Author Archives: Eric Cezne

Statement of Commitments from Humanitarian Scholars at World Humanitarian Summit

In the wake of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), held in Istanbul on 22 and 23 May, NCHS researcher Kristin Bergtora Sandvik has signed and endorsed the Statement of Commitments from Humanitarian Scholars at World Humanitarian Summit.

The statement is the main scholarly outcome of the WHS and has been drafted by experts in the humanitarian field and the International Humanitarian Studies Association (IHSA). Aiming at giving a positive turn to humanitarian scholarship, the statement has signaled that the Summit will contribute to spur all kinds of research activities, explore mechanisms to effectively communicate and collaborate around the unfolding humanitarian research agenda, as well as following up on the core responsibilities of the WHS agenda. The statement has also provided a normative frame that can underpin and inspire numerous initiatives focusing on the commitments, with regards to advancing evidence-based approaches; localising research and education; promoting transdisciplinary work; and developing and upholding of research ethics. Given the vast possibilities and the large community of scholars that work on these issues within their own programmes and networks, the statement aspires to enhance the communication and exchange about this.

The Statement of Commitments from Humanitarian Scholars, which is underpinned by six main objectives, can be read in full here.

The humanitarian quest for accountability: Examining the role of UNHCR

Written by

UNHCR 2015: A difficult crisis

The European refugee crisis has been a difficult experience for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). On the one hand, UNHCR has been criticized by civil society and the humanitarian community for not being present on Greek islands. On the other hand, the organization has experienced difficulties in negotiating this access with Greek authorities. In addition to criticism of UNHCRs actions/inactions in Greece, the organization also faced criticism for not doing enough to push states across Europe to admit a bigger responsibility for the refugee crisis, and to accept greater numbers of refugees for resettlement.

In the fall of 2015, there was explicit criticism of previous High Commissioner of Refugees, Antonio Guterres, as it was argued that his ambitions of becoming the new United Nations Secretary General was getting in the way of confronting European states more explicitly to  ensure that they live up to their responsibility as stated in the 1951 Refugee Convention:

“The heads of U.N. agencies with ‘well-nourished careers’ prefer to ‘put out cutesy heart-warming videos’ about individual refugees rather than criticize governments… They want another U.N. job … And they won’t get it if they piss governments off. You have to start shaming governments. That’s how things get done.”

Laying a new path under high commissioner Grandi?

Now things may be changing. Prior to the much debated EU-Turkey refugee deal, the new UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, stated that the potential refugee bottleneck in Greece was a major topic of discussion. And during a February 2016 visit to Athens, he took the opportunity to criticize “the border closures and the inability of European countries to face the refugee crisis with generosity and unity”. Only weeks later (in March 2016), the organization explicitly distanced itself from the EU-Turkey plan, as potentially undermining the tenants of international refugee protection.

Arguably this marks a shift in how UNHCR interprets and enacts its function as a key international actor tasked with the important job of holding states accountable to their commitments to international refugee protection (1951 Convention). And now that the EU-Turkey deal has become is a reality, it is certainly worth noticing that UNHCR was not part of the deal making. Instead, UNHCR is now looking to the future: “Let’s see what the European courts has to say on this,” said Vincent Cochetel, who is leading the UNHCR’s response to the crisis in Europe. A deal might be legal if Turkey overhauls its asylum system and guarantees that those returned are not kept in detention and are given a proper chance of claiming refuge, which is not currently the case, says Mr Cochetel. Other than Europeans, only Syrians have any right to claim shelter in Turkey under its current system. Accordingly, in line with UNHCR’s policy on opposing mandatory detention, the organization has suspended provision of transport to and from detention sites on Greek islands, and has also expressed concern that Greece may have deported asylum seekers by mistake, in violation of international law.

Good Enough Accountability as existential challenge

These contradictory examples illustrate what amounts to an existential challenge not only for UNHCR, but for the humanitarian enterprise as a whole, namely the quest for good enough accountability.  In situations where the host state may be unable or unwilling to protect civilians, humanitarians step in to provide governance, care and protection. With a record-high number of humanitarian emergencies and displaced individuals worldwide, there are more humanitarian organizations doing more things in more places than ever before. They are not elected and are mostly unencumbered by legal obligations towards the communities they proclaim to work for. While the humanitarian sector has developed its own ‘accountability-industry’, humanitarians continue to express concern about how accountability-initiatives are skewed towards donors, at the expense of accountability towards crisis-affected communities and individuals. At the same time, there is deep disagreement about what good enough accountability might look like, how it might be achieved and what resources humanitarians and donors would be willing to invest towards reaching a satisfactory level of accountability.

