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Protection in Armed Conflict

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Key points
  • In situations of armed conflict, States and armed groups bear primary responsibility to respect and protect civilians. This involves taking all feasible precautions to minimize the impact of hostilities on them. At the same time, humanitarian actors and UNHCR contribute to the provision of humanitarian protection to civilians through dialogue and engagement with States and armed actors, as well as through operations
  • Protection in armed conflict is firmly grounded in international humanitarian law (IHL), which sets out rules and standards for the conduct of armed conflicts. It is also entrenched in the collective security framework outlined in the UN Charter. To provide more effective protection, UNHCR and its partners must deepen their understanding of IHL and the role they can play in supporting implementation
  • Conflict and protection analysis, as well as protection monitoring, must inform our engagement in situations of armed conflict. Understanding and analysing the ways in which conflict affects the persons we serve in different ways, including depending on their sex, gender, age and other factors, are key to conduct a comprehensive protection risk analysis and deliver tailored responses
  • UNHCR works with others in situations of armed conflict. It is essential to know the protection architecture and the roles and capacities of UN missions, peacekeepers, UN civil-military coordination platforms, the ICRC, as well as affected communities and local actors, among other relevant actors
  • Humanitarian protection in armed conflict can entail important risks to forcibly displaced and stateless populations, humanitarians and other partners. Strategies, alliances, engagement and operations must be based on careful risk and benefit assessment and respect the do-no-harm principle. Strict adherence to humanitarian principles is a must

Post emergency phase

Protection in armed conflict and adherence to International Humanitarian Law (IHL) extend beyond the initial humanitarian emergency phase. Given the increasingly protracted nature of modern conflicts, it is imperative to uphold IHL principles consistently throughout the entirety of armed hostilities, from initiation to resolution, including situations of occupation.

Beyond IHL, the protection of civilians encompasses a broader spectrum, that extends beyond armed conflicts. International human rights law and other legal frameworks also play pivotal roles in protecting civilians in various situations, including times of peace.

Integral to this effort is the development of conflict-sensitive preparedness, contingency plans and protection analyses, along with meaningful engagement and partnerships with key actors. Active engagement with peace and development actors during the transition from emergency to post-emergency phases is crucial in the overarching goal of peacebuilding.

Many return movements will occur within a post-emergency phase. However, refugees and IDPs may not always return after all causes of displacement have disappeared. Thus, protection in armed conflict may still be relevant during return movements.

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