Civilians under the protection of the United Nations in Juba, South Sudan. May 6, 2014 (Isaac Billy/United Nations Photo)

One does not have to venture far into news headlines to find examples of large-scale violence against unarmed civilians, especially in conflict zones. To address this, policymakers at the United Nations, including Secretary-General António Guterres himself (among others) are shifting from a strategy of “conflict prevention” to “prevention and sustaining peace” (see the April 2016 Security Council and General Assembly resolutions and the secretary-general’s report). In this, we see ample opportunity for the UN to innovate to keep civilians safe.

A Global Observatory article from 2015 outlined the evidence-based concept of Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP), and since then, a number of UN reports, reviews, and resolutions has strengthened the case for its use. As was noted in the article, UCP is not without challenges. But current efforts to protect civilians by governments and civil society—armed and unarmed—are failing to keep pace. On each and every day last year, 8,000 people were forced to flee their countries; unchecked climate disruption is poised to escalate violent conflicts and is exacerbating threats to human security. These demands, coupled with the momentum behind sustaining peace, create the nexus to consider new ways to protect civilians in sustainable ways.

The High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) recommended in its 2015 report that unarmed strategies must be at the forefront of UN efforts to protect civilians. A synthesis report by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs of HIPPO, plus the other two major global reviews of 2015—on the UN’s peacebuilding architecture and Security Council Resolution 1325 (on women, peace, and security)—found that “all three reports offer a critique of the current privileging of huge, military-heavy peace operations” and that “privileging of militarised solutions by UN peacekeeping operations to violent conflict is counter-productive.” The report additionally noted that “militarised solutions, and the resulting militarisation of society, are detrimental to women’s security.” Read more