Author Archives: Maral Mirshahi

Sandvik and Jumbert on humanitarian drones

Contributing to the Summer 2015 Special Issue of the journal La Revue internationale et stratégique (RIS), entitled Devenirs humanitaires [Humanitarian Futures], NCHS’ Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (PRIO) and Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert (PRIO) explore the humanitarian functions of drones by asking what drones can do for humanitarianism and what kind of work humanitarianism is doing for drones. In the peer-reviewed journal article Les drones humanitaires [Humanitarian drones] the authors highlight:

The literature engaging with the “humanitarian” as a frame shows that it is both a strategic label, as far as it comes with connotations of altruism, of doing “good” and of contributing to a better world, and a qualifier that can be filled with a range of different contents. We argue here that these multiple promises of doing “good” that come with the “humanitarian drone” are part of a broader tech-optimism trend, presenting new technologies as the solution to virtually any crisis or technical response problem. In this article we propose to unpack these promises to better understand their rationales and the purposes they serve. Aware that the “humanitarian drone” may mean a lot of different things according to the context or the actors who employ the term, how and why do different actors create and promote specific notions of “humanitarian drones”, and what do they aim to achieve.

The journal is published by the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS), which is one of the main independent European Think Tanks on geopolitical and strategic issues.

The article (in French), ‘Les drones humanitaires [Humanitarian drones]’, is available here

The article summary (in English) is available here.

From IDPs to Victims in Colombia: Transition from Humanitarian Crisis through Law Reform?

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What are the challenges of responding to displacement as a problem of transitional justice? In the Colombian context, pervasive violent conflict coexists with constitutional democracy. In recent years, the legal framework for dealing with internal displacement has been altered by the 2011 Victims’ Law. Based on newly published work on Colombia, this blog post discusses the changing conditions for displaced women’s legal mobilization.

Imposing the rule of law in post-conflict situations has often been seen as a means of filling normative voids that both enable and result from conflict. Colombia offers a unique opportunity to reflect critically on how progressive legal frameworks — particularly those that formally and extensively incorporate international law — fare in practice.

By early 2014, Colombia had one of the world’s highest populations of internally displaced people (IDPs): 5.7 million. As of July 2014, more than 6.6 million Colombian citizens had registered as victims of armed conflict. Since 1964, Colombia has been engaged in a protracted civil conflict that has entailed the presence of both communist guerrillas and paramilitary death squads, as well as the devastating effects of counterinsurgency operations (undertaken with U.S. support) and the militarization of the so-called war on drugs. The conflict, waged mostly in the rural areas, has created a massive forced migration from rural to urban areas, where IDPs join the ranks of the urban poor. Large-scale humanitarian crises typically involve weakened or fragile states, which rely on the humanitarian apparatus of the UN and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to assess and address the crisis. This is not the case in Colombia, which is a constitutional democracy with a strong administrative state and a steadily growing economy. Colombia’s 1991 constitution included an expansive bill of rights with far-reaching legal protections for vulnerable groups, which were further developed by the Constitutional Court in the course of more than twenty years of progressive jurisprudence. In their struggle for social change, a plethora of grassroots organizations have made active use of the country’s strong legal mechanisms, as well as its thriving rights discourse.

Since the mid-2000s, the path-breaking legal and judicial processes that began in the late 1990s, which framed internal displacement as a humanitarian crisis, have gradually been replaced by a focus on transitional justice. Transitional justice efforts to “fill the rule of law vacuum” have been formally part of Colombian legislation since Law 975 of 2005, known as the Justice and Peace Law, introduced a limited transitional justice regime focused on bringing former paramilitaries to justice and instituting a limited truth-and-reconciliation process. With Law 1448 of 2011, which is known as the Victims’ Law, the country adopted a much more robust transitional justice process aimed at the restitution of land and the reparation of losses. Despite the political and legal emphasis on transition, however, armed violence and mass displacements have continued.

As the Victims’ Law began to shape the agendas and actions of women’s IDP organizations, it became clear that interesting things were happening at the interface between two coexisting regimes: (1) the legal framework addressing displacement as a humanitarian crisis, and (2) an emerging large-scale, victim-oriented transitional justice framework.

