The Politics of Protection

The Politics of Protection: The Limits of Humanitarian Action

Elizabeth G. Ferris
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 359
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  • Book Info
    The Politics of Protection
    Book Description:

    For the past decade, humanitarian actors have increasingly sought not only to assist people affected by conflicts and natural disasters, but also to protect them. At the same time, protection of civilians has become central to UN peacekeeping operations, and the UN General Assembly has endorsed the principle that the international community has the "responsibility to protect" people when their governments cannot or will not do so. Elizabeth Ferris explores the evolution of the international community's understandings of protection, with a particular emphasis on the humanitarian community.

    "Protection" is a noble word, with positive connotations, but what does it actually mean in practice? Does providing assistance to vulnerable people protect them, for example? Does monitoring the number of rapes protect women? Does increased engagement in protection activities by humanitarian agencies jeopardize the cornerstone humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality?

    InThe Politics of Protection, Ferris examines inconsistent ways in which protection is defined and applied. For example, why do certain groups receive international protection while other equally needy groups do not? Her case studies, ranging from Iraq to Katrina, illustrate the challenges -and limitations -of protecting vulnerable populations from the ravages of war and natural disasters. Ferris argues that the protection paradigms currently in use are inadequate to meet the challenges of the future, such as climate change, protracted displacement, and the changing nature of warfare.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-2138-3
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xx)

    From the beginning of my humanitarian work in 1985, I have been fascinated by the issues involved in protecting people. Others could deal with the nitty-gritty logistics of moving in relief supplies and deploying medical personnel to the world’s latest hotspot, but for me, the essence of the humanitarian enterprise was protection. Protection encompassed the real life-and-death issues: taking action to stop refugees from being pushed back across borders, civilians from being massacred by vigilantes or insurgents, and women from being raped by marauding gangs and providing support to desperate people who use desperate measures to try to find safety...

  5. 1 Humanitarian Principles and International Law
    (pp. 1-39)

    The concept of protection is an ancient one, cited liberally in the Hebrew Scriptures and later in the New Testament, the Koran, and other religious writings. The word “protect” comes from the Latinprotegere,meaning to shield, cover, protect, defend. Over the ages in Western civilization, the term has been used in various ways: God’s protection, royal protection, diplomatic protection, self-protection, protection under the law, and, more recently, equal protection, trade protection, consumer protection, social protection, environmental protection, copyright protection, and so on. “Protection” is a nice word, a noble word. It is used by historians, political scientists, anthropologists, lawyers,...

  6. 2 Human Rights and Protection
    (pp. 40-61)

    Today the issue of protecting people, at least among humanitarians, is framed largely in the language of human rights. In fact, many use the term “protection” as shorthand for “protecting a person’s basic human rights.” After briefly describing the origins of understandings of human rights, this chapter looks at the relationship between human rights and protection and the burgeoning number of human rights instruments. While modern human rights law usually is dated to the 1948 adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—which predates the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees,...

  7. 3 Protection and Humanitarian Assistance: Communities and Governments
    (pp. 62-90)

    While the concept of protection has a firm foundation in different strands of international law, the way that people are protected depends on the actors who are protecting them and their interpretation of what protection entails. Although everyone recognizes that it is the fundamental responsibility of national governments to protect those living within their boundaries, if governments were able to consistently carry out this essential function, there would be no need for humanitarian assistance or for the UN Security Council to grapple with what it means to protect civilians. But the reality is that governments often are unable to protect...

  8. 4 The UN and NGOs in Humanitarian Operations
    (pp. 91-125)

    When people think of international response to conflicts and disasters, they usually think of UN agencies and international NGOs rushing to the scene. They also may think of government officials committing large sums of money for disaster relief. But in fact, as discussed in the previous chapter, it is national governments that are responsible for protecting people within their borders and communities often take measures to protect themselves. But the most visible part of the international humanitarian system is indeed the vast array of UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations.

    Traditionally the international humanitarian system has centered around the United Nations,...

  9. 5 Global Governance
    (pp. 126-173)

    While every epoch has its humanitarian catastrophes, three crises that occurred in the 1990s—in Somalia, Bosnia, and Rwanda—constituted a particular assault on humanitarian principles and on the UN system as a whole.¹ While the world had rushed massive relief to the victims of the 1984–85 famine in Ethiopia and had reacted with horror to reports of genocide in Cambodia, and while hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese had been resettled following that country’s war, the events of the 1990s represented a turning point in humanitarian principles and in UN engagement in protecting people in danger. While some of...

  10. 6 Humanitarian Dilemmas
    (pp. 174-199)

    Humanitarian work has long been complicated, political, dangerous, and difficult. There was no golden era of humanitarian endeavor when refugee camps were calm, access to affected populations was easy, and all assistance was strictly nonpolitical. During the 1980s, for example, conflicts in Central America created large-scale displacement; while many NGOs protested the forced relocations and military incursions into refugee camps, others saw the camps as havens for guerrilla forces. Many other areas were simply out of reach for most humanitarian actors—such as Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation and Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime. During the cold war, response...

  11. 7 Natural Disasters and Protection
    (pp. 200-227)

    When a large-scale natural disaster occurs—such as the 2004 tsunami in South Asia or the 2010 earthquake in Haiti—the international humanitarian community springs into action. Search and rescue teams are deployed by governments, humanitarian agencies mobilize staff, communications systems are set up, and large quantities of relief goods are shipped off to help people in need. The priority is always the delivery of life-saving assistance, and until the last five or six years, that was assumed to be the sole criterion for evaluating the success of relief efforts. Since the 2004 tsunami, however, there has been growing concern...

  12. 8 Paying for Protection: Humanitarian Financing
    (pp. 228-244)

    When international actors get involved in protecting people whose lives are in danger, they need financial resources. Peacekeepers need troops and equipment, international NGOs need funds to purchase fuel-efficient stoves, and humanitarian agencies often need money to pay for their own security. Affected communities often are desperate for resources—funds to pay for their flight to a safer community, jobs to replace livelihoods lost by war or mudslides, or money to pay warlords to leave them alone. But the funds to support communities in their initial protective efforts come largely from their own resources or from relatives and friends who...

  13. 9 Future Challenges for Humanitarian Actors
    (pp. 245-269)

    Predicting what will happen in the future is, of course, difficult for everyone, but perhaps especially so for humanitarian actors, who are used to responding to crises in the here and now. Humanitarian actors sometimes also worry that making predictions could have adverse consequences. Predicting genocide or widespread violence in a country could make it difficult to carry out humanitarian operations (or even to obtain visas, for that matter). And planning ahead for a specific emergency can either make an agency look foolish if a crisis does not materialize or create a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, if a surge of...

  14. 10 Concluding Observations and Recommendations
    (pp. 270-286)

    Protection as a concept emerged from international humanitarian law, refugee law, and human rights law, three traditions that developed to respond to specific needs at particular historical moments. International humanitarian law emerged in the nineteenth century, originally to protect soldiers who were no longer active participants in combat. Refugee law developed to meet the crisis of the large-scale movement of people, particularly Russians, across European borders in the 1920s. The breakthrough in the development of international human rights law occurred in the immediate aftermath of World War II, and the development of IHL was shaped by cold war politics. The...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 287-344)
  16. Index
    (pp. 345-360)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 361-362)