A knowledge gap: Conceptualizing the history and ‘technologies of accountability’

Despite the key importance of accountability for the legitimacy of humanitarian action, inadequate academic attention has been given to how the concept of accountability is evolving within the specific branches of the humanitarian enterprise. Up to now, there exists no comprehensive account of what we label the ‘technologies of accountability’, the effects of their interaction, or the question of how the current turn to decision-making software and biometrics as both the means and ends of accountability may contribute to reshaping humanitarian governance.

In a recent book, UNHCR and the Struggle for Accountability: Technology, Law and Results-Based Management (Routledge Humanitarian Studies series) we explore UNHCR’s quest for accountability by viewing the UNHCR’s accountability obligations through the web of institutional relationships within which the agency is placed (beneficiaries, host governments, implementing partners, donors, the Executive Committee and UNGA). The book takes a multidisciplinary approach in order to illuminate the various layers and relationships that constitute accountability and also to reflect on what constitutes good enough accountability.

Table of Contents:

  • Introduction: The Quest for an Accountability Cure Katja Lindskov Jacobsen & Kristin Bergtora Sandvik
  • UNHCR and the Complexity of Accountability in the Global Space Niamh Kinchin
  • Advancing UNHCR Accountability through the Law of International ResponsibilityMaja Janmyr
  • Narratives of accountability in UNHCR’s refugee resettlement strategy Adèle Garnier
  • UNHCR and accountability for IDP protection in Colombia Miriam Bradley
  • Universalizing the refugee category and struggling for accountability: the every-day work of eligibility officers within UNHCR Marion Fresia and Andreas von Känel
  • Accounting for the Past, A history of refugee management in Uganda, 1959-64 Ashley B. Rockenbach
  • How accountability technologies shape international protection: results-based management and rights-based approaches revisited Kristin Bergtora Sandvik
  • UNHCR, Accountability and Refugee Biometrics Katja Lindskov Jacobsen

Kristin Bergtora Sandvik is an Associate Professor at the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law at University of Oslo and a Senior Researcher at PRIO.

Katja Lindskov Jacobsen is Senior Researcher at The Centre for Military Studies at Copenhagen University, Department of Political Science.

Note: This entry was originally posted on the IntLawGrrls, a blog featuring contributions of women scholars, lawyers, policymakers, leaders and activists on issues related to international law, policy and practice. The post also provides an overview of the authors’ recent book publication: UNHCR and the Struggle for Accountability: Technology, Law and Results-Based Management.

Ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit, NCHS contributes with policy and practical recommendations

Ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), due to be held in Istanbul  on 22 and 23 May, the Network on Humanitarian Action (NOHA) has provided a wealth of expert and research-based recommendations and policy positions towards the WHS in its report ONE HUMANITY: Shared Responsibility. A European Perspective. Based on the discussions and results of a series of roundtables organized by NOHA and the European Commission across Europe in February and March 2016, the report aims to offer concrete policy and practical advice to the European Union and the broader humanitarian community in the build-up to the Summit.

Featuring inputs from academics, practitioners, and youth involved in humanitarian action, the report also benefited from contributions of NCHS researchers Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert and Kristin Bergtora Sandvik. Jumbert and Sandvik attended the Northern European Roundtable held in the Swedish city of Uppsala in February 2016 and, together with fellow Northern European-based experts, have drafted and endorsed a number of policy and practical recommendations. To read in detail the specific recommendations emanating from working groups attended by NCHS, please click here.

More information on NOHA’s and the European Commission’s Humanitarian Roundtables can be found here.


