Protection: What is it anyway? | Politics

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Protection in a humanitarian context can seem a daunting challenge, and many non-specialists may feel it is too complex, technical or risky to take on board in their programmes. Fundamentally, though, protection is about people being safe from the harm others might cause them when conflict or disaster may leave them more vulnerable. This booklet provides an overview of what protection means in practice, who is responsible for making it happen and what those in need of protection can expect of humanitarians. The risks that people face can take many forms and require a range of actions, some more specialised than others. This booklet gives a broad outline for humanitarians in other fields, and also includes links to more detailed resources.
        P      R       O      T      E       C      T      I       O      N    :     W    H    A    T    I    S    I    T    A    N    Y    W    A    Y    ?  “ I was held by the Lord’s Resistance Army for eight months. We were always on the move, staying in any one place no more than a week. I was forced to carry heavy loads, find food and cook … Girls like me, some as young as 12, were forced to become the ‘wives’ of the LRA men. I was assigned to a boy who … had also been kidnapped, but was now an LRA fighter … I was finally able to escape one day when I was sent out to look for food. When the LRA fighters who were accompanying us fell asleep, another girl and I ran away. We walked 40 kilometres and finally arrived to safety in a village in Sudan.” JOSEPHINE (not her real name)Northern DRC, September 2010 PROTECTION IN HUMANITARIAN ACTION Pierre Péron/Oxfam  Protection is fundamentally about people like Josephine being safe from the harm that other people might cause them – from the kinds of violence and coercion she suffered when she was abducted by the LRA, and from being deprived of assistance or shelter after reaching refuge, for instance because of stigma about what has happened. This booklet provides an overview of what protection means in practice, who is responsible for making it happen and what those in need of protection can expect of humanitarians. The risks that people face can take many forms and require a range of actions, some more specialised than others. This booklet gives a broad outline for humanitarians in other fields, and also includes links to more detailed resources.Protection is defined as all activities aimed at obtaining full respect for the right of all individuals, without discrimination, in accordance with the relevant bodies of law. This means that protection is an objective central to all humanitarian action: when people face severe abuses or violence, humanitarians risk becoming part of the problem if we don’t understand how our own actions can affect people’s safety. If we don’t take protection into account from the start, not only will we miss opportunities to reduce risk for the people affected, but we could prolong a situation that puts them in danger.Protection is a legal responsibility: the state has primary responsibility for making sure that people within its borders are safe. When it doesn’t do so effectively, for whatever reason, national and international humanitarian organisations can play a part in ensuring that basic obligations are met. As humanitarians we do not physically protect people from harm, but we can help them stay safe from violence, coercion and abuse. This goes beyond what is known as ‘protection mainstreaming’ or ‘safe programming’: all humanitarians, whatever field they work in, must as a minimum take steps to prevent and reduce risk as well as to restore well-being and dignity for people affected by crisis, particularly the most vulnerable.Protection is the outcome we’re aiming for. To achieve that outcome, some humanitarian organisations also carry out specific activities to help people stay safe, recover from harm and secure access to their rights. These activities include clearing unexploded bombs after conflict, issuing personal documentation, counselling survivors of sexual violence, supporting children separated from their families and helping people to understand and regain access to their rights. In addition, all humanitarian organisations have an obligation to contribute their knowledge and expertise to collective humanitarian action on systematic threats to individuals and communities caught up in an emergency. THROUGHOUT THIS BOOKLET, LOOK FOR THIS SYMBOL FOR LINKS TO ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON ISSUES COVERED  The response to the phenomenon of ‘night commuting’ in northern Uganda between 2003 and 2005 illustrates how humanitarian action across sectors can support communities in their own efforts to respond to the threats they face. Thousands of children fled into town centres at night to escape abduction by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). In avoiding one threat, however, the children were exposed to other risks such as sexual violence and abuse as they slept outside shops and in bus stations. Community members and religious leaders were the first to respond, opening shelters in churches, mosques and other buildings to house the children at night. Shelter, health services, and water and sanitation provided by humanitarian organisations in turn supported the children in both avoiding abduction and minimising their exposure to violence and abuse in the towns at night. In the face of immediate danger, people will often take the first action to keep themselves and their families safe, and all humanitarians have a role in supporting them.That can seem daunting, but the reality is that protection in humanitarian action is fundamentally about helping people stay safe from – and recover from – the harm that others might do them: broadly violence, coercion and abuse. We don’t have to be legal experts to help protect people from harm.In fact, if you’re a humanitarian then you’re already having an impact on protection, even if you’re not aware of it. Every humanitarian intervention has the potential to reduce the risks people face or to make things worse for them. The way we design and implement a humanitarian response will determine whether we put people at greater risk – or help keep them from harm.In any area of humanitarian action, protection can help us achieve better outcomes for people in need. Taking a protection perspective in our work can help us identify risks that would otherwise limit the impact of what we do, find ways of addressing them in our programmes and refer them to protection specialists when we can’t.This is not something humanitarians can do on their own. Ours is a complementary role, and it involves awareness of and cooperation with others. Understanding who is responsible for what in protecting people in crisis is essential if humanitarian organisations are to play their part effectively. We look at some of the key responsibilities in the next section. FOR MORE ON THESE ISSUES, CLICK HERE WHY ALL HUMANITARIANS HAVE A ROLE IN PROTECTION I’M NOT A PROTECTION SPECIALIST – WHAT CAN I DO? Understand your role in helping people keep out of harm’s way as part of your core humanitarian purpose. © UNHCR/Paul Taggart
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