Responsibility to protect and the Protection of civilians Policy Guide

Enhancing Protection Capacity

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The Responsibility to Protect and the Protection of Civilians Policy Guide is a resource for policy makers and practitioners. Our guide contributes to your efforts to protect civilians from conflict-related harm and mass atrocity crimes.

Our guide explains and compares the twin principles of R2P and PoC in their normative, institutional and operational dimensions. We focus on the principle’s different actors and methods and set out the situations where the two principles come together for specific actors and organisations.

Our guide aims to

  • Inform relevant protection actors about the normative, institutional and operational scope of R2P and PoC;
  • Explain the relationship between R2P and PoC, including their points of intersection and divergence (with a specific focus on the needs of policymakers and practitioners); and
  • Provide practical guidance on when, how and by whom R2P and PoC might be applied

We fully acknowledge the controversies, diversities of position and ongoing dynamics of these evolving concepts.

About the policy guide

The tragedies in Rwanda in 1994 and Srebrenica in 1995, and the ineffective international responses to halting them, resulted in two major new international initiatives aimed at improving the protection of civilian populations caught in the crossfire – or the crosshairs – of combatants: the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (POC).

Yet the relationship between these two protection regimes has been seen by many as confusing, and there are complexities and sensitivities involved in understanding in principle, and working out in practice, their related but distinct functions. While conflation of the two concepts is unquestionably mistaken, many of the simplistic distinctions drawn between the two are equally misleading.

This Guide challenges many of the widely held assumptions about their relationship – such as the strict limitation of POC to situations of ‘armed conflict’ as defined by international law – and emphasizes differences within each category – such as between the ‘Narrow POC’ which refers to the legally binding protection instruments of International Humanitarian Law, and the ‘Broad POC’ which guides the policies and practices of actors and institutions that take POC as an action to be performed or an objective to secure.  

The arrival of this Policy Guide could not be timelier, with the international community still struggling with the lessons learned from the intervention in Libya, and at the same time confronting the even more challenging situation of civilian protection in Syria.

Authors, Acknowledgements and Background Research

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