CIVIC envisions a world in which no civilian is harmed in conflict. We support communities affected by conflict in their quest for protection and strengthen the resolve and capacity of armed actors and relevant institutions to prevent and respond to civilian harm.
We believe that
- Civilians are not “collateral damage” and civilian harm is not an unavoidable consequence of conflict — civilian harm can and must be prevented.
Civilians are not merely victims of conflict but have agency and influence in ensuring that their protection needs are met.
- Civilians experience conflict differently based on several aspects of their identities, including gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion, ethnicity, and language and therefore have different protection needs.
- Armed actors are responsible and must be held accountable for preventing and addressing civilian harm.
- Direct engagement with armed actors and civilians is necessary to significantly reduce harm and improve protection outcomes for conflict-affected communities.
- Working collaboratively with a wide range of partners and in coalitions is critical to accelerating global action on the protection of civilians and reducing public tolerance for civilian harm.
Current trends in warfare point to an even more perilous future for civilians. Major powers are preparing for peer-to-peer conflict with a focus on speed and lethality, despite the risk of widespread harm to civilians. Hybrid warfare – a mix of conventional and unconventional tactics – blurs the line between war and peace and tears at the fabric of societies. At the same time, urban combat operations cause a staggering number of civilian casualties, especially when explosive weapons are used in populated areas.
We are confronting a grave reality, and yet CIVIC has demonstrated time and time again: there is nothing inevitable about civilian casualties in war.
Civilian harm can be prevented, minimized, and remedied. In Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Ukraine, and Yemen, we have made a positive difference in the lives of civilians. Improvised explosive devices have been removed from roads. Artillery has been relocated away from civilian homes. Militaries have provided civilians with secure escorts and patrols to protect them from armed opposition group attacks during farming and firewood collection. Governments have adopted policies strengthening civilian protection in military operations; developed specialized military cells that track and respond to civilian harm; and instituted military training programs on avoiding, minimizing, and responding to civilian harm. The United Nations has provided its peacekeeping missions with clearer guidance and better tools to protect civilians.
These examples prove that direct engagement with civilians, armed actors, and policymakers can yield life-saving results for civilians caught in conflict.
A key part of the development of our tailored policy recommendations is to first understand what civilians experience. In the countries we operate in, CIVIC conducts in-depth research, speaking with victims and survivors to understand how they were harmed, their vulnerabilities, what they think about armed actors, and what they expect in terms of recognition and assistance. We also engage with militaries to understand what protection guidance and practice currently exists. This research allows us to develop pragmatic recommendations that can be implemented to reduce further harm to civilians and to properly respond when harm does occur.
After we formulate our recommendations, we advocate pragmatic solutions. While we usually target our advocacy to the party responsible for the harm, we develop a detailed advocacy plan for every situation, reaching out to all parties who might positively influence the outcome we seek. This might include facilitating civilian-military dialogues, roundtable discussions with military officers, and training soldiers on key protection techniques geared for their specific context. We also work with media from local newspapers to international broadcasters to highlight the plight of civilians in a conflict, creating a public demand for civilian protection and harm mitigation. Ultimately, we seek to increase a civilian community’s understanding of its rights and the responsibilities of armed actors, while also developing policies and practical skills for armed actors to better protect civilians.
One of CIVIC’s core values is a belief in the inherent dignity of civilians. One way we support that is by helping civilians find ways to tell their own stories both to the world and to militaries and armed groups affecting them. That’s why we strongly support local community engagement between civilians and armed groups. For example, in Nigeria, CIVIC is working with civil society groups to improve community self-protection measures and hosting local workshops where civilians and military forces come together to exchange views on the unique challenges each side faces. In Afghanistan, CIVIC has supported the creation of Civilian Protection Shuras (community leaders) in two conflict-affected provinces: Kandahar in southern Afghanistan and Baghlan in the northeast. We are conducting workshops with these gender-inclusive shuras to empower them to engage with both Afghan and armed groups on civilian protection and to convince the warring parties to move the fight away from populated areas. We are also working with Afghan NGOs to create Civilian Protection Working Groups (CPWGs) in Kabul, Baghlan, and Kandahar to bolster their capacity to effectively advocate civilian protection to the Afghan government.