Our mission is to work with armed actors and civilians in conflict to develop and implement solutions to prevent, mitigate, and respond to civilian harm.
We believe that
- Parties to an armed conflict have a responsibility and interest to prevent and address civilian harm.
- Engaging directly with armed actors and offering them practical ways to better protect civilians will ultimately change their mindset on the importance and feasibility of protecting civilians.
- Civilians are not merely victims of armed conflict but rather active participants in its mitigation and resolution.
- Identifying, engaging, and supporting vulnerable and marginalized populations is central to our work.
- Working collaboratively with affected communities, governments, multilateral institutions, and fellow civil society organizations is the most effective way to protect civilians.
- Innovation is essential to protecting civilians from conflict.
International humanitarian law (IHL) imposes a number of legal obligations on parties to a conflict that are intended to minimize human suffering during the conduct of hostilities. Yet civilians still suffer. CIVIC encourages parties involved in conflict to adopt tools, policies, and practices that help them implement their legal obligations and to go above and beyond what is legally required by IHL, thus raising the level of protection afforded to civilians before, during, and after conflict. Where prevention fails, harm must be appropriately addressed through the making of amends or provision of post-harm assistance.
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.