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Modern conflict has become increasingly complex, with multiple armed actors engaged in protracted settings, and is often fought in populated areas with explosive weapons that have wide-area effects. More and more frequently, civilians are suffering the heaviest toll. The figures are staggering. There are approximately 350 million children – one for every six children on the planet – living in areas affected by conflict. Not only does this have immediate implications for children and their families, the consequences are far reaching – with crises also having a knock-on effect of displacement and instability elsewhere.
In the face of these increasing challenges, Save the Children has partnered with RUSI to address the issues around protecting civilians in conflict. A private roundtable discussion with experts was hosted in September 2017 to analyse the current landscape of civilian protection in modern armed conflict, and to discuss the role that the UK government could play in addressing them.
The two sessions were chaired by Ewan Lawson, Senior Research Fellow at RUSI, and James Denselow, head of conflict and humanitarian policy and advocacy at Save the Children. In addition to participants from RUSI and Save the Children, the discussion included contributions from representatives across the UK government, academia, think tanks and civil society groups. This report reviews the current debate on civilian protection and summarises the major talking points from the workshop.
The report provides an overview of the challenges in protecting civilian populations in conflict settings, including the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas as a key challenge in contemporary conflicts. It takes account of the UK’s current approach to civilian protection in conflict and, based on the workshop discussions, sets out the following opportunities and recommendations that the UK government should adopt to reduce civilian harm in today’s conflicts:
• Acknowledge that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA) tends to cause severe harm to civilians; avoid their use; take measures to reduce their impact on civilians and civilian infrastructure; and encourage other parties to do the same.
• Publish an updated cross-government protection of civilians strategy that recognises the challenges related to EWIPA and outlines measures to address them.
• Prioritise humanitarian considerations in targeting assessment algorithms and procedures to ensure attacks uphold the principle of proportionality when engaging military targets in populated areas
• Implement the recommendations from the Report of the Iraq Inquiry (the Chilcot Report), including developing and implementing a cross-government framework to track civilian harm in conflict. This should contain standards and a methodology for recording civilian casualties, and should ensure that lessons learned are recorded and inform future policy and practice.
• Recognise the value of information collected by civil society casualty-recording organisations, set consistent parameters for assessing the credibility of data and investigate frameworks for future collaboration.
• Increase training of UK armed forces on civilian protection in relation to the use of EWIPA, including through the incorporation of urban warfare and civilian protection scenarios in military exercises and war gaming.
• Consistently support robust accountability mechanisms for alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law, including grave violations against children, as part of efforts to deter future violations.
• Urge allies to improve engagement and dialogue with humanitarian organisations on issues relating to civilian protection.
• Continue to urge all parties to conflict to adhere to IHL and International Human Rights Law, including respect for the humanitarian principles of neutrality and unhindered access to humanitarian aid.
• Prioritise civilian protection in bilateral and multilateral engagements and promote its strategic benefits with other states through diplomatic and military channels.
• Share effective policies on civilian protection and their strategic benefits, including policies related to the use of EWIPA, with other relevant actors, pursuing longer-term programmes rather than short-term engagements that have limited effectiveness.
• Acknowledge the impact of EWIPA on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), especially those related to children and civilian protection, specifically: SDG two on ending hunger; SDG three concerned with health; SDG four on safe education; SDG five on women’s empowerment; SDG six on water and sanitation; SDG eight on employment; SDG ten on inequality within and between countries; SDG eleven on safer cities; and SDG sixteen on the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies.
• Increase engagement with and support for UN mechanisms, including the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Human Rights Up Front initiative to drive global change on civilian protection.
• Increase bilateral training with allied armed forces on civilian protection in relation to the use of EWIPA, including through incorporating urban warfare and civilian protection scenarios in military exercises and war gaming. Encourage parties to avoid using EWIPA and to take measures to reduce their impact on civilians and civilian infrastructure.
BANNER IMAGE: Children at the Hassan Sham internally displaced persons camp, home to civilians who feld during the occupation of Mosul by ISIS and battle for the city's liberation. Courtesy of Wikimedia