Protection of civilians in armed conflict: bridging the gap between law and reality

Briefing papers
October 2015
Eva Svoboda and Emanuela-Chiara Gillard

Numerous laws – particularly International Humanitarian Law (IHL) – exist to protect civilians in conflicts by putting obligations on all parties to a conflict. At the same time, many NGOs have sought to mainstream protection in their programming. But conflicts continue to see systematic violations of IHL, causing untold suffering on the civilian population.

This policy brief examines the gap between laws and reality and offers suggestions on how to bridge the divide. These include:

  • Setting up an information gathering mechanism, like that on violations against children in armed conflicts, for other violations of IHL;
  • Establishing a dedicated focal point on IHL in the UN, such as a Special Representative;
  • Significantly strengthening the ‘Protection Standby Capacity’ – a roster of protection experts ready to be deployed to critical emergencies;
  • Systematically incorporating IHL into military manuals and operational orders and directives.

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