Event | 13 October 2020 | by Hans Rouw


PAX Protection of Civilians Conference 2020

Protecting civilians in conflict is an increasingly complex task, and the question of how to protect is ever more pertinent. Providing effective protection starts with understanding what threats to human security exist and how these differ within a population, and continues with examining how your own capacities can best contribute to mitigating those threats. However, even with the best of intentions civilian harm still occurs and needs to be addressed to maintain credibility. The COVID-19 pandemic has further constrained the international community’s ability to maintain focus on their protection responsibilities in the face of an acute crisis at home. These reasons, combined with the continued work and aspirations on protection of civilians (PoC) from PAX inspired us to organize the online PAX Protection of Civilians Conference on December 1-3, 2020.

This online conference brought together our network of PoC partners on three key themes: People and Protection, National Contributions to PoC, and the Reverberating Effects of Civilian Harm. The conference provided participants with diverse backgrounds and perspectives the opportunity to share knowledge, lessons learned, and ideas for how to advance the field. International interaction was facilitated through live virtual panels, surveys, Q&A sessions, and pre-recorded messages from the field. We initiated this event as part of our partnership with the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Program, recordings, visual notes and reports
Recordings of the conference sessions, additional reflections on the event, and key resources about the event’s core themes can be found in the online dashboard of this event:

+ Day 1 - National Contributions to PoC

Plenary Opening
Hans Rouw (Program Lead Protection of Civilians at PAX), opens the conference by presenting the main PoC priorities, challenges and opportunities. Announcing the full program together with Saba Azeem (Project Lead Human Security Survey) and Wilbert van der Zeijden (Team Coordinator Protection of Civilians) and welcoming messages from PAX partners in Iraq, South Sudan and the US.

Interview with Bert Koenders and journalist Roos Abelman
Bert Koenders (Professor at Leiden University, Special Envoy for Fragile States at the World Bank, and former Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands) engages in an interview on the current opportunities and challenges regarding Protection of Civilians. Interview by journalist Roos Abelman.

Lessons Learned on PoC Experiences from Germany
Joachim A. Koops (Professor of Security Studies at Leiden University) together with Christian Patz  (Head of Conflict Analysis and International Crisis Management at Kiel University) engage in an interactive discussion with the audience regarding their research initiative in Germany on implementing PoC Concepts in UN Peace Operations.

Lessons Learned PoC Bilateral & Special Forces Operations from UK
Abigail Watson (Conflict and Security Coordinator at Saferworld) together with Megan Karlshøj-Pedersen (former Research and Policy Officer at Oxford Research Group) discuss the implications of the shift to remote warfare and Special Forces Operations for PoC, followed by an interactive discussion with the participants.

Workshop Coherence in PoC Policy and Practice
Marla Keenan (Nonresident Fellow at the Stimson Center), Sudi Suleiman (Policy Officer at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and Hans Rouw (Program Lead Protection of Civilians at PAX) provide feedback from their breakouts on coherence in PoC policy and practice. This is introduced and facilitated by Carrie Huisman (Partnership Coordinator Protection of Civilians at PAX).

+ Day 2 - People and Protection

Plenary opening Day 2: ‘What is Human Security?’
Carrie Huisman (Partnership Coordinator Protection of Civilians at PAX) opens a plenary session delving into the question: What is Human Security? She is joined by Lt. Gen. Shailesh Tinaikar (Force Commander at UNMISS), Maj. Marnix Provoost (Policy Officer at the Dutch Ministry of Defense) and Jeanne Abdulla (Director Programs at the Human Security Collective).

Voices from the Field
Anton Quist (Project Lead Human Security Survey South Sudan at PAX) presents PAX’s work on gathering local perceptions from the field. He is joined by John Malith Mabor (Senior Project Officer Human Security Survey South Sudan) and Bul Kunjok (consulting on the Human Security Survey). Both are calling in live from South Sudan.

Expert Panel ‘Community engagement during uncertainty’
Shivan Fazil (Researcher at SIPRI’s MENA Program) and Saba Azeem (Project Lead Human Security Survey Iraq at PAX) facilitate an expert panel on the concept and practice of community engagement in Iraq. The expert panel consists of Ali Al-Assad (CIVIC’s Iraq Country Director) Michel Rentenaar (The Netherlands’ Ambassador to Iraq) Sajad Jiyad (Iraqi Political Analyst) and Jamal Al-Jawaheri (Founder of the Al-Amal Association).

