Unarmed civilian protection (UCP) is one of the most effective responses there is to one of the greatest, consistent challenges of our time: The killing of civilians in warfare. As opposed to other approaches to reconciliation and peaceful resolution to conflict which indirectly target violence, UCP is directly aimed at stopping violence. Simply through being present, and through using their presence strategically, international civilians deter violence, protect local civilians and support the efforts of the locals to protect themselves and plan for a peaceful future.
The most utilized element of UCP is accompaniment. Results from accompaniment and other UCP methods include significant drops in gender based violence, locally facilitated peace agreements or ceasefires, reduced levels of violence in camps for internally displaced people, reduced levels of humiliation of civilians at military check-points, an increase in children’s access to education, an increase in access to health care, accurate and timely information delivered to key humanitarian actors, and multinational companies pulling out of investments that cause breaches of human rights law.
The main actors in the accompaniment and UCP field of work utilize a variety of means to protect civilians. The means include protective presence, monitoring and documenting, internationalizing local abuse, building relationships with all stakeholders, building and supporting local civic capacities, and facilitating dialogue. Accompaniers and protection officers create spaces where local actors themselves can find the best approaches to peace.
UCP is especially relevant for the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. If the excruciating needs in conflict-affected areas are to be met, it is time to spend more energy on the women who suffer from violence in conflict contexts. This means that governments need to involve themselves heavily in stimulating, protecting and providing space for civil society. UCP is an effective and efficient approach to achieving this. By its very nature, UCP involves women and supports them in their peace endeavors. UCP addresses all four pillars of the WPS agenda: Prevention, protection, participation, and peacebuilding and recovery. UN Women’s 2015 Global Study specifically mentions UCP as a useful approach to achieving the goals of the WPS agenda.
The need for protecting civilians and for fostering locally owned peace initiatives has not been greater since World War II. Civilians flee in ever greater numbers from conflict areas because they are not safe where they are. Humanitarian organizations should spend more energy on what causes the need for humanitarian aid, and involve themselves in nonviolent methods of increasing the security of civilians. They should do this because they can, and because they have the moral authority to do so as humanitarian actors.
Recommendations to humanitarian organizations in general and Norwegian church-based organizations in particular:
- Increase the utilization of the methods available to protect civilians from violence in current project contexts.
- Consider setting up a new unit or organization with a specialized mandate for accompaniment and unarmed civilian protection.
- Start a dialogue with your government on funding of these activities.
Recommendations to governments in general and the Norwegian government in particular:
- Start budgeting specifically for civil society actors’ accompaniment and unarmed civilian protection.
- Systematize the documentation and strengthen the sharing of best practices of such protection among the actors that have received and currently receive funding.
- Support processes in the UN system that paves the way for increased global investment in accompaniment and unarmed civilian protection.
Read the full report here.