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Protection in practice: Concepts, strategies and dilemmas

Time (GMT +00) 00:00 23:59

Speakers, discussants and chairs
Dennis McNamara - OCHA
Marc Vincent - OCHA
James Darcy - ODI Humanitarian Policy Group

Giuseppe Calandruccio - OHCHR

Sara Pantuliano - Humanitarian Policy Group
Alain Aeschlimann - ICRC

Andrew Bonwick - Consultant
Norah Niland - OCHA
George Okoth-Obbo - UNHCR
Ed Schenkenberg - International Council of Voluntary Agencies
Hugo Slim - Henry Dunant Center for Humanitarian Dialogue
Mikael Lindvall - Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Sorcha O’Callaghan - Humanitarian Policy Group

1. The roundtable opened with an introduction by Dennis McNamara of OCHA who emphasised that the meeting was an opportunity to discuss the issues that practitioners grapple with on a daily basis. These include the security and protection of civilians in conflict; the role of the Peacebuilding Commission; the proper relationship between traditional protection actors and other players; how to reconcile a conceptual lack of clarity with operational realities; whether or not it is necessary to re-define protection concepts; who should have ultimate responsibly for protection matters; the security of operational staff working in these insecure environments; the proper relationship between humanitarian actors and high level UN actors such as the Security Council; and, ultimately, how all of this comes together on the ground.

Session 1: Understanding the role, scope and limitations of humanitarian protection

2. The first session was chaired by Marc Vincent of OCHA who highlighted the range of different protection actors (human rights, humanitarian, states, etc) and how differences in the way they perceive issues had implications at field level.

James Darcy, Humanitarian Policy Group

3. This was followed by a presentation by James Darcy who proposed that a clearer definition of the object of protection would benefit the current debate. Given the increasing prominence of civilian protection in political as well as in humanitarian discourse, and the debate over the implications of the new Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) doctrine, he said it is essential for humanitarians to relate their discussion of protection to this wider policy debate. Likewise, it is crucial to engage on this issue with political-military planners at policy and field levels, while maintaining the distinctiveness of humanitarian action.

4. He suggested that a focus on the issue of civilian security and its determinants would help in engaging effectively on protection at both levels. Just as importantly, it would serve to give more coherence to current humanitarian and human rights approaches to protection.

5. While the protection agenda extends beyond a concern with physical security, such an approach would assist in establishing a common core agenda based on international humanitarian law (IHL) principles. The core protection agenda in situations of armed conflict might, he said, be described in terms of defined threats of violence, coercion and denial of basic subsistence – including access to relief. An approach focused on reducing known risk factors (threats, vulnerabilities) in a given context would point to alternative policy and programme options. Understanding civilians’ own responses to violence and facilitating their avoidance of risk is one essential component of this.

More generally, he said it may be helpful to think in terms of establishing a protection regime in the context in question, while recognising the limits of third party action (military, humanitarian or other) and stressing the primary role and responsibility of the state and warring parties.

6. He concluded by stressing that there should be more humanitarian engagement with the RtoP agenda, and specifically a closer dialogue with political-military planners around civilian protection. This should include discussion around the provision of safe flight options (internal or external) and protected areas; and agreement on a core (non-exclusive) protection agenda focused on civilian security, understood in relation to defined threats of violence, coercion and denial of access to subsistence, including relief. This should be centred on the core protection principles embodied in IHL. Effective action to protect required understanding of the actual determinants of civilian (in)security in a given context, based on strong analysis and a recognition of the centrality of civilians’ own perceptions and behaviours; some commonly agreed ‘metrics’ for civilian insecurity; and acknowledgment of the inevitable limits of third-party protective interventions. Finally, there was a need to work towards establishing a protection regime in a given context, with more clearly defined roles, while stressing the primary role and responsibility of the state and warring parties.

Giuseppe Calandruccio, OHCHR

7. Giuseppe Calandruccio began by congratulating both HPG and its sponsors for their very useful study saying that the initiative adds to the growing body of good work on the subject (for instance Liam Mahony’s Poactive Presence). He said that looking at protection and its relationship to security as well as examining the different approaches to protection by different actors was a helpful starting point. After all, where protection is not understood to be about providing and ensuring security, it can become what Louise Arbour has referred to as a “bundle of false promises”. In very few situations is only one approach – be it humanitarian, human rights or political – adequate and protection failures have come as a result of a overemphasis of one approach – usually the humanitarian – at the expenses of another – usually the political.

