On November 26, CIVIC brought together experts from the field and from the wider humanitarian sector to discuss recommendations and main takeaways from our latest report, “Fighting for Our Lives: COVID-19 and the Protection of Civilians in Conflict-Affected States”.

Emily Knowles, author of the report, was joined by Mujidang Sitdang (CIVIC’s Nigeria Program), Joseph Stefanelli (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan), and Eileen Morrow (International Council of Voluntary Agencies) to share how COVID-19 impacted conflict dynamics, the safety of civilians living in conflict-affected areas, and existing protection activities. They also shared lessons learned two years into the pandemic and good practices to mitigate civilian harm that not only can be applied in environments experiencing the double threat of a pandemic and conflict, but also in other fragile contexts.

Emily Knowles presented the key findings of the report, including how there was no universal experience for civilians across fragile and conflict-affected states during the COVID-19 pandemic. She highlighted how the pandemic did create opportunities for greater civilian harm in some contexts and exacerbated existing violence against civilians in others, as protection activities and programs were either disrupted or suspended. In turn, locally-led solutions and community-based protection proved to be an essential lifeline, as other protection activities were adapted, scaled back, or put on hold.

She concluded by recommending that:

  • Security forces ensure security providers understand their obligations to protect civilians, receive training, and maintain strong relationships with local communities, creating a culture of protection and holding perpetrators of civilian harm to account;
  • Civil society and donors develop local resilience and protection capacity to build preparedness for the next health crisis, start a conversation about changes in programming early on in a crisis, and build potential adaptations to deal with “worst-case scenarios” for conflict, healthcare, and natural disasters into planning so that projects can pivot easily to respond to local needs; and
  • International assistance missions nominate a core staff of civil-military and protection advisors to be maintained in-country during an emergency, build more room into mission mandates to adapt and react to significant changes in the situation on the ground, and invest more in community-based protection projects.

Many thanks to our inspiring panelists and to our excellent moderator Anne de Riedmatten, Head of the Humanitarian Affairs Section at the Permanent Mission of Switzerland in Geneva!