Separately, these regimes represent significant advances in the protection of civilians. The humanitarian crisis framework signified political and legal acknowledgment of the forced nature of migration, while the Victims’ Law acknowledged both the existence of armed conflict and the fact that its victims must be recognised and heard. In practice, the coexistence of the regimes creates both opportunities and challenges — specifically, by simultaneously empowering and disempowering grassroots actors.

Thematically, the relationship between displacement and transitional justice has only recently begun to receive sustained attention from practitioners, policymakers, and researchers. In December 2009, the UN revised its framework for durable solutions for IDPs, in order to incorporate transitional justice measures. And in 2012, an influential report undertaken by the Brookings Institution and the International Center for Transitional Justice noted that “transitional justice measures can be used to address the . . . . injustices associated with displacement”. We suggest that more focus must be given to the direct and indirect consequences of the application of transitional justice legal frameworks on the ground. In particular, what happens when transitional justice regimes coexist alongside other protection regimes designed for the same individuals — and when such coexisting regimes find themselves competing for resources and international attention?

Note: This entry is built on the following book chapter: 

Sandvik, Kristin Bergtora & Lemaitre, Julieta (2015) ‘From IDPs to Victims in Colombia: A Bottom-Up Reading of Law in Post- Conflict Transitions’ in Saul, Matthew & Sweeney, James A. (eds.) International Law and Post-Conflict Reconstruction Policy, Routledge.

PRIO/NCHS contributes to debate on refugee resettlement

On 12 June 2015 the European Migration Network, the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security and the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration held a conference on resettlement, regional solutions and humanitarian assistance. The conference focused on four main themes: the changing environment of resettlement; managing resettlement expectations within refugee populations; resettlement as part of comprehensive solutions; and the way forward.

Contributing to the panel “Managing resettlement expectations within refugee populations”, Cindy Horst (Research Director and Research Professor, PRIO) discussed the impact of resettlement in refugee camps. NCHS Director, Kristin B. Sandvik (Senior Researcher, PRIO) commented on the academic approach to resettlement, and discussed resettlement and the way forward.

Other topics that were discussed at the Conference were displacement in the 21st century; the evolution of resettlement as an instrument of protection and its potential for meeting contemporary challenges; academia’s approach to resettlement; strategic resettlement and linkages to humanitarian/development policy; and EU policies regarding cooperation with third countries of origin and transit and programs for development and protection in the region.

The conference was organized in collaboration with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Norwegian Refugee Council, and included national and international government officials, academics and humanitarian actors.

Speakers included Jan Egeland (Secretary General, Norwegian Refugee Council), Vincent Cochetel (Director, Bureau for Europe, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), Prof. Alexander Betts (Director of the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford), Oskar Ekblad (Head of Swedish resettlement program, The Swedish Migration Board), Aleksandar Romanovic (DG Migration and Home Affairs, European Commission), Thomas Thomsen (Chief advisor for Humanitarian Policy and Assistance, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Denmark), and Johan Kristian Meyer (Refugee Policy Director, Department for UN, Peace and Humanitarian Affairs, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs). Comments were provided by Frode Forfang (Director General, Norwegian Directorate of Immigration), Tonje Øyan (Head of resettlement unit, Norwegian Directorate of Immigration), Pål Nesse (Senior Adviser, Norwegian Refugee Council), Magne Holter (Assistant Director General, Department of Migration, Ministry of Justice and Public Security).

Oslo Red Cross seminar on humanitarian dilemmas

This week, Kristoffer Lidén (PRIO) will partake in the seminar “Humanitarian dilemmas – how to navigate in a political landscape?”.  The seminar focuses on how the Oslo Red Cross can remain neutral while discussing humanitarian needs and engaging in public debates on urban challenges.

Contributing to the seminar, Dr. Lidén will discuss ethical perspectives on the dilemma of combining humanitarian principles of neutrality and independence with a humanitarian political engagement in a Norwegian context.

The breakfast seminar (in Norwegian) will be held on 20 May (07:30-09:30) at the Norwegian Red Cross. For further information and to register for the event, send an e-mail to:

Political Violence and Humanitarian Technology

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Can humanitarian uses of new digital technologies always be expected to have benevolent consequences? In a recent Security Dialogue article, I investigate this question. Biometric technologies are not only used as post-9/11 counter-terror measures (used in airports and by intelligence officers and military staff in Iraq and other places) but also as a technology, which is increasingly deployed in a range of different humanitarian settings. According to a central humanitarian actor, namely the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), biometric technologies such as fingerprinting or iris scanning can, for example, help ensure that refugee registration is faster and more accurate. However, such representations of the technology have not gone unchallenged. Critical voices have called attention to various potential downsides of humanitarian uses of biometric technologies. Indeed, it has been argued that this humanitarian faith in the ability of new biometric technologies to ‘assist’ humanitarians in their protection practices, is based on shaky assumptions and unwarranted expectations.

