The unmet need for direct physical protection of civilians against imminent violence has never been greater than it is today. Civilians suffer a wide variety of abuses and human rights violations, including killings, torture, sexual abuse, and forced displacement.
The peace operations of the United Nations have assisted states recovering from war in protecting civilians. However, there are many situations of war and violent conflict where UN peace operations cannot be deployed and where government actors are not able or willing to provide protection to (all) civilians. Over the past decade, the international community has begun to recognize that civil society organizations can play a long-standing and often critical role in seeking to address large unmet protection needs. A small number of these organizations focus specifically on providing direct physical protection to civilians and on reducing violence, by applying the approach of Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP).
When is UCP applied?
During early stages of conflicts, Unarmed Civilian Protectors (UCPs) can be deployed to prevent or reduce violence; at later stages, they can intervene to sustain peace agreements. UCPs may operate alongside, and collaborate with international and regional peace structures and operations also deployed on the ground. Though very often mandates overlap, the particular guiding principles and methods of UCP differentiate unarmed practitioners from other actors.
In places where regional and/or international structures are in place, UCPs may play a complementary role. For example, in strengthening community-based protection capacities and in accompanying or supporting mediation processes (through on-going engagement with conflict parties at the local level). Similarly, UCPs may play an important role in identifying and addressing protection needs of specifically targeted groups, such as human rights defenders.
UCPs may also work in environments where regional or international organizations are not present. Since unarmed protection is always provided upon request from local actors and does not require multilateral authorization, the intervention of UCP organizations into conflict and post-conflict environments can be easier and earlier than the entry of more formal regional and international actors.