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Phil Orchard

The concept of ‘safe areas’ emerged in the early 1990s as a way of responding to increasing displacement triggered by internal conflicts. As a form of protection, their record was mixed—for every success like northern Iraq in 1991, there was a failure like the collapse of the Srebrenica safe area in 1995. But why did the safe area concept itself emerge at this time? Traditionally, safe areas were akin to humanitarian spaces anchored in consent. The shift in the early 1990s was to replace consent with an international military presence, including military forces and peacekeepers. This article argues that this shift was only possible because of two critical changes which occurred within the United Nations: the recognition that civilian protection represented an international problem and the UN Security Council broadening how it interpreted the notion of ‘threats to international peace and security’ to include issues such as forced migrant flows.

Daniel Jacob and Stefano Recchia

Internationally proclaimed safe areas do not aim to end ongoing wars. Instead, their more limited goal is to create islands of temporary refuge where threatened civilians can find shelter. As intuitively compelling as the idea of safe areas may seem, however, it raises numerous practical and ethical questions. The articles in this special issue draw on history, moral philosophy and political science in order to assess whether safe areas are indeed an appropriate response to humanitarian crises.

Stefano Recchia

Safe areas established by powerful states can improve short-term civilian protection during ethnic civil wars. Paradoxically, however, they may worsen the plight of vulnerable civilians over the medium term. This can occur in three ways. First, when safe areas encompass sizeable territories within a broader conflict zone, they may reduce incentives for protected groups to compromise during peace negotiations, thus prolonging hostilities. Second, there is a nontrivial possibility that protected groups will use the safe areas as a base for launching high-risk offensives, deliberately putting civilians at risk in the hope of drawing the protection forces more deeply into the war. Third, safe areas may embolden protected groups to seek unilateral secession, further increasing the risk of conflict escalation. By elucidating the causal mechanisms involved, this article helps us assess the probability of these outcomes occurring. States that consider intervening militarily to establish safe areas in ethnic civil wars need to weigh the short-term benefits against these possible longer-term downsides.

Daniel Jacob

The ‘responsibility to protect’ (RtoP) expresses the moral imperative to respond to genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. So far, the debate on RtoP has focused almost exclusively on conflict resolution through institutional change. Various forms of diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions, and military intervention have been discussed as means to address the institutional roots of violent conflict. What has too often been neglected, however, is the need for more immediate forms of civilian protection. This need emerges from the complexity and uncertainty of conflict resolution: successful conflict resolution takes time, and it is unfortunately rare. Therefore, it is necessary to complement efforts at conflict resolution with more immediate forms of protecting civilians. Traditionally, the right to asylum and humanitarian aid have been the two primary means to provide such protection. In the case of most intra-state conflicts, however, these means are insufficient. When a state engages in genocide, pursues campaigns of ethnic cleansing, or commits war crimes against its own population, it likely has no intention to let people seek the safety of asylum in other countries, or to allow for humanitarian aid. In response to such situations, the community of states has a moral obligation to establish safe areas and provide them with the legal mandate and military resources necessary to offer reliable protection.

Luke Glanville

This introduction to the special issue on Children and r2p lays out the parallel development of the r2p and Children and Armed Conflict agendas over the last two decades and surveys how key r2p documents developed during this period have engaged with issues of child protection. It then outlines the articles that follow.

Jeremy Shusterman and Michelle Godwin

When the United Nations (un) agreed on a definition of the Responsibility to Protect (r2p) at the 2005 World Summit, the two paragraphs it endorsed articulated what r2p stands for, giving the concept a focused but narrow remit around protecting populations specifically from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in armed conflict. In its next paragraph, the un Membership reiterated concerns on the impact of armed conflict on children echoing the landmark 1612 Resolution by the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict (caac) adopted a few weeks before. Though side-by-side in the text, caac and r2p were not linked. To this day, for international practitioners in emergency responses, the interaction between both remains unclear. While this simultaneous peak moment for r2p and caac may have occurred by chance, this article describes how both concepts (as advocacy tools and instruments for practitioners to ‘respond’) emerged out of similar concern for protecting civilians – including children – in conflict. However, the link between both concepts should not be overstated. While r2p and caac fit together for the intentions they share, this happened more coincidentally than purposefully. This article argues, taking an international practitioner’s perspective, that both concepts should not be understood as always operating at the same level. caac has grown from an advocacy platform to an umbrella of different programmes, responses, tools and frameworks, including the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (mrm) on Children and Armed Conflict. Even if applied with variable success, these tools and approaches under the caac agenda chart some ways practitioners can hope to do more towards protecting children in conflict. But for those same practitioners, delivering on a Responsibility to Protect is a different question – one where their ‘responsibility’ is at best secondary and implicit, because r2p sits squarely as a primary and explicit responsibility of states – who are also the ultimate duty bearers for children’s rights. While the echoes of a child rights agenda can be heard in the conversation around r2p, and while r2p can help frame and drive efforts by child protection practitioners to respond to some of the worst situations children face, r2p is, for the protection agency field officer, an aspirational goal, necessarily out of reach.

Timea Spitka

Children are disproportionally affected in violent conflict, are vulnerable to exploitation and lack protection when a state is failing in its responsibility to protect. In the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, children, particularly those living in Gaza, East Jerusalem, parts of the West Bank are not only vulnerable during escalations but are subject to exploitation, detentions and severe security measures. Divisions over culpability have made the local representatives and the international community incapable or unwilling to take collective action to protect this most vulnerable population. Given the divisive international context, are there R2P tools that can be used effectively to enhance protection for children and teenagers in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? The focus on the protection of children demonstrates: Firstly, the need to closely analyse current protection tools particularly under Pillar iii of R2P, Secondly, the importance to eradicate unintended effects of protection efforts, and finally the potential contribution of focus on children towards reaching a consensus on a protection regime.

Katrina Lee-Koo

The United Nations Security Council’s Children and Armed Conflict agenda is animated by a protection ethic. While the protection of children from violence in armed conflict is entirely appropriate, this article demonstrates that the Council’s singular focus upon protection goes beyond merely appropriate, and borders upon overbearing. The article traces the ways that dominant conceptualisations of children as ‘innocent victims’ has animated an agenda that focuses primarily upon their victimisation that, in turn, reinforces the legitimacy of the protection ethic. It argues that this excludes a nuanced understanding of the lived experiences of children in conflict. In this sense, the agenda is closed to exploring the ways in which children resist, adapt, shape, and survive conflict in ways that position them as agents of their own protection and – in some circumstances – agents of community resilience amidst conflict. Ultimately, this article argues that re-visioning children’s relationship to armed conflict provides a strategy to better ensure children’s rights and reflects their relationship to peace.