Buttressing the relevance of such critical voices, we can recognise a number of dynamics with implications for the sense in which such humanitarian practices may deliver better and more efficient protection if we look more closely at how humanitarian actors have deployed specific biometric technologies. Such dynamics for example become more easily discernible if we zoom in on a specific case in which UNHCR has been using biometric registration technology. The very first application in which UNHCR used biometric iris recognition was in 2002, when the technology was introduced as a mandatory aspect of a repatriation programme in the Afghan-Pakistan borderland. Every Afghan refugee who wished to return to Afghanistan (from camps in Pakistan) had to undergo mandatory iris recognition at designated Verification Centres in order to get access to the one-time assistance package offered by UNHCR as part of this repatriation endeavour.

Experimenting on Refugees?

The politics of this technology application unfolds at three levels. First of all, this application of a new biometric technology in a certain sense resembled an experiment. With reference to the fact that it was the very first time that this sensitive technology was being used in such harsh and challenging conditions, where the technology would for example be exposed to heat and dust, UNHCR has described this technology use as an ‘experimental iris testing’ (UNHCR, 2003). But deploying the technology under such challenging conditions did not only entail a risk of ‘failure’ (if the technology could not perform as expected) – it also entailed a risk that technology failures could perhaps translate into humanitarian failures. For example, if the technology produces a false match (between the live iris image of a refugee seeking assistance and the stored iris template of a refugee who had already received assistance) then such a failure could potentially result in a refugee being denied humanitarian assistance because he/she was mistaken for another refugee who had already received assistance. Indeed, this aspect of contemporary humanitarian technology uses is arguably best understood in light of a long history of different instances where humanitarian subjects have been considered fit for experimentation and exposed to various risks that it would not be considered appropriate to expose other ‘more valuable’ bodies to.

Digitized Refugee Bodies

Second, dynamics of crucial importance for the question of how technology-endowed humanitarian practices can offer improved protection to refugees also unfolded at another level. The application of biometrics implies that once registered, a biometric template of the refugee’s iris is produced. Accordingly, what emerged in the context of this technology use was a newly digitalized refugee body. And crucially, this digital refugee body is open to new forms of intervention which may imply additional insecurity for the implicated refugee – unless, in this case UNHCR, is able to protect the refugee from such interventions.

Data Sharing?

Third, in the case of UNHCR, neither refugees nor others interested in the use of biometrics in refugee contexts are able to find any clear answers to the politically sensitive question of which actors (host states, donors, etc.) UNHCR may share this biometric refugee data with, and in what form (aggregate or individual biometric data). UNHCR recently decided to renew its biometric system and in relation to that a Request for Proposals was issued (2013). As uncertainties remained, UNHCR agreed to reply to various questions from bidders, but concerning a question regarding the subject of data sharing (“Are there plans to exchange biometric data with their partners [NGO, Governments, etc.]?”) UNHCR simply responded that: “Biometrics will be used at UNHCR’s discretion. Whether or not UNHCR exchanges data with partners, is not relevant” (UNHCR 2013).

As such, the extent to which humanitarian uses of biometric technology (possibly even digital technologies more broadly) offers an alternative to political violence or perhaps an extension of the domain of sovereign power (insofar as digital refugee bodies have become a terrain of intervention) thus seems a crucial question that deserves more attention in current debates about humanitarian technologies – debates that are, however, characterized by an almost unchallenged optimism rather than critical reflection, debate and action.

Finally, what must also be said is that such calls for more critical reflection on the potentially for negative effects of various humanitarian practices – including technology uses – also call into question a more fundamental assumption that humanitarians often make, namely that humanitarian practices are benign and benevolent acts that simply serve to offer protection to people for whom no other protection is available. For example if a state is unable to guarantee safe living conditions for people within its territory, this may lead to a situation where people flee and then humanitarians often step in to help those people. Yet, the risk that uncritical humanitarian uses of new technology may unintentionally give rise to new forms of insecurity, is but one illustrative example of the continued relevance of a longstanding questioning of this assumption – more specifically of questions about the extent to which humanitarianism necessarily represents an alternative to the different kinds of political violence experienced by people whom the current landscape of sovereign states fail to protect.