Brought Up to Be a War Criminal

Written by

Dominic Ongwen has been charged with committing the same crimes that were committed against him as a child soldier in the Lord’s Resistance Army. To what extent is Ongwen responsible for his actions as an adult, given that he himself was abducted as a 10-year-old child? The International Criminal Court in The Hague is to determine the answer to this question.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has recently confirmed 70 charges against Dominic Ongwen for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ongwen is accused of committing these crimes as a member of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Dominic Ongwen appears at the ICC. Photo: International Criminal Court

Dominic Ongwen appears at the ICC. Photo: International Criminal Court

During over 20 years of conflict with the Ugandan government, the LRA has recruited huge numbers of child soldiers, practised enslavement, and committed murders, rapes and other atrocities against civilian populations in northern Uganda, Southern Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ongwen has been charged with individual responsibility for crimes including attacks against the civilian population, murder, rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy, forced marriage, torture and other inhumane acts, pillaging, the use of child soldiers, enslavement and persecution. Ongwen is the first of five accused LRA commanders to appear before the ICC.

The Ongwen case

The case against Ongwen will not be a straightforward affair. His prosecution before the ICC is considered controversial, including by lawyers working within the international criminal justice system. The reasons for the controversy do not primarily concern the extent of Ongwen’s involvement in the atrocities for which he is charged. There is reliable and extensive documentation of the LRA’s brutality, and the same can be said of the atrocities committed by Ongwen, given that he was one of Joseph Kony’s closest high-ranking associates.

Ongwen himself, however, was abducted by the LRA as a 10-year-old. For eight of his formative years, he was a child soldier. Some of the LRA’s unwilling recruits manage to escape, while others choose to keep a low profile. Yet others are killed either by their “own” or by Ugandan government forces. Some are taken into the ranks of the Ugandan army. Faced with the choice of killing or risking being killed, Ongwen chose the former option. He was not alone in doing so.

But Ongwen distinguished himself. He rose through the ranks in accordance with the numbers of new child soldiers he brought to the LRA. He gained continually more responsibility, more “wives” and new children. As an adult, Ongwen became one of Kony’s closest high-ranking associates, in itself a position that carried significant risks. One of Ongwen and Kony’s co-defendants is believed to have been executed by Kony in 2007 after being suspected by Kony of treachery.

As a result of his central position in the LRA, Ongwen is today accused of the same crimes as those of which he was a victim. It is worth noting that Ongwen’s own status during his  initial years in the LRA, according to the ICC’s articles, was that of victim. These articles prohibit the prosecution of people aged under 18. Regardless of what atrocities Ongwen ordered or participated in before this time, the ICC will not hold him responsible. No such protection exists with regard to atrocities perpetrated after he reached 18 years of age. An atrocity committed the day before the perpetrator’s 18th birthday is part of the narrative attached to his status as a child soldier, but the same act committed the very next day will make him or her a war criminal.

As both victim and perpetrator of the LRA’s violent regime, Ongwen’s case demonstrates the complex dynamics of war. Where should we assign responsibility, and who bears most responsibility for the suffering imposed on victims? These are the questions with which the ICC concerns itself, but that are made more complex in the case against Ongwen: What real options did he have? How much of the  responsibility for the conflict in northern Uganda rests on his shoulders?

Those most responsible

The ICC’s mandate is to prosecute those most responsible for the most serious atrocities. But how does one assess responsibility in such situations?

When the victim and the perpetrator are one and the same, the labels and categories assigned by criminal law are often too simplified. Ongwen’s case is not unique, not in Uganda nor in other complex humanitarian conflicts.

Cases decided by the ICC create judicial precedents – both for the ICC and nationally in the states parties to the ICC’s founding convention. As in the case of national criminal law, international criminal law is also justified on the basis of the supposed deterrent effect of punishment: no one should be able to recruit child soldiers without the risk of being held criminally responsible.

But given that the ICC is intervening in ongoing conflicts, the deterrent effect of punishment takes on a very different significance. The ICC’s prosecutions relating to the conflict in Uganda have often been criticized for prolonging the conflict: why should the LRA’s soldiers hand themselves in and put down their arms if they will be sent to The Hague? If Ongwen is found guilty, this view will become even more pertinent. Does the ICC itself have a responsibility to take into account the dynamics of ongoing conflicts?

In northern Uganda, parts of the local population have preferred an amnesty for returning LRA commanders and soldiers, because they are their own abducted brothers and sisters, but also because they consider this to be the most effective solution to a long-lasting and expensive conflict between the LRA and the Ugandan government. This highlights a continually recurring dilemma: is the administration of criminal justice more important than peace, and is it possible to have one without the other? What would be the result, however, if the ICC were to find Ongwen not guilty? Not least for the responsibility of international society to deal with the type of complex perpetrator represented by Ongwen?