Local Understandings of Human Security: Evidence from the Field
Saba Azeem (Project Lead Human Security Survey Iraq at PAX) facilitates an elaborate discussion on research done by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) regarding local understanding of the concept of human security. She is joined by Dylan O’Driscoll (Director of the SIPRI MENA Program) Virginie Baudais (Deputy Director of the SIPRI Sahel-West Africa Program) Shivan Fazil (Researcher at the SIPRI MENA Program) Shourjya Deb (Researcher at the SIPRI Sahel Program) and Amal Bourhous (Research Assistant at the SIRPI MENA Program).

South Sudan’s Transition: Citizens’ Perception of Peace
Anton Quist (Project Lead Human Security Survey at PAX) and Jan Pospisil (Research Director at the Austrian Study Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution) discuss the recent research on South Sudan’s peace process and the local perceptions of that process with the conference participants.

+ Day 3 - Civilian Harm and Reverberating Effects

Opening Day 3 Civilian Harm and Reverberating Effects
Wilbert van der Zeijden (Team Coordinator Protection of Civilians, PAX) opens day 3 of the conference by presenting the current landscape of Civilian Harm and Reverberating Effects and introducing the speakers and contributors for the final day of the conference.

The visible and invisible effects of the violence used in Mosul
Historian Omar Mohammed (Mosul Eye) gives a presentation on the visible and invisible effects of the violence used in Mosul and answers questions from the audience. The session is facilitated by Erin Bijl (Project Officer Protection of Civilians at PAX).

Reverberating effects of the use of Explosive Weapons
Roos Boer (Program Lead Humanitarian Disarmament at PAX) elaborates on the reverberating effects of the use of explosive weapons in Mosul, Raqqa and Hawija and answers questions from the audience. The session is facilitated by Erin Bijl (Project Officer Protection of Civilians at PAX).

Modelling Reverberating Effects and the Frontlines Lab Initiative
Marla Keenan (The Stimson Center) Mira Olson (Drexel University) and Candace Rondeaux (New America) present the efforts of the Frontlines Lab Initiative, a joint initiative of Arizona State University and New America. Wim Zwijnenburg (Project Lead Humanitarian Disarmament at PAX) and Alma Taslidžan Al-Osta (Humanity & Inclusion) join the discussion. This session is facilitated by Wilbert van der Zeijden (Team Coordinator Protection of Civilians at PAX).

Presentation ‘Understanding reverberating effects’ and interactive discussion on the practical implications and recommendations for military actors
Colonel Petter Lindqvist* (Norwegian Defence University College) and Beatrice Godefroy (Director Europe Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)) present on  reverberating effects  followed by an interactive discussion with the participants on the practical implications and recommendations for military actors. This session is facilitated by Wilbert van der Zeijden (Team Coordinator Protection of Civilians at PAX) and Hans Rouw (Program Lead Protection of Civilians at PAX).

* The recording of the presentation Colonel Petter Lindqvist is unfortunately not available.

You can also watch all the recordings via the PAX PoC Conference 2020 YouTube Playlist.

You can browse you through the visual notes of the conference sessions:

+ Day 1 - National Contributions to PoC

General resources:

  • United Kingdom Approach to Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict
    • This policy brief provides an update to March 2020 on the UK approach to the Protection of Civilians (PoC) in armed conflict situations. It builds on the UK’s PoC strategy paper published in 2010, and has been drafted following consultation with non-governmental organisations, civil society, academics and others.