Note: Katja Lindskov Jacobsen is an Assistant Professor in the department of Risk & Disaster Management at Metropolitan University College in Copenhagen, Denmark. This entry was originally posted on the blog Political Violence @ a Glance. A more detailed analysis of UNHCR and biometric registration of Afghan Refugees, written by Lindskov Jacobsen, is available here.

Women’s Right to Abortion after Rape in Sudan

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In 1991, Sudan’s Islamist regime expanded the circumstances under which abortions are permitted within 90 days of conception to include rape. This reform has received great attention, especially given the rampant rape that occurred during the violent conflict in Darfur. Rape victims have been unable to take full advantage of this law, however, since a victim must overcome serious legal and practical hurdles in order to access an abortion. This became even more difficult after the International Criminal Court’s 2009 indictment of President Bashir because Sudan expelled many of the humanitarian organizations, including Médecins Sans Frontières,that were providing vital medical treatment after rape. The expulsions has caused a reduction in sexual violence protection programs, including the closing of medical centers and denying women the right to post rape medical care. Victims of rape in war struck Darfur often end up with an unwanted child and the lifelong stigma that entails or seek an illegal and unsafe abortion risking life threatening health complications.

Sudan’s Rape Laws

At first sight, Sudan’s liberalization of abortion rights in 1991 would seem to be welcome step forward for Sudanese women. The Islamist state expanded the circumstances under which a woman can seek a legal abortion to include rape. At second sight, however, the law reform seems to have had little practical significance for rape victims, since it is extremely difficult to prove rape and failure to do so may result in prosecution for zina.

In article 149 of Sudan’s Criminal Code of 1991, rape is categorized as zina (that is, sexual intercourse before and outside of marriage) without consent. At the same time, though, Sudan criminalizes zina and, building on the Islamic hudud penalties, this crime is punished with 100 lashes (if the person is unmarried) and capital punishment by stoning (if the person is married).

This creates a dilemma for a rape victim. In order to prove rape, the victim must prove that someone has forcibly committed sexual intercourse with her. The burden of proof falls on the rape victim. Only physical injuries and bruises are regarded as evidence for the lack of consent in Sudanese courts, unless the victim of rape is a child. If the police do not document such injuries on Form 8 (the form used to report a violent act, which is then used as evidence in court), an accusation of rape may lead to the victim’s incrimination for zina.

This is especially likely to occur if the victim is an unmarried woman or girl who becomes pregnant because of the rape, since her pregnancy will serve as clear evidence that sexual intercourse occurred. Pregnancy in unmarried women is the evidence for zina, in addition to a confession (which is not retracted before the verdict) or the testimony of four male eyewitnesses. If an unmarried woman becomes pregnant after rape she can thus be punished for the crime of zina if she fails to prove the lack of consent. In the words of one of my informants; if you cannot prove rape, you become the perpetrator.”


Access to emergency contraception after rape in Darfur

Abortion care in connection with rape received heightened attention after the Darfur conflict erupted in 2003 because sexual violence and rape became widely documented. Humanitarian organizations rushed to the scene, providing victims of sexual violence with so-calledrape kits” that included the “morning after pill,” which prevents pregnancy if taken within 72 hours after a rape.

On 4 March 2009, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Bashir, indicting him on five counts of crimes against humanity in Darfur (murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture, and rape) and two counts of war crimes (pillaging and intentionally directing attacks against civilians). Following this, the Sudanese government immediately expelled 13 international NGOs operating in Darfur that, among other things, provided post-rape treatment. This caused a dramatic reduction in women’s access to medical treatment after rape. According to a Darfuri activist (2013 interview),

After the expulsion of international and national health service providers, medical centers were closed down, such as the Italian hospital in Nyala. Thus, services for raped women are now only found in public hospitals, as state protocols dictate that only doctors are allowed to deal with rape cases. Many displaced women are far away from hospitals and there is no regular transportation from the camps to the hospitals.