8. He spoke about how the deployment of human rights officers and humanitarian protection officers to Darfur – if not without some benefit – was clearly on the whole an inadequate response as was the stress in the early 1990s in Bosnian on humanitarian efforts. In both cases stress on humanitarian protection efforts in lieu of robust, timely political action certainly failed to alleviate the situation and it may even have caused the unwanted prolongation of these conflicts.

9. He said that in conflicts where there has been some local momentum towards peace, and where humanitarian and human rights actors have had greater space in terms of their own security, an effort giving a lot of weight to non-political international actors can have an impact such as – for instance – the case of Nepal. He stressed though that protection actors are still constrained by their own approach. They need to better understand that in most situations – and in particular where there are multi-faceted UN missions – a strategy that is not holistic, incorporating human rights, humanitarian, military and development efforts, is unlikely to have success. An obvious example is DRC where effective protection focused on military action. In such situations, for humanitarian and human rights actors to define themselves in opposition to international military counterparts and attempt to coordinate protection without them, does not do justice to the nature of the security threat to potential victims.

10. After stating that protection is meaningless if not linked to security, he went on to stress the importance of understanding security as an individual entitlement underpinned by international law. This is not just a matter of approach and human rights’ doctrine. Where victims of insecurity are seen as just as victims, as opposed to rights’ holders whose rights are being violated, this unwittingly distracts from the obligations of national duty bearers.

11. For this reason, a notion of security not linked to law, not only makes life easier for those violating rights, but also makes the ground for international action or intervention appear incoherent, arbitrary or absent. He argued that in this sense, a human rights’ or law based approach is less a different “sphere” of action, distinct from political or humanitarian protection efforts, but one that does – or should at least – underpin both. The methods, the tool box from which humanitarian, human rights and political actors draw clearly vary, but ideally all would be based on an analysis of rights and obligations. Among many humanitarian actors there is recognition of this and the difference between a human rights based protection approach and humanitarian protection can be overstated.

12. He went on to say that a human rights approach which focuses more on justice and redress often requires greater engagement with national judicial systems and national protection advocates and local human rights defenders. HPG’s study rightly stresses that a large part of protection is what individuals and communities do for themselves and thus greater focus on and support to national protection mechanisms – national NGOs and national justice systems – is important.

13. He highlighted the fact that human rights actors make greater use of public reporting and denunciation as a protection tool, while for humanitarian organisations, the price of speaking out will often be weighed against considerations of access and ability to continue supplying aid. He also pointed to the major difference in whom protection embraces depending on the actors involved. Humanitarians – with the obvious exception of the ICRC – understand protection to mean protection of civilians and non-civilians are excluded. This can be dangerous since in many conflicts the distinction between civilians and non-civilians is not straightforward.

14. In refugees’ settings it has long be acknowledged if not much spoken about that those aided in many camps, even if unarmed at the time, form part of resistance movements. One need not to be too embarrassed about this; being part of an armed struggle does not imply that one forfeits the right to food, to water, to health or to asylum. Clearly this doe not imply that humanitarian agencies should support active combatant groups.

15. He concluded by stressing the need for protection grounded on a rights-based analysis and which identifies clearly the varying obligations of different national and international duty bearers and the entitlements (and obligations) of local rights holders. This, he said, will help to keep humanitarian and political approaches on firm and defensible ground. This said, human rights protection is not a specific tool or approach but rather refers to a desired outcome — where rights are acknowledged, respected and fulfilled by those under a duty to do so, and as a result of which dignity and freedom is enhanced.

General discussion

16. The discussion covered the following:

• There was agreement that the lack of understanding of protection concepts combined with deficiencies in situation/context analysis had a negative impact on response capacities. Related to this, the importance of understanding the diverse roles of different protection actors – as well as whose responsibility it is to lead them – was seen as key.

• It was suggested that interrogating where the emphasis lies for different actors could allow humanitarians to separate out from human rights and political actors whose engagement is much more long-term. This could then help to distinguish between primary and secondary threats.

• There was consensus around the need to redefine the scope and capacity of what humanitarians can do. Darfur was cited on a number of occasions as an example of a situation where humanitarians really had no power to protect civilians effectively.

• Many felt that the real protection challenge lies in getting political actors to take action. It was generally agreed that both humanitarian and human rights actors need to be much better at influencing this sphere.

