Humanitarian protection activities and the safety of strangers in the DRC, Syria and South Sudan

Tom Kirk, Naomi Pendle, Anastasia Vasilyeva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many contemporary humanitarian organisations derive their legitimacy from their claims to protect civilians. Yet, what these organisations do in its name includes a diverse and contested range of activities that are often far from what global publics and affected populations understand as constituting protection. As others have argued, this detracts from honest discussions about when and how humanitarians are well placed to keep civilians safe from violence and threats. To begin to address this gap, we review what three well-known humanitarian organisations publicly say they have done to protect strangers across three violent protracted crises. We capture how they portray their activities, the logics they attribute to them and what is left unsaid. Our findings suggest that humanitarians must, once again, collaborate over a shared protection framework that better signals what others can expect from them. We also identify an emerging convergence around the notion that peer-to-peer denunciations, conflict resolution, supporting self-protection and community protection strategies and improving state-society relations can be important forms of protection activity. There is, therefore, a need for a public stocktake over what can, cannot, should and should not be done to protect civilians in such contexts.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Policy
Early online date15 May 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 May 2024

Data Availability Statement

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


The authors thank Andrea Caballero for invaluable research assistance.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Law

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