Order in chaos

The international criminal justice system creates order in chaos. Following criminal law’s individualization of guilt, part of the context is necessarily ignored, to secure that it is not war that kills, but war criminals. In order to achieve this, people and actions are divided into categories of victims and perpetrators, innocent and guilty, good and bad, right and wrong. People who are brought up to be war criminals fundamentally challenge these categories, and the criminal order they represent.

Insecurity in the Humanitarian Cyberspace: A Call for Innovation

Written by

Humanitarian practitioners and scholars are currently struggling with how to analyse the opportunities and challenges of technological innovation. This includes not only what technological innovation can do for humanitarianism but also what it does to humanitarian action. Over the last two decades, innovations have fueled the creation of a humanitarian cyberspace. It is now time for the task of addressing the challenges posed by the humanitarian cyberspace to be prioritised on the humanitarian innovation agenda.

The term cyberspace broadly refers to the realm of computer networks and the internet. The traditional notion that the ´virtual` world is a different social space than the ´real world` is by now obsolete, also in the humanitarian context.

On the one hand, the humanitarian cyberspace is much like the traditional humanitarian space: humanitarians interact with host states, non-state actors, the private sector, donors and the global public and try to assist affected populations. The difference, however, is that these undertakings occur through, or are enabled by, technology, and that they may help expand humanitarian space for example in contexts of limited access or in urban settings, where recipients are widely dispersed.

While the traditional threats to the humanitarian space persist, the humanitarian cyberspace broadens the scope of humanitarian action – which means that, instead of shrinking, the humanitarian space is actually poised to enter an expanding frontier. As illustrated by the increasing reliance on mobile cash transfers in food aid, the humanitarian cyberspace also offers new options for the constitution and distribution of relief. The notion that access to information and humanitarian data constitutes a form of relief in its own right illustrates how technology is reshaping the very definition of aid. The emergence of ‘digital humanitarians’ exemplifies a shift in the understanding of who is an aid provider and the possibilities for providing aid from a distance.

At the same time, the humanitarian cyberspace has engendered a new set of threats, which impinge on the humanitarian space and which needs to be taken more seriously in the context of humanitarian innovation. This concerns the humanitarian cyberspace

  • as a threat to humanitarian work
  • as a space where humanitarian workers can become threats to the safety and well-being of crisis affected individuals or communities
  • as a threat to the security of humanitarian workers

The humanitarian cyberspace can also be a threat to humanitarian work. In February 2016, a Los Angeles hospital paid a nearly $17,000 (40 bitcoins) ransom to hackers who breached and disabled its computer network. The hackers used a malware that locks systems by encrypting files and demanding ransom to obtain the decryption key. The potential consequences of ransomware for humanitarian health data in a field setting may be disastrous, but we have little understanding of potential impact. While humanitarian organisations have a well-developed tool box for negotiating the security or release of humanitarian workers, it remains unclear how well they are equipped to protect and negotiate the release of humanitarian data.

The use of social media by fieldworkers may undermine principles of neutrality and impartiality and endanger recipients of humanitarian aid as well as aid workers. The dilemma is well-known: In the humanitarian field, the free speech of aid workers must be balanced against the vulnerability of aid recipients and the particular dynamics of the emergency context. However, social media exacerbates the risk, also for humanitarians themselves. There is the infamous example of the aid worker who tweeted the location of an IS bunker in Syria, in the hope that the site would be bombed by the United States, eliciting a response from the group that they were “coming for Mr. Aid Worker”.

While the medical and social work professions (among others) are developing more robust, binding and enforceable industry standards with respect to social media, the humanitarian sector is lagging behind. Facebook, twitter and Instagram are largely perceived as “private” platforms, even when used actively during and for work. Additionally, the tension between security concerns and fundraising priorities seems to exacerbate the difficulty of developing strong and innovative approaches to responsible social media use.

Finally, there appears to be a critical lack of responsible data use with respect to the digital registration of personally identifiable data and information sharing protocols across the sector. The Ebola response has recently been described as a “Big Data Disaster”. Also in the context of the European refugee crisis there seems to have been widespread “ad hoc” registration and sharing of sensitive health data despite the existence of a thick legal framework.

