The protection of civilians

Despite the fact that civilians affected by armed conflict have a fundamental right to protection under international humanitarian law, in practice we see that civilians are still those who are hardest hit in conflict situations. Civilians are often killed, or they may suffer mutilation or rape, or be forced to flee their homes.

Asymmetrical warfare, the proliferation and fragmentation of armed groups, and the lack of respect for the distinction between military objectives and civilians all increase the negative consequences for the civilian population in conflict-affected areas.

Norway works actively to promote compliance with the fundamental principle of international humanitarian law that civilians are to be protected from attacks and acts of violence. A number of sections and departments at the Ministry are involved in the work in this area, as are the diplomatic and consular missions. Our efforts focus on certain topics that we consider to be particularly pressing.

Norway places great emphasis on promoting respect for humanitarian principles and international humanitarian law. This not only helps to protect civilians, but it also helps to ensure access for humanitarian organisations working to alleviate suffering.

Access to medical treatment in armed conflict and other crises has steadily deteriorated. For this reason, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement adopted the ‘Health Care in Danger’ resolution at its 31st International Conference in 2011. Health Care in Danger is now a priority project for the ICRC, focusing on the protection of medical personnel, the wounded and sick, and health care facilities and means of transport. Norway has pledged to be a strategic partner in this work, together with  the Norwegian Red Cross, among others. We are working along several different tracks. These include strengthening the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in other countries, engaging in dialogue at the national level, for instance with Norwegian Institute of Public Health, and strengthening the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The protection of education in situations of crisis and conflict will be given higher priority in Norway’s humanitarian assistance and in our efforts to promote the protection of civilians. Schools and school environments in conflict zones must be protected. Children need safe places of learning. Norway will therefore continue to promote the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, work that is already well under way.

All people – women, men, boys and girls – are affected differently by humanitarian crises, conflicts and natural disasters. As far as possible, humanitarian assistance should therefore be tailored to meet the needs of all civilians. The gender dimension is to be integrated into all of Norway’s humanitarian efforts. Projects to combat gender-based and sexual violence will be given priority. In order to identify the needs on the ground and ensure the best possible protection of civilians at risk, it is crucial that women participate in humanitarian work and reconstruction efforts. The organisations that receive funding from the Norwegian Government are required to integrate a gender perspective into their work, and to report on how they are doing so. Norway is also working at the international level to promote and strengthen norms against sexual and gender-based violence. Norway’s proactive role in this area is still needed.