By Progress Godfrey, Abuja
Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) in collaboration with Centre for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), has taken its advocacy on Protection of Civilians (PoC) further with review of the existing strategies and roles of PoC Champions
The Executive Director of CISLAC, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani in his welcome address during a 2-day PoC Champions workshop which began on Tuesday in Abuja, involving stakeholders from various parts of the country stated the need to recognize efforts of those who ‘work the talk’ and availed themselves as instruments of advocacy.
Rafsanjani said that protective layers must be built across three interconnected spheres: individual, community and the state, adding that harm can be reduced by the strict adherence to rules regulating the use of force.
He said that the Government must enact the proposed law on PoC and also in a manner that is proof of structural gaps.
He said, “While the CIVIC AND CISLAC have made specific efforts to ensure that community-based protection approaches are integrated more systematically into its response, such activities can never be considered a substitute for the protection responsibilities borne by authorities.
“These activities are looking to build on its role as a neutral intermediary, by supporting community self-advocacy and organizing information sessions on legal rights.
“Governments must accent to the policy and proposed legislation on PoC as well as present it in a manner that is proof of structural gaps. I am glad it is the more reason we have gathered here today; to recognise those whose efforts have positively influenced this process – to establish clear framework for institutional authorities and responsibilities for the protection of civilians in armed conflict. For, as bleak as the current state of protection is, there is considerable scope for improvement if we each do our utmost to promote and implement the rules that bind us to preserve humanity in war.”
Civilians, he said, are the best stewards of their own protection, hence the need to design a pathway that ensures that communities are safe, effective and meaningful; with these kinds of efforts to bring peace and stability in conflict.
“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, ” he added
He urged all stakeholders to strengthen sanctions that holds 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 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 said
He added that too many actors take the absence of political convergence as a free ride for military operations without any limitations and without accountability, explaining that there must be clearer support for respecting international humanitarian law; “no one is above the law, States must adapt to changing needs by prioritizing civilian protection and setting clearer ground rules, among other measures.”
He therefore congratulated all the recipients and urged others to do more for the better advancement of the country.
Also speaking, the Country Director of CIVIC, Dr Benson Olugbuo stated that the centre is driven by the passion to save and protect Civilians through engaging with relevant armed actors and civilians in conflict to develop and implement solutions to prevent, mitigate and respond to civilian harm and in advancement of its vision of a world in which no civilian is harmed in conflict.
Olugbuo said it is CIVIC’s firm belief that: parties to an armed conflict have a responsibility and interest to prevent and address civilian harm while also engaging directly with armed actors and offering them practical ways to better protect civilians. This he said, will ultimately change their mindset on the importance and feasibility of protecting civilians.
He also said that Civilians are not merely victims of armed conflict but rather active participants in its mitigation and resolution, explaining that identifying, engaging, and supporting vulnerable and marginalized populations is central to the Centre’s work, “working collaboratively with affected communities, governments, multilateral institutions, and fellow civil society organisations is the most effective way to protect civilians,” Olugbuo said
The Country Director said that in Nigeria, CIVIC has been working to promote these by engaging with key military institutions to influence their curriculum and reinforce the Protection of Civilians and Civilian Harm Mitigation (POC/CHM).
“In pursuit of these ideals, CIVIC has successfully trained over 2,387 military personnel at training institutions and deployment centres, engaged and trained 663 deployed troops within Brigades in the North East, facilitated training of trainers for 93 military instructors, facilitated 19 meaningful dialogues and town hall meetings between the military, community militias, stakeholders and civilians to strengthen trust, coordination and inclusive community driven protection of civilians strategies,” he said
He added that CIVIC has engaged and empowered northeast communities to establish functional Community Protection Committees (CPCs) with members drawn from across project communities.
“In addition, CIVIC has engaged and empowered communities in the northeast, to establish 6 functional community protection committees (CPCs), made up of 300 community members drawn from across project communities and camps that continue to facilitate appropriate engagement with key security agencies to advocate for their community’s protection needs.
“Furthermore, CIVIC has trained 603 community militias including vigilantes, Civilian Joint Task Force & Hunters on protection of civilians’ principles to provide them with the basic knowledge on understanding civilian centred protection.
“Above and beyond this, is the several advocacy engagements towards the adoption of a Protection of civilians’ policy and bill that CIVIC has been working on with many of you in this room as its champions. 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 is “Protection of Civilians (persons, objects and services) which 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.”
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 existing best practices, recognizes – and builds upon existing laws, recognizes that to be effective, we must be consistent across government, among others.
On his part, the Chairman House of Representatives Committee on Army, Hon Abdulrazak Namdas represented by Adeola Adewumi promised to ensure that the PoC Bill component metamorphoses into a law before the end of the 9th assembly.
He said, “There is an existing vacuum and we have collectively developed a policy regime as well as proposed a legislative framework that can help us bridge the gap. I assure all Champions here today; my sole agenda will be to see the bill component become a law before the end of the 9th Assembly.”