Humanitarian cyber insecurity has been on the radar of the humanitarian community (PDF) for a number of years, and the 2014 OCHA report on Humanitarianism in the Age of Cyber Warfare got significant attention. However, the issue has yet to gain the sustained focus of humanitarian actors and policymakers. More attention must now be paid to how such threats can be mitigated by innovations in the way humanitarians understand, own and address technology-related problems.

Note: This entry, originally posted on the ANLAP Blog, is based on a roundtable at the 4th bi-annual IHSA World Conference on Humanitarian Studies and Sandvik’s recent article in the Third World Quarterly ‘The humanitarian cyberspace: shrinking space or an expanding frontier?’ 

Protection of Civilians (PoC): What did we learn?

Written by

April 27 and 28, the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) and the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies (NCHS) hosted a successful event to mark the end of the Protection of Civilians: From Principle to Practice research project, funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Research Council of Norway’s HUMPOL program.  This blog post is based on project leader Kristin Bergtora Sandvik’s presentation of the main findings from the project.

The Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies: Forging a new field of research

In the following, I would like to highlight a number of the achievements and findings of the PoC-project. This overview is preliminary and non-exhaustive.

As part of the portfolio of the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies, the PoC-project has contributed to the development of humanitarianism as a field of study in its own right, internationally and in Norway. The Centre has provided a platform to further critical debate on humanitarian issues and humanitarian policy in Norway. Over the last three years, the Centre has hosted and co-hosted 62 popular and academic events on humanitarian issues to raise public awareness, to contribute to agenda setting, and to increase collaborations between researchers, practitioners and policy makers.

Additionally, the Centre has been successful is consolidating research collaborations between its founding, partner institutions CMI, NUPI and PRIO.

Researching Protection of Civilians:  On Finding Ethical Foreign Policy Relevance

“Policy relevance” has emerged as a major criteria for evaluating the utility and fundability of research. While we have rightly been challenged to rethink the role of academic research and academic expertise in the field of peace and conflict studies, including humanitarian studies, we also have a responsibility to think critically about which notion of policy relevance we should go after.

Here are three issues where we need to be more reflexive and critical in our attempts to be relevant; there are many more on my list.

First, I suggest that while the 1990s and 2000s saw a continuous expansion of legal and political victim categories, this category now appears to be shrinking. In recent years, we have witnessed a stronger trend towards excluding men from the civilians’ category. An unintended consequence of the PoC discourse is the compartmentalization of combatants and civilians. This dichotomization can have adverse effects, particularly in irregular warfare and conflict formation.  I argue that the bifurcation of men as combatants and women as victims prevents seeing how also men, often including the perpetrators, also are victims of conflict. This includes victims of drone signature strikes, the mass killing and disappearance of young men in the war on drugs in Latin America, or the way male migrants are deemed to be ineligible for asylum or resettlement. At the same time, I acknowledge that the increased attention given to sexual violence against men – which was the theme of the first PoC conference hosted by CMI in 2013 – represented progress.

Second, I note that while PoC had been “freed from the shackles of buzzwordom”, important ethical dilemmas have emerged with respect to how an obligation to protect of civilians relates to the resilience agenda. The resilience agenda places a strong emphasis on self-responsibilization, in a period of time where the humanitarian enterprise is increasing enormously in size and scope, while also becoming more bunkerized and remotely managed. How are civilians being protected when they are given the responsibility to rescue themselves?

Third, I would also like to express deep concern about the how the reorientation of humanitarian aid towards the twin purpose of combatting migration and radicalization impacts the protection of civilians. I observe that from early 2015, the political rhetoric of migration has been recast from civilian’s quest for protection through mobility to a security threat to our own society. In response, there is a danger that humanitarian aid is being shifted from solving their problems of insecurity, hunger and disease to solving our problem with their humanitarian problems. As such, the seemingly apolitical and moral field of humanitarianism is not unaffected by the gradual securitization observed in other social and political domains.

Taking these developments as my point of departure, I would like to suggest that we need to focus on ethical foreign policy relevance in research on protection of civilians. In my view, ethical policy relevance should be understood as

  • A way of adding to the library of knowledge underpinning a knowledge based humanitarian policy;
  • A mode of unpacking the type of power and resource distribution that flow from PoC initiatives – or do not flow.
  • A commitment to push back on PoC policies that purport to be humanitarian but are not about protecting vulnerable civilians.

The project: What did we learn?

