Reps Committee chair on Army, Group harp on need to protect civilians in conflict zones

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The Centre for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) has called for support from stakeholders to support a bill it is proposing which seeks to protect civilians especially those in conflict areas.

CIVIC Country Director, Dr Benson Olugbuo while speaking at the Protection of Civilians Champions Event in Abuja, said Protection of Civilians (PoC) policy seeks to address the threats by mitigating harm, facilitating access to basic needs and contributing to establishing a safe and secure environment.

“When adopted, Nigeria will be the first country in Africa with such a policy that seeks to further safeguard its citizens from harm.

“The concept of PoC seeks to address the threats by mitigating harm, facilitating access to basic needs and contributing to establishing a safe and secure environment.

“Basically, PoC policy encompasses all efforts made to avoid, minimize and mitigate the negative effects on civilians arising from military operations on the civilian population and, when applicable, to protect civilians from conflict-related physical violence or threats of violence by other actors, including through the establishment of a safe and secure environment”

He said apart from making Nigeria the very first country in Africa to have a policy and bill that underlines its commitment to civilian protection, the policy recognizes – and builds upon the following “existing best practices, which includes approaches that have been proven to be working in the northeast to address the crisis and improve the humanitarian situation.

“Second, the policy document recognizes – and builds upon existing laws. It is consistent with obligations outlined in domestic law, international law, treaties, and constitutional principles.

“Third, it recognizes that to be effective, we must be consistent across the government. Under the policy and draft bill, all Nigerian security operations will prioritize the safety and security of civilians and endeavour to minimize the negative effects of conflict on the civilian population.

“Fourth, the policy documents recognize that civilians must not be forgotten. The policy and draft bill affirm the Government’s commitment to ensuring the protection of civilians throughout the planning and conduct of all security operations – as well as protecting civilians from the actions of other armed actors. Finally, this policy, while ambitious, is achievable”.

Also, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Mallam Auwal Rafsanjani said Nigerian governments must assent to the policy and proposed legislation on PoC as well as present it in a manner that is proof of structural gaps.

He said civilians are the best stewards of their own protection, “and because they are our constituencies, we owe it a duty to design the pathway that ensures that communities are safe, effective and meaningful; with these kinds of efforts to bring peace and stability in conflict.

He further noted that civilians have devised and implemented highly effective solutions, including communities demanding and obtaining armed escort for women leaving their homes to gather firewood; community leaders persuading warring parties into an agreement to a daily ceasefire; that is because of the effect they also suffer directly or indirectly.

“I urge you to strengthen sanctions that hold perpetrators to account, the experiences and needs of civilian communities who suffer the daily brutalities of armed conflict must be incorporated into measures that protect them.

“We must move beyond a victim’s mindset to understanding people and communities as agents of their own protection and experts of their own situation, people in communities who suffer the daily brutalities of war and violence do not wait for external intervention, this is as a result of trust deficit that is damaged”, he added.

In his keynote address, the Chairman House Committee on Army, Abdulrazak Namdas, said there is need to use this PoC Champions event to reaffirm the country’s collective will and resolve to collapse political infrastructure towards the actualization of a PoC regime.

He said “Protection of Civilians (PoC) must be considered and integrated during all operations. Civilians are protected persons under international law, and parties to a conflict have a legal obligation to protect civilians from the conflict’s effects.

“Additionally, PoC should be a major objective of many military operations and as well as frequently included in mandates for any kind of operations, no matter how little.

Furthermore, Namdas said there are at least four challenges regarding the PoC strategy.

“First, an actual PoC strategy from higher echelons may not exist (or it may be too vague to be of value). For example, a crisis may have resulted in a hasty deployment of military forces without the deliberate formulation of a PoC strategy. Alternatively, strategic leaders may be focused on other mission concerns and devote little or no attention to PoC.

“A second challenge is a mismatch between ends, ways, and means. A PoC strategy may have ambitious objectives, but the available resources are insufficient to attain them.

“Third, a strategy may be obsolete with respect to circumstances that have changed. Finally, commanders and other military personnel may neglect the strategy in their daily activities, potentially resulting in tactical incidents that have negative strategic effects.

“These are the real-life situations of the day to day encounters which oftentimes twist the narratives,” he added.

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