• Many felt that James’s proposal of using civilian insecurity to frame the protection debate was a positive way forward. At the same time, there was hesitation about losing focus on protection since it remains a meaningful concept to many actors both on the ground and at HQ level. Discrediting it might also allow governments to pass the buck on their responsibilities.

• A question was raised about James’s focus on human rights activities being largely reparative in nature. It was suggested that he should look at all aspects of law (including refugee law).

• A cautionary note was sounded about overemphasising the use of law as a protection strategy. It was stressed that law should be understood as a framework for authorities rather than something that can itself provide protection. In societies where the rule of law is weak or where governments lack enforcement capacities, using the law ‘as a stick’ will have limited effect.

• It was suggested that a check list might be a useful tool to determine what particular agencies can/can’t do in accordance with their mandate; what their capacity is to do this; what the consequences to beneficiaries will be; and what the consequences of political actors’ perceptions will be.


Giuseppe Calandruccio

17. Giuseppe agreed with many of the points raised particularly those around generating better analysis in order to improve prioritisation. He also suggested that the new protection cluster will help in improving issues of coordination and that once cluster lead posts are bedded down, and there is a better idea of capacity, things will improve.

James Darcy

18. James said that confusion around protection issues is real and that this is hampering the effective collaboration of actors engaged in this work. He stressed the importance of agreeing prioritised protection agendas in a given context, based on core IHL principles.

19. He said that he was not proposing we abandon the idea of protection, but that we focus on civilian security as the object of protection – partly in order to avoid making false claims about our own protective role. He worried that the fuzziness around the protection agenda might provide an alibi to effective political actions. He closed by highlighting the need for humanitarian actors to engage with debates about the responsibility to protect, since political notions of protection were potentially at odds with humanitarian notions. This requires better dialogue with political and military actors, at headquarters and field levels.


Session 2: Understanding and responding to civilian insecurity

20. The second session was chaired by Sara Pantuliano who explained that this part of the roundtable would focus on the implications of all of this on the ground. More specifically:

a. Who is supposed to analyse protection issues and who leads on this?

b. How do we identify better protection strategies and support for them?

c. How should protection actors engage with governments who are part of the problem?

Alain Aechlimann, ICRC

21. Alain Aechlimann conveyed his appreciation for being invited to attend the meeting and to share some remarks on the topic. He also thanked HPG for the excellent paper The 'protection crisis’: A review of field-based strategies for humanitarian protection in Darfur and congratulated Sara Pantuliano and Sorcha O'Callaghan for the quality of their work and accuracy of their analysis.

22. He began his presentation by explaining that when violence breaks through, people's first concern is about their safety and that of their families. Protection and security for civilians involve three different actors: the authorities, the affected individuals and communities, humanitarian or human rights organisations, including the ICRC, and other actors. Any protection action is based on the rule of law which is understood in a broad sense and also includes standards, traditions and customs. Reference to legal obligations and knowledge of the applicable normative framework, including most notably, IHL, human rights law and national laws, are key.

23. He stressed that the prime responsibility in providing solutions, as well as directly providing protection to individuals falls unequivocally upon the respective governments, authorities and other bodies which control a given territory, including armed groups or international forces. Protection efforts, in particular by human rights and humanitarian organisations, can have no meaningful impact without a corresponding political will from the concerned authorities and/or arms carriers and, often, from the community of states.

24. He said that the trend to turn everything into ‘protection’ must to be resisted – the mere despatch of more protection officers or ICRC delegates will not provide a panacea. He also said that, although individuals and communities do develop ways to protect themselves from direct and indirect consequences and threats, this capacity depends on the circumstances, the nature of the conflict as well as the organisational level and development of a given society. Though self protection should be encouraged and supported, its effectiveness should not be overestimated.

25. He also said that proper respect for the rule of law and human dignity lies in the existence of an environment conducive to protection which includes: adhesion to the relevant international treaties, adoption of national laws, establishment of reliable institutions, internal control, education and information about compulsory norms and prohibited practices, sanctions in case of abuses and assistance and compensation for victims. Regulatory mechanisms also play a key role in fostering such an environment and in preventing and eliminating abuses. What is more, diverse and complementary action by those mechanisms is required. This includes political incentives or pressure, measures aimed at fostering development and justice, promotion of human rights and/or international humanitarian law (IHL).