 I now move to a reflection on project findings, more narrowly construed. I contend that while PoC could be defined according to the actors involved or according to analytical levels, a useful common approach had been to see PoC as a “battlefield of knowledge” where the concept is worked and reworked in practice as actors compete to infuse the discourse with meaning, while borrowing from its moral supremacy.

Exploring the production of global PoC governance, authority and actors. The enormous humanitarian suffering resulting from the failed engagements with Syria and Libya and the continuing fallout for international politics has been the key backdrop of this project. In response, the project has studied protection of civilians as a form of global governance, where political actors are produced as protection actors. This includes both the Veto Powers of the Security Council as well as countries considered emerging humanitarian donors such as Turkey and Brazil.  The project has reflected on how humanitarian aid and protection discourses are used as foreign policy while simultaneously re-shaping the humanitarian field.

Pushing the law back into PoC. The Secretary Generals 2016 Agenda for Humanity calls for a concerted global effort to prevent the erosion of international humanitarian and human rights law, demand greater compliance with them and uncompromisingly pursue the protection of civilians. The project has responded to this call by illuminating the complex social and political web which even progressive legal institution building and law reform to protect civilians find themselves in. Here, attention was given to ICC‘s indictment of president al-Bashir and the consequences for activism on reproductive rights and rape law in the Sudan. At the same time, the project has looked at the importance of tailoring PoC to state capacity and existing human rights protection mechanisms.  Specifically, the project has focused on how the Kankuamo indigenous people in Colombia used the Inter-American human rights system for protection and as part of their self-protection efforts.

Developing theories of violence. The project has also begun to develop theories of violence to make sense of deliberate violence against civilians in very different situations of airpower used by state-actors possessing highly sophisticated military technology in Afghanistan, and irregular armies in the context of the Sudanese civil war. Our research on South Sudan suggests there must be a focus on the long-term development of local and regional military practices. Moreover that philosophies of war are of major importance in our understanding of why civilians are not adequately protected, and why they are often targets or legitimate collateral, in particular settings. The US military in Afghanistan did change procedures to reduce unintended civilian casualties from airstrikes. The principal reason was a change in military strategy that prioritized “winning hearts and minds” of the local population. While external vigilance through monitoring and independent investigation had an impact, it did in itself did not lead to the change in “system design” in operations that altered the balance of risk in favor of civilians.

Conceptual Work: Revisiting Boundaries and Assumptions. Through a study of Northern Uganda, the project has laid the groundwork for revisiting the humanitarian-development nexus: at a time of “unprecedented crisis”, when and how to draw the line for what constitutes a humanitarian crisis, and how humanitarian actors relate and respond to changes in their operational environment is of key importance. The transition from humanitarian action to development aid in Northern Uganda saw the formation of a humanitarian–development nexus driven by humanitarian actors’ pragmatic stance in seeking to assist civilians despite the situation had been recast as one of recovery and development. The case demonstrates not only the contextual malleability of protection and the humanitarian principles, but also how the mission creep is not something orchestrated by the donors and politicians at the top, but rather evolves from the bottom where field actors struggle to juxtapose humanitarian principles, practice and pragmatics.

Studying return programming for Somali refugees, the project has examined how humanitarian aid provision and withdrawal are instruments for preventing displacement or encouraging return. In many contexts around the world, states use funding for humanitarian programming as an active part of their attempts to manage populations displaced by conflict. Humanitarian aid to refugees and internally displaced is commonly understood as a temporary activity that ends when people will return home. Yet returnees can often not be provided with protection and ‘return’ for many entails a first encounter with a new place. Hence, the project finds that there is a risk that humanitarian aid – due both to its sedentary bias and practical (funding) realities – becomes implicated in government attempts to govern mobility.

Finally, as a contribution to the development of future research agendas on protection of civilians, the project has mapped out a set of key assumptions underpinning the “cultures of protection” concept. This includes: taking civilian identity for granted, the myth of the passive civilian, the sedentary bias, gender essentialism and protecting ambiguous groups, and the fallacy of terra nullius.

Taken together, these findings yield a rich starting point for further research on the protection of civilians, a topic which has not lost any of its normative and ethical importance.

The seminar was streamed and recorded, and can be seen following this link.

Updates about project results can be found at

Kristin Bergtora Sandvik is an Associate Professor at the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law at University of Oslo and a Senior Researcher, PRIO, where she is the coordinator for the Humanitarianism research group. Sandvik is also the project leader for Aid in Crisis? Rights-Based Approaches and Humanitarian Outcomes, funded by the Research Council of Norway.

Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert takes over as new NCHS Director

The Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies (NCHS) welcomes Dr. Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert as new director. She replaces Kristin Bergtora Sandvik, who has been heading NCHS since its foundation in 2012. Under Jumbert’s stewardship, NCHS will continue to explore new opportunities and synergies between academia, policy-makers and practitioners to advance knowledge production and public debates on key humanitarian issues.

NCHS also wishes to extend its recognition and thanks to Kristin Bergtora Sandvik for her commitment and efforts in creating and leading NCHS since 2013. Sandvik takes on the role of Associate Professor at the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law at University of Oslo, but will continue to work with NCHS in her new capacity as the coordinator of the Humanitarianism Research Group at PRIO. She also continues to lead two of the research projects under the NCHS umbrella: Protection of Civilians and Aid in Crisis? Rights based approaches and Humanitarian Outcomes.

More about Dr. Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert

Jumbert is a senior researcher at PRIO and holds a PhD from Sciences Po Paris and the Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales (CERI). Her doctoral dissertation was entitled “The internationalization of the Sudanese conflicts: from South-Sudan to Darfur. Agenda-setting, mobilization and qualifications”.

Jumbert’s work has focused on humanitarianism and its interlinkages with security, migration and new technologies. A recognized expert on EU border management, and its humanitarian and security interfaces, she was PRIO’s Principal researcher in the EUFP7 project Protection of European Borders and Seas through the Intelligent Use of Surveillance (PERSEUS), between 2011 and 2015, where PRIO led the Policy and Regulations workpackage. She is an often used media commentator on issues related to the situation at Europe’s borders.

Jumbert currently leads two research projects: Brazil’s Rise to the Global Stage (BraGS), funded by the Latinamerika programme of the Norwegian Research Council (RCN), investigating Brazil’s ambitions and involvement in humanitarianism and peacekeeping, and Communicating Risk in the Digital Age (DIGICOM), funded by the SAMRISK programme, which studies how digitalisation and new forms of risk communication affect societal security. She previously headed The Critical Humanitarian Technology Project, completed in 2013.

Jumbert has been a visiting scholar at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University, New York. She has also been a guest researcher at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) in Oslo and the Centre d’Études et de Documentation Économiques, Juridiques et Sociales (CEDEJ) in Khartoum.

More about the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies

NCHS is a joint CMI, NUPI and PRIO initiative established in 2012 with the aim to promote and facilitate critical and relevant research on humanitarian issues. The Centre is financed by the Norwegian Research Council, and has four overarching objectives:

  • To produce high quality, policy relevant research on humanitarian issues
  • To establish a critical mass of Norwegian scholars working on humanitarian issues, and linking these up with international networks
  • To serve as a key partner for discussion and analysis for humanitarian actors ·
  • To stimulate public debate on humanitarian issues

As of May 2016, the NCHS’ activities are organized under 11 ongoing research projects (click here for an overview) and consists of researchers from CMI, NUPI and PRIO, as well as collaborators from Norwegian and international universities. NCHS also seeks to engage Norwegian and international academics, policy makers, practitioners and other actors with an interest in the humanitarian field by organizing seminars, workshops and offering a platform for research dissemination.

Why the Veto Powers All Support Protection of Civilians (And Why They Often Fail to Agree on It)

Written by

The Protection of Civilians (PoC) expands the responsibility of the UN Security Council (UNSC) for international peace and security to the internal affairs of conflict-ridden countries. As such, it bolsters the authority of the five permanent members (the P5) in world politics and presents them with a flexible tool for exercising this authority. In reply to the question “what’s in it for them”, in this blog post we argue that in addition to shaping their responses to situations like Syria and Libya, the principle of PoC shapes the very dynamics of the Council itself, and ultimately the decisions of conflict actors anticipating international responses.

The difference in the international response to the twin crises that erupted in Libya in 2011 (to which the UNSC responded with a firm resolution) and Syria in 2012 (where a state of civil war continues in the absence of any Security Council protection resolution) offers a useful entry point to the question of ‘protection’ as it is understood and acted upon in the UNSC. Protests in both countries flared up within the wider context of the Arab Spring upheavals across the Middle East/North Africa region from late 2010. In both cases the Libyan and Syrian authorities responded with force, leading to a sharp escalation of the violence. The subsequent responses of the international community, however, could scarcely have been more different.