The Sudanese regime did not entirely stop the distribution of rape kits after the ICC arrest order, but it required the Ministry of Health to distribute them. State protocols further dictate that only doctors may provide legal abortions. The practical effect of these policies has been to restrict access to services. As a country struggling with poverty, internal displacement, and several armed conflicts, Sudan lacks medical infrastructure, particularly doctors. In many rural areas, particularly in conflict zones like Darfur where sexual violence is rampant, midwives and nurses are the only healthcare providers. However, they are not allowed to prescribe emergency contraceptives in cases of rape. One humanitarian actor working in Darfur has explained (2012 interview),

Only doctors have authorization to give emergency contraceptive. In rural areas of Darfur there are no doctors. It cannot be given by a nurse. The pill has to be taken within 72 hours after the rape. Women cannot travel to urban centers to access medical centers due both to the armed conflict and lack of resources. There are a lot of children born in Darfur as a result of rape.

Furthermore, the Darfur region is obviously characterized by a fundamental lack of trust in government hospitals, and women are generally reluctant to seek medical treatment there.

Because of the expulsions, only UN organizations are currently bringing rape kits to Sudan. Most international humanitarian organizations have reduced their efforts within the area of sexual violence in order to avoid being barred from the country. As the UN is cooperating with the government, women’s access to medical services after rape outside of state hospitals is therefore reduced. Even the UN is facing some difficulties, according to Sudanese activists (2015 Interview):

These rape kits are stuck in the warehouses under the auspice of the Ministry of Health. Thus, the rape kits do not reach many hospitals. Further, doctors are instructed to not document the use of rape kits (because the government is not keen to document the occurrence of rape in Darfur) and thus hospitals run out of them.

In short, access to emergency contraceptives is extremely difficult in the increasingly polarized political setting of Darfur. Many women in war struck Darfur who cannot access emergency contraceptive within 72 hours after the rape, end up with an unwanted child or seek an illegal and unsafe abortion because of the risk of punishment for zina and the lack of medical infrastructure.

Note: This blog is derived from the author’s participation in the research project Protection of Civilians: from principle to practice. A more detailed analysis on “Women’s Right to Abortion after Rape in Sudan” is available in Tønnessen’s publication in CMI Insight, available here.

Boat refugees across the Mediterranean

On 20 April 2015, Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert (PRIO) discussed the challenges of managing refugees entering Europe across the Mediterranean by boat, in the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s current affairs program (NRK2 – Aktuelt).

In the interview, Jumbert states that the motives of the refugees determine whether they get to stay in Europe or not, and points out that one of Europe’s long term border surveillance objectives in the Mediterranean, including the border-control  operation Triton, has been to examine and sift out rightful asylum-seekers from so-called illegal migrants. Commenting on the current practice, she highlights that it is highly inappropriate to perform such screening processes at sea, and that evaluation of rights to international protection must be made on land by competent authorities.  She also emphasizes that humanitarian considerations must come first, in a situation where many are at risk of drowning.

Discussing the EU-countries’ assistance to Italy and Greece, who have had the greatest number of refugees arriving by sea, Jumbert points out that the European countries have a shared responsibility to deal with so-called boat refugees. In practice however, the states who receive the migrants have carried most of the burden. As part of the Dublin Regulation, Europe’s current practice is that the refugees’ claims have to be handled by the state in which the asylum seeker first enters. Jumbert states that this amplifies the unequal sharing of responsibilities among the EU states.

Comments on the challenges of refugee flows to Europe were also made by Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Tuva Raanes Bogsnes (NRC), Terje Einarsen (University of Bergen), Anniken Huitfeldt (Labour Party) and Kristian Norheim (Progress Party).

See the interview with Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert (in Norwegian) here.

Women’s Right to Abortion after Rape in Sudan

In the recently published piece ‘Women’s Right to Abortion after Rape in Sudan‘, Liv Tønnessen (CMI) discusses rape and legal and practical hurdles women must overcome in order to access abortion in Sudan.

In the study, Tønnessen explores women’s access to emergency contraception after rape in Darfur, illegal abortions and medical activism under Islamic law, and the cultural and religious stigma associated with abortion.

The piece is published in CMI Insight, as part of the Protection of Civilians: From Principle to Practice project, and is available here.

Emergency Exit for the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

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Against the background of a politically divided Security Council, there is a need for a new international strategy to protect civilians caught up in armed conflicts.

The international system for crisis management that emerged after the Cold War assumed a degree of political consensus that has now evaporated. As a result we are left with peace policies that do not work.