26. In a given context, an analysis of the different components of this global protection environment and an early identification of the problems and gaps is a prerequisite for any action in the field of protection. ICRC has combined legal work and operational activities, asserting additionally that protection and assistance are two interlocking aspects of those operational activities. Its work is therefore equally rights based and needs oriented.

27. Alain went on to describe ICRC’s central protection activity which, he said, focuses on confidential bilateral representations to the authorities and arms carriers. Within this, he stressed the importance of the military as interlocutors and added that dealing with them must be well prepared as they are, at high level, very busy in situations of conflict.

28. He then moved to set out the specific challenges ICRC faces when engaging in protection activities. These include:

d. Ethical issues – the need to constantly put the interest of affected persons at the forefront of actions and ensure that activities do not harm the eventual beneficiaries.

e. Security constraints – without a sufficient level of security for the persons affected or witnesses of abuses, and for the humanitarian staff, no meaningful protection action can be considered by the ICRC.

f. Quality of information and analysis – the ICRC bases its work and representations on allegations, mainly from victims and witnesses. The veracity of these allegations has to be assessed and crosschecked in each case. Exaggerations and rumours are a permanent risk which professionalism and rigor seek to minimise.

g. Difficulty in assessing the legality of the conduct of military operations – analysing whether military operations and hostilities were conducted in a way consistent with IHL has proved extremely difficult. Consequently, ICRC is careful before drawing conclusions that violations occurred, except in obvious cases.

h. Difficulty of evaluating protection activities – defining indicators to assess one's own action and its impact is therefore often very challenging.

29. Alain concluded by focusing specifically on the coordination challenges that protection work has brought in recent times. Though the presence of more organisations dealing with protection offers opportunities to improve the impact of humanitarian action, he stressed that it was important to remain attentive to the risk of too many actors becoming involved, of overlapping as well as the application of different standards. Discussion between all concerned, in particular mandated organisations and non-mandated organisations, is crucial.

Andrew Bonwick, Independent Consultant

30. Andrew Bonwick began by saying that he was in agreement with a lot of what Alain covered. His presentation would focus on highlighting some of the lessons from the Colombia case study he had recently produced for HPG’s Protection in Practice project. He said that although states are the primary actors responsible for protection, the reality is that states can often be the causes of a protection crisis or can simply be unable to act when a violent outbreak occurs.

31. He went on to talk about the fact that many IDPs live in relative safety through their own protection strategies and that agencies risk unbalancing this by getting involved. For this reason, context analysis is vital. He pointed to the fact that, in Colombia, indigenous communities have negotiated neutrality in return for being left alone. In their case, the need to interact with the humanitarian or international community has been unnecessary unless used to help provide them with a political voice (in this case, actors are supplementary rather than core in protection). He also highlighted international accompaniment (i.e. agency staff living with communities) and the fact that this form of protection has not received much international attention despite it being successful in deterring belligerents from attacking.

32. Internal displacement, he conceded, is nevertheless a difficult strategy. Assistance to IDPs is often patchy and this can end up forcing groups back to their unsafe homes or into joining the paramilitaries/guerrillas in order to get protection. This results in IDPs sacrificing any form of political representation in order to stay safe.

33. He pointed to the work being done around making the military accountable (i.e. through the prosecution of commanders) and stressed that this kind of accountability is complicated since states often lack the capacity to properly follow through with this. Working with the state to help them meet their legal obligations (IHL etc.) is therefore important.

34. He questioned the helpfulness of all actors coordinating on all issues saying that this stifles action. It might be more useful to bring actors together around specific issues.

35. He closed by reasserting his main point that civilians are making difficult decisions about how to stay safe (regardless of humanitarian actions) and that this is the primary ‘protection’ mechanism.

General discussion

36. The discussion covered the following:

• There was general consensus that information gathering and general monitoring should not be confused with in-depth analysis. A number of possible strategies to improve analysis where put on the table:

o Adopting the scope and depth of ICRC’s training at an interagency level

o Using the protection cluster lead to establish a common methodology for analysis.

o Exploiting the resources within embassies since they employ a lot of staff to do the kind of analytical work that would be beneficial to agencies working on protection projects. It was noted though that embassies are often unwilling to share sensitive information.

o Drawing on local knowledge on the ground and feeding it into complementary inter-agency approaches.

o Using UNHCR’s ‘Participatory Assessment in Operations’ tool which brings together various sectors (including protection, community services and programming) to identify risks and response strategies for beneficiaries.

o Focusing some resources to analyse the motivations of the perpetrators.