Content-specific resources:

  • Stimson Center – Operationalizing Protection of Civilians in NATO Operations
    • This paper, written by Marla Keenan and Alexander W. Beadle, identified elements of what NATO needed to consider for a policy on the Protection of Civilians to be comprehensive and successful. They addressed conceptual and practical recommendations, including that NATO should consider protection from their actions as well as from the activities of other armed groups.
  • Contributing to Human Security through training: a mission impossible?
    • This conference, organised by PAX’s PoC team, focused on both training Troop/Police Contributing Countries (T/PCCs) in the case of pre-deployment for UN missions and bilateral training programs Security Force Assistance (SFA) such as Flintlock. This report reflects on the conference and aims to summarise its proceedings.
  • Virtual Panel – Training for the Protection of Civilians
    • On June 1, 2020, the Governments of Bangladesh, the Netherlands, Rwanda, and Uruguay, in partnership with PAX, convened a virtual panel of training experts and policy-makers to reflect on the challenges and best practices of contributions to UN peacekeeping training aimed at improving the capacities of UN peacekeeping operations to fulfill their mandates to protect civilians. This virtual event took place on the sidelines of the May 27, 2020, UNSC Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians.

+ Day 2 - People & Protection

General resources:

  • Al Jazeera – South Sudan counts human cost of deadly cattle raids
    • For many in South Sudan, cattle are regarded as a symbol of wealth. But they are often stolen by rival communities in violent and sometimes deadly raids. Local organisations say more than 5,000 civilians have been killed in cattle raids since South Sudan gained its independence in 2011. Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan reports from Rumbek.
  • Bayan Center – Iraqi Woman: Fears of a New Economic Crisis
    • Iraqis have always faced crises in different periods like what happened after the United Nations Security Council issued economic sanctions against Iraq in 1990, which lasted for years. They have adapted to a way of life to interact smoothly with the crisis. The situation is different now.

Content-specific resources:

  • CIVIC – ‘Let Us Be Part of It’ Community Engagement by the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan
    • This CIVIC report provides a look at how military, police, and civilian components of the United Nations peacekeeping operation in South Sudan (UNMISS) are engaging communities to understand and address civilian protection concerns. The report highlights the importance of UNMISS personnel conducting strategic and coordinated engagement activities and ensuring that information collected from civilians is used to inform operational decisions.
  • CIVIC – “We Just Want Someone to Protect Us” Civilian Protection Challenges in Kirkuk
    • This policy brief analyzes the protection threats affecting civilians in Kirkuk due to the existence of ISIS cells still active in the governorate. It also assesses the response of security forces to these threats, the efforts by the Government of Iraq (GOI) and the ISF to improve security in the governorate and ensure the safety of its inhabitants, and the trust deficit between civilians and security actors.
  • IOM Iraq – Perceptions of Police, Security and Governance in Iraq
    • This report by IOM Iraq and Yale Law School’s Center for Global Legal Challenges compares survey findings evaluating civilians’ attitudes and behaviors towards providers of security and justice; their perceptions of the legitimacy of the Iraqi government; police officers’ attitudes and behaviors toward civilians; and the prevalence of crime and violence.
  • National Democratic Institute – Focus Group Report: Iraqi Citizens Continue to Demand More Responsive Governance
    • This report details a qualitative public opinion research conducted by the NDI with funding from the Government of Canada. Results show that the most pressing need among Iraqi citizens in provinces formerly occupied by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is finding job opportunities and improving their economic situation. This is seen as a precondition for satisfying other necessities which the government is failing to provide, mainly water and electricity.

+ Day 3 - The reverberating effects of Civilian Harm

General resources:

  • Civil Society Guidance for a Model Policy
    • The U.S. military is engaged in a cooperative process with a range of non-governmental organisations to improve its civilian harm mitigation and transparency policy. The report presents the NGOs’ overarching recommendations for improvement.

Content-specific resources:

  • PAX PoC – Civilian harm tracking, analysis and response
    • Paper that explains the concepts of civilian harm tracking, analysis and response, and which outlines PAX’ position with regard to implementation thereof in practice. It proposes a new and more comprehensive definition of ‘civilian harm’, and explains the benefits of tracking, analysis and response from military-strategic, political, and humanitarian points of view.
  • Interactive Website – War in Raqqa: Rhetoric vs. Reality
    • This website compares the Coalition against ISIS’ civilian casualty figures and statements to its own research. It offers personal testimonies from victims of Coalition airstrikes, and it uses a range of different sources and images (satellite imagery, interactive maps) to map the scope of the violence that took place in Raqqa, Iraq.

A detailed program of this conference is available here:


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