by Mel Duncan, Cofounder and Director of Advocacy and Outreach (Published March 22, 2017)

In December for the first time in history, the UN Security Council recognized unarmed civilian protection (UCP). The language was contained in a Security Council Resolution that renewed the mandate for the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). The language states:

Recognizing that unarmed civilian protection can often complement efforts to build a protective environment, particularly in the deterrence of sexual and gender-based violence against civilians, and encouraging UNMISS, as appropriate, and when possible, to explore how it can use civilian protection techniques to enhance its ability to protect civilians, in line with the UN Secretary-General’s recommendation. 

This section recognizes NP’s strong contributions on the ground and calls upon the UN Mission to explore how they can use UCP to enhance their ability to protect civilians. The missions to the UN from Venezuela and Angola led the effort for the recognition of UCP.


Bigger than it sounds

To the average person, this brief recognition may not seem like much, but in the context of the UN where words are the local currency, it has caught people’s attention. It builds on a progression of work starting in December of 2014 following General Assembly Resolution (69/139). This resolution included the explicit roles of civilians in enhancing the safety of vulnerable populations and the promotion of peaceful settlements in disputes. Since then unarmed approaches for the protection of civilians has been recognized in a series of major UN studies and reports. Last October the missions of Australia, Belgium, Costa Rica, the Netherlands and the Philippines hosted a briefing at the UN on UCP that featured NP’s work in South Sudan and the Philippines.

How change happens

Changes in global norms often arise from this type of progression.

  • First the change must demonstrably address a need. NP and twelve other organizations are demonstrating that UCP protects civilians in some of the most violent places on the planet.

  • The changes have to be attractive and easy to replicate. Then the practices need to be captured in reports and academic studies, as we have seen in the development of the UCP course with the UN Institute for Training and Research. UCP is increasingly a focus of academic study as we have seen at Selkirk College (Canada), Leeds Beckett (UK) and Queensland (Australia), as well as in the independent research carried out by Drs. Bellamy, Bliesemann, Furnari, Janzen, Julian, McCarthy and Schweitzer among others.

  • And finally, there has to be constant advocacy.

Buckminster Fuller describes this process, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Powerful forces against change This progress is not met with universal acclaim. Remember that major corporate interests fuel militaries. UCP does not yield much in the way of private profits. The UN Department of Peacekeeping fields over 100,000 armed peacekeepers with a budget that approaches U.S. $9 billion. Not everyone is convinced of the efficacy of unarmed approaches and remain skeptical. Some larger non-governmental organizations either advocate for military interventions and/or feel their turf is threatened. Yet, these critiques will only sharpen our intellects and improve our work.

Evaluate, document, repeat

Simultaneously, we have begun to work with various units in the Department of Peacekeeping to develop pilot projects that can be evaluated and replicated.

At the end of the day, our work goes beyond the promotion of NP. It is about developing a methodology to protect civilians that can be used by many. Today, violent conflict displaces more civilians and for greater lengths of time than any period since WW II. More people are also becoming vulnerable to violence in the United States. Therefore, we must develop and promote methods for protecting civilians that are not only effective but also economical and easily replicated. In December, the Security Council brought us a step closer to that realization.

“To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”

—Buckminster Fuller

You can protect civilians who are living in or fleeing violent conflict. Your contribution will transform the world's response to conflict.