Realising protection: The uncertain benefits of civilian, refugee and IDP status

Research reports and studies
August 2009
Edited by Sarah Collinson, James Darcy, Nicholas Waddell and Anna Schmidt

Protecting civilians from the worst effects of violent conflict, human rights abuses and persecution lies at the heart of the humanitarian agenda. Central to this is the attempt to secure respect for the protected status conferred on civilians and displaced people by international law and custom.

This report considers the meaning and implications of three categories of protected status for non-combatants – ‘civilian’, ‘refugee’ and ‘internally displaced’ – and the changing forms of protection associated with them, in theory and in practice.

International humanitarian, human rights and refugee law provide a strong normative protection framework, but in practice, policy and agenda-setting is made against a backdrop of shifting political priorities and engagement by governments and regional and international actors. In the final analysis, it is the observance or otherwise of basic protection rules and norms by national and international duty-bearers that has the greatest impact on people’s safety, security and wellbeing.

This report is principally concerned with highlighting the importance of the application and observance of established protection norms by belligerents, governments and international actors – a crucial part of the broader protection picture which calls for far closer scrutiny within civilian security and protection agendas, including debates surrounding RtoP. How in practice is the civilian–combatant distinction being observed? How are military planners interpreting the requirement to exercise ‘due precaution’ and ‘proportionality’ in the use of force? How are would-be refugees helped or hindered in their efforts to find sanctuary in other countries, and how are they protected? What is meaningful about the IDP label in protection terms for people who have fled or been forced to move within their own countries? What are the implications of restrictive application of refugee protection for civilian protection more broadly?

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