• Though analysis is important, it was suggested that the various actors working on different protection streams often come to the table wearing specific ‘hats’ (i.e. a child protection person) which predetermines agendas.

• The point was raised that analysis should not be seen as a panacea since the need for coordination and political buy-in is just as important.

• There was also broad agreement around the need to understand the determinants of security. Using security officers who have a greater ability to gauge threat could add an important dimension to protection programmes.


Andrew Bonwick

37. Andrew highlighted the need to accept the realities/constraints of staff turn over and dedicate resources to training and developing protection experts. He also suggested that lessons should be learned from the protection working group in Liberia which gelled very well.

Alain Aechlimann

38. Alain was keen to end the session on a positive note. He stressed that there were a lot of skilled people working in protection but that their work needs to be better prioritised. Though the ICRC is good at issuing guidelines, he urged different actors to integrate and adapt these to the specific needs of their organisations. Organisations have different specialities (i.e. MSF and health) and this should be harnessed. He agreed that training is important but also said that good management is key. He closed by drawing a distinction between protection and relief. The former, he said, is about responding to violations and tends to be a lot more complex than the latter which is about alleviating the consequences of these violations.


Session 3: Defining leadership and coordination in protection

39. The third session was chaired by Norah Niland who described it as a chance to discuss issues of leadership. In particular, was the cluster approach to protection the right one? Should integrated UN missions coordinate humanitarian protection?

George Okoth-Obbo, Director of International Protection Services at UNHCR

40. George Okoth-Obbo began his presentation by saying that he would spend some time talking about UNHCR's coordination work and in particular its coordination of protection activities in the context of the cluster system. He explained that there is a coordination and leadership element as well as a delivery aspect to the new cluster post.

41. He pointed to the fact that there is no single global mandate for the protection of IDPs and stressed that coordination at this level should focus on bringing players together to apply their mandates towards a common goal. This involves harmonising the work of different actors which, he said, should be possible within the new system.

42. He went on to speak about coordination in the context of functional accountability and argued that strong leadership is needed to get this right. Also, if coordination and accountability are linked with ensuring predictability, he questioned who is liable for coordination failures and, linked to this, who is responsible for assistance that is not related to protection. He argued that focus should be placed on solving the responsibility gap in the context of clusters and suggested this could be done by bridging the space between process (where all actors come together) with actual operations on the ground. It is easy to attribute failures without taking responsibility but this unhelpful.

43. George then talked about the link between advocacy and leadership. He said that Humanitarian Coordinators have been unwilling to speak out about protection issues for fear of endangering operationality and suggested that the inclusion of more actors in collective advocacy could reduce this risk.

44. He ended with a point about risk management saying that there is a need to be more aware of risk when the scope of work grows and protection becomes about the security of civilians at large.

Ed Schenkenberg van Mierop, ICVA

45. Ed Schenkenberg began by agreeing that there is a need to refine the way the humanitarian system is organised and, in doing so, to better define protection in leadership and coordination. He pointed to the fact that new technical skills on the ground do not filter up to higher level coordinators. He also questioned the logic of making protection a distinct cluster within the new system, arguing that it should have permeated all clusters so as to be integrated into each of their specific strategies. Furthermore, he said the new system makes it difficult to see where linkages should be made.

46. He asserted that there is a need for more debate around making actors more responsible and said that failures in the field should be addressed at political level without NGOs having to politicise themselves. He also suggested that it would be useful to have protection mechanisms both at field and at HQ level.

47. He pointed to the fact that UN turf battles, unresolved debates around IDPs and civilians, as well as bureaucratic constraints continue to come in the way of getting coordination issue right. He then made a number of suggestions of how to tackle these problems which included: inserting logistic issues in the protection agenda; reducing the number of players around the table at protection

meetings; establishing the cluster lead as a gatekeeper; and, most importantly, establishing a set of collective protection objectives from the beginning instead of allowing general comments to go back and forth between different actors without action.

General discussion

48. The discussion covered the following:

• Many suggested that although there is a long way to go in improving the coordination of protection activities, progress has not been zero. The UN now has a specific agency to take on this work which should lead to a lot more predictability.

• There was consensus around the need for humanitarian coordinators to be given more support to understand protection issues and that their role should also receive greater political backup.

• Points were also made around the need to build up capacity and trust between cluster leads. There was agreement that this process will take time.

• It was stressed that different actors have their own added value which must be taken into account when pressing for a unified system.

