Protecting civilians? The interaction between international military and humanitarian actors

Research reports and studies
August 2012
Victoria Metcalfe

Protection of civilians has long been an objective of humanitarian action, but in recent years it has become increasingly a shared objective between the international humanitarian community and international military and peacekeeping actors.

While many on either side recognise that complementary protection strategies are necessary, interaction at strategic and operational levels has faced numerous challenges. The humanitarian community has struggled to reach a consensus on civil–military coordination. For their part, international military or peacekeeping forces have at times been dismissive of the contribution that humanitarian actors can make to the safety and security of civilians.

Notwithstanding these challenges, there are positive experiences of interaction on protection, even in some of the most complex conflict environments. These interactions have generally taken place in the absence of global humanitarian policy and guidance on this issue, and have developed organically in response to the situation at hand.

These experiences illustrate the importance of complementary approaches to securing better protection of civilians, and offer important lessons regarding the appropriate parameters of interaction between international military and peacekeeping actors and the humanitarian community.

This HPG Working Paper explores the rationale for interaction between humanitarian organisations and international military and peacekeeping forces on the protection of civilians. It considers the risks and challenges of interaction with such forces, and highlights practical experience from the field.