Refugees and displaced persons increasingly find themselves caught up in or near armed conflict.
Furthermore, the States and non-State groups fighting today’s wars increasingly disregard the basic principles of international humanitarian law, placing millions of civilians in harm’s way – sometimes deliberately, as a tactic of war. Contemporary armed conflicts frequently destroy or weaken State authority, leading to failing infrastructure and public services, chronic hardship and poverty, rising levels of crime and the absence of the rule of law. Today’s conflicts are largely non-international, involving multiple non-State groups, with varying degrees of ability and willingness to control territory, respect IHL or protect civilians.
To operate more effectively in this environment, we at UNHCR need to enhance our knowledge and use of IHL and develop our skills in such areas as humanitarian negotiations and protection/conflict analyses. We must also be able to organize or take part in humanitarian evacuations, maintain the civilian and humanitarian character of sites hosting displaced populations and operate in so-called “safe zones”.
We have to understand the weapon bearers involved in armed conflict – their interests, their motivations, how they operate, how they can help or hinder humanitarian action – and we need to engage with them in a principled yet pragmatic manner. We also need to understand our role in UN prevention activities and how we can work with other UN agencies to protect civilians.
This toolkit addresses those questions, and will enhance UNHCR’s protection work in armed conflict. It is intended to support staff on the front line and at Headquarters and offers simple and practical guidance on protection during armed conflict.