Who really protects civilians?

One could be forgiven for concluding from the current debate that the ‘protection of civilians’ is something ‘done to’ the passive recipients of international largesse. Whether the macro-level interventions of the UN Security Council or micro-level attempts to reduce the negative side effects of relief action, those in need of protection are rarely seen as key players in their own futures. Although this type of external intervention can be valuable, it is a far from complete picture of how people manage to survive the effects of conflicts. This vision of protection seriously underestimates the resourcefulness of people who have no choice and in so doing misses opportunities to help communities as they are forced to adapt to their new realities. Effective humanitarian action will thus not only focus on the actions of those with a responsibility to protect, but will also support and strengthen the rational decisions that people themselves take to be ‘safe’ in conflict.