• Many echoed Ed’s point about the gap in knowledge between field and HQ and said that leaving advocacy organisations to fill this space leads to ‘imperfect solutions to difficult problems’.

• The point about a more collective advocacy strategy was also echoed with many feeling that it was a positive suggestion. A unified voice coming from many different actors would make protection issues more difficult to ignore.


Ed Schenkenberg van Mierop

49. Ed concluded by stressing that because the specific thinking behind the cluster system has never been explicitly set out, this has led to confusion about whether its main aim is about coherence or about enhancing response capacities.

George Okoth-Obbo

50. Again on the cluster system, he spoke about the need for resource levels to be assessed and agreed with Ed that clearer roles and objectives should be set. He ended by reasserting that the protection cluster was an important accountability mechanism.


Session 4: The role of donors in protection

51. The last session of the day was chaired Hugo Slim who suggested that donors should think about protection funding in terms of long term investment rather than one off interventions. He asked that the discussion focus on how broader protection approaches rather than specific protection projects could be supported – especially in the absence of established tools to measure protection outcomes.

Mikael Lindwall, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Sweden)

52. Mikael Lindwall started his presentation by stressing that the primary role of donors is to fund humanitarian action, implemented by professional humanitarian organisations. He added that the more donors give agencies the necessary flexibility – i.e. through less earmarking – the easier it becomes for those agencies to calibrate their protection and assistance responses to humanitarian crises. This means that funding should not necessarily be earmarked specifically toward protection programming, possibly with the exception of particular capacity-building initiatives (preferably inter-agency), such as support for protection training, a protection cluster or mechanisms such as ProCap.

53. He also said that government donors play a crucial role in humanitarian advocacy and diplomacy so key messages need to be in full support of – and coordinated with – humanitarian coordinators and humanitarian agencies. He stressed that much more could be done on the advocacy side – not least at the country level – since donors often have more leverage as well as senior-level contacts with the concerned government, including when this is a party to the conflict.

54. Donor governments are also actors in Peace Support Operations and must ensure that missions are equipped with clear mandates oriented toward the protection of civilians and that they are supportive of independent humanitarian action, including humanitarian protection. He said that governments should not themselves field protection officers though since expertise and experience rests with humanitarian and HR organisations. Donors should simply provide sustained financial and political support.

55. As protection outcomes are perhaps less visible than assistance outcomes, donors should worry less about quantifiable results in all agency reporting. Again, less earmarking and more thematic or core support is a major part of the solution. He pointed to the HPG report on Darfur as a source of ideas to improve reporting on protection outcomes in order to satisfy those donors who still have demands.

56. He then went on to outline a variety of ways in which donors could do more in relation to protection issues.

i. He said that they could play a role in promoting the establishment of proper linkages between various protection actors, be they humanitarian, human rights, political or military. This is important even within the field of humanitarian protection actors. One example could be to ensure that a protection cluster in a given country is truly inclusive.

j. He said that donors must be careful that they do not allow their support for humanitarian protection to replace the necessary forceful political action that may be needed to bring peace and security and ensure the safety of civilians.

k. He said that donors must coordinate their efforts when it comes to supporting protection programming and advocacy.

l. He said that donors can also be important in supporting and providing cover for those humanitarian agencies and officials who speak out.

Sorcha O’Callaghan, Humanitarian Policy Group

57. Sorcha O’Callaghan began by highlighting the fact that although protection is increasingly on the agenda of government donors, it remains critically underfunded. This affects less visible crises in particular, but even for high profile emergencies such as Darfur and northern Uganda, funding was highlighted as a major impediment to protection response. In Sudan in 2006, despite Darfur being labelled a ’protection crisis’, less than 50% of protection-related work was funded under the CAP. In northern Uganda it was even less. Non-earmarked funding would and does help, but in general this applies to the UN and not to NGOs, which are increasingly playing a key role in protection. She stressed that even in the case of the UN, when funding starts to slip as is now happening in Darfur, protection activities are often the first to be affected.

58. She argued that more should be done to attract a larger pool of donors to protection; to secure a greater amount of funds from current donors; and to ensure a longer-term commitment from donors.

59. She went on to highlight that where ear-marked funding is provided, it is often directed towards stand-alone protection programming in an effort to demonstrate quantifiable results, which is a concern for many donors. Again using the Darfur example, she said there has been a huge emphasis on fuel efficient stoves which continue to play a critical role in reducing women’s exposure to sexual violence. However, in many cases this is the only protection work that many organisations are undertaking and in some of the largest camps there are up to 15 differerent organisations running such programmes, with the result that many camp residents are trained and re-trained while major protection concerns remain overlooked.

