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UCP - What is it about?

UCP Presence on the GroundUnarmed civilian protection (UCP) refers to the use of unarmed civilians to do ‘peacekeeping’. Peacekeeping is about preventing, reducing, and stopping violence.

It is a common assumption that only armed military or police can do the work of peacekeeping, however unarmed civilians have been successfully ‘keeping the peace’ in situations of violent conflict all over the world, and their numbers are increasing.

Unarmed civilian peacekeeping is a generic term that gives recognition to a wide range of activities by unarmed civilians to reduce violence and protect civilians in situations of violent conflict. There are many non-governmental as well as governmental organisations that engage in UCP, using a variety of methods and approaches. NP is engaged in what we call ‘third generation’, or 3G UCP.

 

UCP - How common or accepted is the idea?

There is nothing new or surprising about using unarmed civilians to do peacekeeping as such. Parents, teachers, social workers, and community leaders have been successfully intervening to stop violent behavior and to protect children and adults from hurting each other from time immemorial.

The first international peacekeeping interventions by the United Nations were also unarmed ‘observer missions’, using military officers but without weapons. Some of the most successful peacekeeping of recent years has been carried out by unarmed civilians deployed by the European Union (EU) and by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Civil society organisations such as Witness for Peace and Peace Brigades International have been engaged in UCP since the early 1980s and there are now dozens of international civil society organisations doing this work in conflict zones around the world.

UCP - How does it work?

All forms of peacekeeping, whether military or civilian, involve the use of various kinds of pressure and influence to change the behavior of armed actors.

These range from the pure coercion that comes from the barrel of a gun to the much more subtle (and generally more effective) influences that convince and/or assist armed actors to behave differently. In between these extremes are a range of strategies that seek to influence those who are engaging in violence or abuse of civilians.

Simply by being present at a military checkpoint or in a village that is under attack, unarmed civilian peacekeepers invariably affect the dynamics of the situation and can change the behavior of armed actors. With a more sophisticated analysis of who is causing the violence and why, unarmed civilian peacekeepers can use additional pressures and influences to affect the behavior of those actors, including moral pressures, peer pressures, economic, political, legal, and many other pressures that can be brought to bear on the situation. These include being condemned by the international community or indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

NP’s approach to UCP, by contrast, relies solely on dialogue with the armed actors themselves to help them behave in ways that will reduce violence and protect civilians. This approach depends on building relationships of mutual trust and understanding that preclude the kinds of ‘naming and shaming’ that other forms of UCP may involve.

UCP - A mix of strategies of pro-active engagement

 

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Update: As of June 22, 2015, the UN high level independent panel on peace operations stated in their report that “unarmed strategies must be at the forefront of UN efforts to protect civilians”. Learn more about this: click here!