In countries affected by war, the global COVID-19 pandemic created a context of uncertainty and instability, and in some instances led to additional threats to civilian populations already exposed to violence. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen an increase in the use of private security contractors in a variety of contexts to enforce pandemic-era restrictions. Against this backdrop, increased attention to the protection of civilians is essential, including through the promotion of strengthened approaches to civilian harm mitigation, especially at the local level – empowering local communities and civil society to engage with armed actors and become agents of their own protection.

Last month, CIVIC’s Europe Director, Beatrice Godefroy, joined a panel of experts from academia, civil society, and the private security industry at the Fundamental Rights Forum 2021 to examine the roles and broad international humanitarian and human rights law impacts of the use of private security providers in complex and conflict-affected environments during the COVID-19 outbreak. Together, the panelists highlighted concrete ways to ensure human rights compliance by private security providers in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Beatrice’s remarks looked specifically at the impact of the pandemic on conflict-affected populations and introduced good practices from CIVIC’s upcoming report on the impact of COVID-19 on the protection of civilians in conflict-affected states, mainly focusing on adaptive programming in civil-military engagement. Most of the good practices are also relevant to private contractors present in these environments, such as remote monitoring through local-based monitoring networks; establishing safe channels for militaries and civilians to discuss protection concerns and identify solutions; and using radio broadcast to enhance protection of communities.

Other speakers included Daria Davitti, Associate Professor at Lund University; Dr Sorcha MacLeod, Marie Curie Fellow and Associate Professor at University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Law, Centre for Private Governance; and Gabrielle Priklopilova, Senior Project Officer at the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (DCAF).