60. She stressed the need for greater work to be done in developing protection indicators and matrices so that donors can be convinced of the protective component of humanitarian programming. Metrics are difficult in protection as protection frequently involves prevention and so how can you prove that your intervention was critical in something not happening?

61. Sorcha ended by making the point that donor funding of humanitarian protection can only ever play a relatively minor role in protecting civilians at risk. Political actors need to be aware of this and understand that it can never be a substitute for more robust political response. Again, this was an issue that emerged very strongly from HPG’s Darfur work, where donor governments were anxious to be seen to be doing ’everything in Darfur’ and pushed humanitarians to engage in protection in response to what were thorny political issues. The result was that many new actors engaged in protection as a result of pressure from their donors, but without the necessary skills and experience.

General discussion

62. The discussion covered the following:

• There was agreement that donors should see the funding of protection activities as a long term investment and that these activities could be further strengthened if a number of donors undertook this jointly.

• A practical question was put to donors about the kinds of firewalls they experience internally when exploring different protection strategies and how they overcome these.

• The current terrorism clause that operational agencies now have to sign up to was raised as an obstacle for protection actors since it is sometimes necessary to engage with non-state actors who have been labelled terrorist organisations. More generally, there were concerns that humanitarian space was constricting.

• DfID’s Partnership Programme Agreements were highlighted as an innovative type of engagement with NGOs since this funding is both long term as well as un-earmarked. That said, it was noted that the UK’s aid budgets continue to prioritise development and state building over humanitarian activities which reflects its macro-economic push.

• Australia’s Office of Development Effectiveness (established in 2006) which monitors the quality and evaluates the impact of AusAID was raised as another innovative mechanism used by donors. Though protection activities can be particularly difficult to fund, AusAID finds that obsticles can be overcome by developing good relationships with operational partners which builds trust and allows flexibility. This was echoed by other donors.

• The capacity of UNHCR to support IDPs (a fundamental element of protection) was raised as a major issue and there was concern that UNHCR was not seeking additional funding to reinforce its capacity in this regard

• There was agreement that measuring the impact of protection continues to be difficult to do and that this impacts on funding.

• A number of donors spoke about protection work as being a ‘constant learning process’ but also stressed that accuracy of information from the ground is key to continued political support to protection activities.


Mikael Lindwall

63. In response to the question about internal firewalls, Mikael said that donors have task forces to monitor political actions that could have humanitarian repercussions.

64. He then went on to talk about the nature of humanitarian funding which, he said, would continue to be imperfect since there will always be a proportion that is political and not needs based (due to accountability to electorate). He accepted that donors should be more innovative but also said that NGOs should be braver about asking for more flexible funding.

65. On the issue of long term funding (i.e. spanning 10 – 15 years), he said that this is difficult to get because government administrations change. That said, humanitarian action tends to be the most visible form of aid so there is no doubt it will continue to rise. This, combined with the fact that more nations are reaching their 0.7% aid goals, means that longer term funding is not out of the question.

66. On the point made by UNHRC about capacity to take on work with IDPs (as well as refugees) he urged them to be patient. Given that the issue is now on the agenda, greater resources will be allocated in time.

67. In response to the question of why protection work is still not adequately funded, he pointed to capacity issues. He did suggest that transitional funding is slowly getting through better and that the Peacebuilding Commission will promote this more. Moreover, he said that old donors are spending lots of time trying to get new donors on board.

Socha O’Callaghan

68. Sorcha re-emphasised the importance of measuring the impact of protection work, and that it was not simply in order to be accountable to donors, but rather to increase impact. She stressed there were ways of achieving this, and these needed to be explored, including qualitative indicators such as the level of freedom of movement and access to land as opposed to some of the more process indicators such as the number of trainings or the number of protection staff on the ground.


Sara Pantuliano closed the session by thanking the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Displacement and Protection Support Section of OCHA for hosting the event. She mentioned that another roundtable would take place in Washington in February and the discussion from both events will feed into the final Protection in Practice report due to be published by mid 2007.


The aim of this event was to draw together senior protection analysts and practitioners to discuss key themes emerging from a body of research conducted at HPG on the protection of civilians in complex emergencies.