Engagement with Armed Actors: Exploring Modalities for Community-Led Negotiations for Protection and Access, Global Protection Forum 2021

For years protection has been viewed through state-centric and legalistic lenses. Protection is the foremost responsibility of the state. Strategies for protection typically focus on influencing or changing the behaviour of state or non-state actors towards the civilians they govern, with the civilians “role” typically seen as a beneficiary – one who benefits from the protection of or provided by another. Civilians are seen as passive “recipients” of protection with little or no agency. Knowing where armed actors are going to be present informs dialogue with them about current harms posed to communities, particularly to children, and what these armed actors can do to minimize risks of these harms. The dialogues involve elements of advocating for improved behaviour and respect for applicable protection and prevention of, for example, the grave violations against children in conflict.  

In addition to this top-down, state-centric mode of protection work, we should also be conceiving of protection as an activity done by civilians, not to civilians. We should view it as a process or set of activities that supports civilians in strengthening their own agency in conflict, of ownership over one’s own safety, and ability to mitigate the risks they may face.  Civilians engage in self-protection actions daily to keep themselves and their families safe while hostilities are ongoing.  

With this rationale, advisers from Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children are exploring how their organisations and humanitarians generally can support communities (if and when they need it, and they explicitly ask for it) on community-led negotiations for access and protection. In particular, we are exploring how we can appropriately support communities’ capacities to negotiate and engage armed actors and other relevant duty bearers for communities’ own protection and access to services.  

We are learning from what Save the Children and War Child Holland found from their development of an evidence-based community-led approach to child protection, applicable in all contexts. We are exploring what modalities are appropriate for engaging armed actors in order to support and guide field teams to consider ways of engaging with and supporting communities. 

This event will cover engagement with state and non-state armed actors and other relevant counterparts in the community and at leadership levels as a form of prevention work (which can also inform or shape response. These preventive efforts can involve directly conducting or pursuing structured dialogues via key partners at points where the counterparts presence and influence intersects with the root causes of risks or specific threats and could help to reduce the longer-term impact of harm and violence on affected persons.