woocher of the United States Institute of Peace introduced the session, noting that humanitarian organizations are now incorporating protection into every aspect of their work. Jean-Marie Guehenno of the Brookings Institution, Edward Luck of the International Peace Institute, and Jenny McAvoy of the United Nations opened the program by addressing how the United Nations protects communities at risk. Following their presentations, Allan Jury of the World Food Programme and T. Kumar of Amnesty International examined how humanitarian and human rights organizations can best protect at risk populations. The program also included a live video feed with ICRC Colombia’s Guilhem Ravier and presentations over lunch by COL Dwight Raymond, LTC Gary Johnson, and CAPT Lawrence Vasquez on the role of the military in preventing atrocities and protecting civilians.

Over 40 participants from the United Nations, international humanitarian and development organizations, non-governmental humanitarian and human rights organizations, various agencies of the US government and the US military, academic institutions and the diplomatic community came together under the Chatham House rule to discuss the role of the international community in the protection of civilians. This report provides a summary of these discussions and complements the reports of the first two seminars which were organized jointly by Brookings and the United States Institute of Peace.

The context of international action to protect civilians

Many different kinds of international actors seek to protect civilians during conflict. Even those without explicit protection mandates can affect the safety of civilians. This seminar focused on the multiple roles of the United Nations (e.g., political actor, deployer of peacekeeping operations, humanitarian responder), the role of international humanitarian and human rights NGOs, and the role of national military forces.

While the responsibility for protecting civilians lies with national authorities, sometimes governments themselves are perpetrators of abuses or are supporting groups that are conducting atrocities. In other situations of conflict, governments simply do not have the capacity to protect civilians.  Furthermore, in many of today’s conflicts, the targeting of civilians has become a political instrument of war.  Militias and gangs rather than organized insurgent groups are often now the principal non-state actors engaged in armed conflict. All of these factors raise difficult questions for UN and other international actors: To what extent are their actions constrained by the need to work closely with national governments? What are the effects on popular perceptions of the United Nations when a UN peacekeeping mission is seen as propping up an authoritarian government? To what extent can and should humanitarian actors negotiate with all parties to a conflict — including non-state actors —to secure humanitarian access to communities in need?