In the case of Libya, the international community responded with condemnation and, between February and March 2011, with two clear Security Council Resolutions (SCRs). The first (SCR-1970) condemned the violence and called on the ‘government of Libya to meet its responsibility to protect its population’. That was followed in March by SCR-1973, which explicitly forbade foreign forces on Libyan soil, but also affirmed the international community’s right to use ‘all necessary means’ in its ‘determination to ensure the protection of civilians’. The Council was responding to reports that around 1000 civilians had been killed in the fighting at that point. While affirming Libya’s ostensible sovereignty, it also authorised military support by NATO for a ‘humanitarian’ intervention, short of occupation or regime change. That mission – Operation Protector – assisted the protestors turned-opposition forces, culminating in the NATO airstrike that unseated Gaddafi’s convoy on October 20, 2011.

In Syria the following year, protestors were far more reluctant to take up arms than they were in Libya, and yet international offers of protection were less forthcoming. According to one source, ‘the local coordinating committees and other opposition elements maintained a strong commitment to non-violence for months, despite brutal regime violence’ [1]. Yet whereas in the case of Libya the Security Council passed its resolutions authorizing military support with the abstention of Russia and China (which was taken at the time as a step forward for the protection agenda), it was only a relatively shor- lived advance. With what they eventually saw as a failure by NATO to comply with the limits to the mandate, Russia and China subsequently opposed any similar interventionist response to the crisis in Syria.

This development – resolute action in Libya but gridlock over Syria – has been interpreted by some as the maturation and sudden death of PoC in the Security Council. Certainly some suggest that the PoC agenda is suffering from a ‘Libya trauma’ as a result of the ‘mission creep’ in Libya and the impact this had upon China and Russia’s future approach to the Security Council. Yet, as we suggest in a new policy brief, it is not evident that this blow to the political momentum of PoC has been fatal. This would presuppose that the difference in mandates over Libya and Syria reflects a fundamentally changed stance on the principle of PoC as such. Rather, it’s all a question of what PoC means to the permanent members of the Security Council in particular, both as individual nations and as a collective agent of political order.

[1] Gazzini, C. (2011) “Was the Libya Intervention Necessary?”, Middle East Report, No 261, Illicit Crossings, (Winter 2011), pp.2-9, 6.

Note: This entry is a preview of the authors’ policy brief ‘What’s in It for Them? Why the Veto Powers All Support Protection of Civilians (And Why They Often Fail to Agree on It’ (2016), published by PRIO and an output from the project Protection of Civilians: From Principle to Practice. You can read this policy brief here.

NCHS participates at CIEM/UiA Workshop on Data, Technology and Crisis Management

NCHS Director Kristin B.Sandvik recently participated  at the CIEM-University of Agder third international Workshop on Data, Technology and Crisis Management, held on on 14-15 April in Kristiansand, Norway. The workshop was dedicated to establishing a research agenda in the domain of data, technology and crisis management for the next ten years. Participants aimed at identifying areas for collaboration and concrete possibilities to pursue joint ideas for research projects, publications, joint seminars and events, or programs for students. The workshop also included interactive sessions and group work around dedicated research areas.

Cindy Horst co-authors article on Somali displacement realities

In their recent article article Governing Mobility through Humanitarianism in Somalia: Compromising Protection for the Sake of Return published at Development and Change, PRIO Research Director Cindy Horst and Anab Ibrahim Nur aim to contribute to an increased understanding of the importance of migration in humanitarian and ‘post-humanitarian’ contexts.  The output explores the interlinkages between protection and displacement and argues that the strategies by which conflict-displaced populations protect themselves are largely based on mobility. Yet, it is observed that humanitarian approaches to displaced populations do not take sufficient account of the mobility needs of those they assist. Furthermore, the actual location at which aid is provided is affected by funding realities and donor priorities. The article discusses the case of protracted displacement realities of Somali refugees and internally displaced people in Kenya, Somaliland and south-central Somalia.

Note: The article is an output of the research project Protection of Civilians: From Principle to Practice, placed under the umbrella of NCHS and funded by the Research Council of Norway, from 2012 to 2016. The pre-publication file can be found here and the actual publication follows within a month.