From worse to a true hell

This is the clear message of a recent report on the international involvement in Syria during 2014. The report shows how the situation for civilians has gone from bad to worse – or more accurately from worse to a true hell – despite the demands of three Security Council resolutions.

In a comment on the report, Jan Egeland writes: “The bitter reality is that we are failing not because of a lack of solutions. The reason is that the parties are not willing to do what is necessary. Acting together, Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar and other UN countries possess the necessary influence to secure the implementation of the UN resolutions.”

This is right from a humanitarian perspective, but the states have their reasons for not being willing. The challenge for the UN is to provide a solution that they all see as serving their interests, and this is where the UN apparatus for conflict response is failing.

In order for the UN and associated states and organisations to effectively protect civilians in the current international political climate, their policies have to change in four areas: 1. Emergency aid; 2. Peacekeeping; 3. Negotiations; and 4. Peacebuilding.

1. Emergency aid

In order to gain access to civilians in countries affected by violent conflicts, humanitarian efforts need to regain their neutral and independent status.

During the 1990s, emergency aid became associated with longer-term efforts to promote peace, democracy and human rights. As a result, peace operations became the new primary arena for the provision of emergency aid. This was the outcome of a broad international political consensus that political and economic liberalization would bring peace and development.

With few exceptions like the Red Cross, emergency aid organizations deliberately politicized their aid efforts accordingly, with the result that they came to be viewed as extensions of Western foreign policy. In conflict situations where some of the parties see Western powers as a threat, emergency aid organizations are today met either with scepticism or with direct attacks. The losers are the civilians in need of assistance.

2. Peacekeeping

Peacekeeping operations have followed a similar trend. From acting as neutral parties in conflict zones, peacekeepers became an integral part of a Western peacebuilding agenda. As support has weakened for these types of peacebuilding efforts, the protection of civilians has become a central focus for peacekeeping operations, but in the wrong way.

Protection is understood as the provision of military protection of civilians against physical violence, which involves an expansion of responsibility and interference in countries that are ravaged by armed conflict and limited state control. In settings where civilians are targeted by armed groups, peacekeeping mandates have turned towards active military confrontation with rebel groups, like in DR Congo and Mali.

When major international actors are split in their positions on a conflict, this expansion and sharpening of peacekeeping makes it harder to reach a consensus on mandates. In addition, peacekeeping operations are rarely appropriate for engaging in active combat, which is also not where their primary potential for providing protection lies. Rather, this potential lies in supporting peace processes founded on negotiated solutions.

3. Negotiations

In the absence of liberal peacebuilding as a universal model for peace, the negotiations track must be upgraded. Internationally supported peace negotiations are the only realistic alternative to forms of international involvement such as that seen in Syria, where the various warring parties are supported by outside actors with conflicting interests.

Currently, negotiations tend to take place in an improvised fashion, without sufficient international or local support, and without a realistic framework for implementing agreements. In addition, many negotiating processes lack a principled framework designed to avoid rewarding parties politically for having resorted to arms.

The biggest disadvantage of such political rewards is that they create incentives for parties elsewhere to resort to armed conflict. Upgrading the track of negotiations would involve a more firm rooting in the Security Council, and linking negotiations with a new generation of peacebuilding strategies where necessary.

4. Peacebuilding

The concept of peacebuilding was originally invented in order to support peacekeeping operations – not the other way around.

In order to avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater, the UN should draw on the hard-earned experiences of recent decades and develop a new generation of peacebuilding strategies. These would have to be based on negotiated solutions with broad international backing rather than on a particular political ideology like Western liberalism.

As a framework for international crisis management, the ideal of liberal peacebuilding offered a shortcut from geopolitical contestation – a smooth elevator ride from the hell of war to heaven on earth. A more realistic strategy for the protection of civilians in situations such as that in Syria today is far less ideal – a worn-out emergency exit that opens to a long and wretched stairway.

Note: This entry, written by Kristoffer Lidén, was originally posted on the PRIO blog, and is derived from the author’s participation in the research project Protection of Civilians: from principle to practice. A more detailed analysis of the Security Council’s obligation to protect civilians is available here. A version of this text was published in Norwegian in Aftenposten 12 March 2015: Det finnes en nødutgang ut av helvetet. Translation from Norwegian by Fidotext.