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Re-Focusing on Protecting Civilians' Basic Safety and Why We Need to Know Why People Kill: On the Latest Reports of the Secretary-General on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

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The concept of protection of civilians in armed conflict and the respective roles of peace operations and other actors have not been conclusively defined. This article considers the Secretary General's latest reports on protection, in particular the two most recent ones (29 May 2009 and 28 October 2007). The author argues that the understanding of effective protection strategies should be informed by a diagnosis of the warring parties' motivations to use deliberate violence against civilians. Analyzing why humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law are disregarded in many confl icts can help to improve protection strategies. An analysis of the warring parties' motivations may also caution against the belief that there is a system out there that can always protect people in ongoing conflict if only humanitarian actors would improve their modus operandi. Consequently, this article suggests that the notion of protection should remain in close touch with the idea of immediate basic safety. The author recommends that the SecretaryGeneral should insist in future statements and reports that a sound approach to protection requires a diagnosis of why fighting parties choose to attack and threaten civilians. If the diagnosis shows that the armed parties have incentives to disregard basic legal norms and morals; the SC needs to demonstrate real political will to give the concept of protection the meaning it has in conventional language or in the alternative, honestly avoid using it.


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