After 50 years, nonviolent peacekeeping or unarmed civilian protection has finally become a priority at the United Nations. When we started talking about unarmed civilian protection at the UN over a decade ago, we often found ourselves handing leaflets to the volunteers in the UNICEF shop. The blue obelisk. When we were granted an audience, our presentations were typically brief and at times met with patronizing comments about naiveté.

Today, more people are affected by conflict and disaster more frequently, and for longer periods of time than in previous decades. The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance and protection has nearly doubled in the past decade, from an average of 30 to 40 million people per year to an average of 50 to 70 million people per year.

Throughout the UN, diplomats, military attachés, policy makers, advocates and academics grappled with this escalating need. But the total of all approaches does not come close to meeting the still-burgeoning need.

(Published Feb. 1, 2016)

Meanwhile, NP, along with about a dozen other NGOs, built the experience and capacity to effectively protect civilians without the use of arms in some of the most violent places on the planet. The 70th anniversary of the UN was met with a crescendo of high-level reports and initiatives. The UN Secretary-General appointed three high-level panels to review and recommend changes to the UN peace operations, peace building architecture, and Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. And in a show of unprecedented global participation, groups and individuals interacting with the UN and its agencies developed and agreed on a set of Sustainable Development Goals. These goals serve as benchmarks and will guide the work of the UN over the next 15 years, now known as Agenda 2030.

Greater use of unarmed approaches has loomed large in these deliberations. Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP), a tool to create peace, is now increasingly recognized and accepted.

The UN High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations asserted in their June report that “unarmed strategies must be at the forefront of UN approaches to protect civilians.” They recognized the effectiveness of nonviolent practices and recommended:
In view of the positive contributions of unarmed civilian protection actors, missions should work more closely with local communities and national and international non-governmental organizations in building a protective environment.

In their report released on October 14th, the High-Level Advisory Group on Women, Peace and Security highlights UCP as “a methodology for the direct protection of civilians and violence reduction that has grown in practice and recognition. In the last few years, it has especially proven its effectiveness to protect women and girls." The report further notes that women make up between 40-50% of deployed civilian protectors, a percentage much higher than in UN peacekeeping missions. It also specifically refers to NP’s work in South Sudan.

The high-level group recommends that the UN in collaboration with member states:

• Promote women’s empowerment and non-violent means of protection,
• Scale up their support to unarmed civilian protection in conflict-affected countries, including working alongside peace operations.

And Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #16 promoting Just, Peaceful and Inclusive Societies sets the overall context for the implementation of the above recommendations. It acknowledges that the other 17 Sustainable Development goals can only be realized in a world with peace and security, and possessing respect for human rights. In fact, UCP could well become a significant new tool to help operationalize SDG #16.

Now there is a solid international platform on which to grow the practice of unarmed civilian protection. Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP), shifting its advocacy focus from recognition to implementation, has begun working with the UN Department of Peacekeeping and is seeking to intensify its cooperation with other UN agencies. We are exploring ways to operationalize the recommendations through training, inclusion in mandates and advocacy for increased funding.

We are all humbled by the cascading human needs witnessed on NP’s frontlines and now even witnessed on the roads and railways of Europe. Many of us, now numbering in the thousands, have devoted our treasures, intellect, spirits and lives to developing UCP. We have the methodology. We have the credibility and recognition. We must now scale up our effort to something commensurate with the need. Our work has barely begun.

By Mel Duncan, Director of Advocacy and Outreach

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