Protecting Civilians in War: The ICRC, UNHCR, and Their Limitations in Internal Armed Conflicts

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Since the complex emergencies of the 1990s, humanitarian agencies have placed increasing emphasis on the protection of civilians during armed conflict. In spite of this, there is a consensus among humanitarians that outcomes are falling short of intentions, and that the increased emphasis on protection by humanitarian actors has failed to yield a corresponding improvement in the security of the civilian population. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are two of the most important humanitarian agencies for the protection of internally displaced persons and other civilians, and both have protection at the heart of their mandates. This book explores how the history, structure, and culture of each of these two international organizations affect how it goes about protection, and highlights how their resulting approaches to protection are inherently limited. Whereas existing explanations for shortcomings in humanitarian protection tend to blame factors external to humanitarian agencies, this book focuses on the organizations themselves, and their understandings of protection. While acknowledging the importance of other actors in determining the level of civilian security or insecurity, the analysis in this book focuses on how the ICRC and UNHCR conceptualize and practise protection, in order to add another layer to our understanding of why protection outcomes are so often so disappointing. Based on research in Geneva, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Myanmar, it examines headquarter-level policy and how such policy is translated into practice on the ground.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages232
ISBN (Electronic)9780191784958
ISBN (Print)9780198716389
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • Armed conflict
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Colombia
  • internally displaced person
  • International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Myanmar
  • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees


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