Issue 82

Community engagement with armed actors: strengthening protection, prevention and response

The theme of this edition of Humanitarian Exchange, co-edited with Humanitarian Policy Group Senior Research Fellow Gemma Davies, is ‘Community engagement with armed actors: strengthening protection, prevention and response’. The relationship between armed groups and local populations is often portrayed as either predatory or symbiotic. However, local populations are not just passive actors in conflict and armed groups do not only exploit and abuse civilians. Community engagement with armed groups happens discreetly and, significantly, before any recognised mediation or negotiation processes. As the number of protracted, non-international armed conflicts, as well as the number and range of actors involved in them, increases, it is essential that protection actors better understand the interactions between communities and armed actors.

January 16, 2023

Gemma Davies

Pascal Bongard

Leigh Mayhew

Veronique Barbelet

Marc Linning

Mike Jobbins

Allassane Drabo

Habibou Bako

Carla Ruta

Jérôme Grimaud

Kiran Kothari

Lauren Meredith

Ashley South


Jacqueline Hpway

Angela Aung

Eileen May

Mi Kun Chan Non

Anne-Meike Fechter

Julia Steets

Ashley Jackson

Louise Ridden

Berit Bliesemann de Guevara

Sukanya Podder

Beatriz Elena Arias López

Laura Jiménez Ospina

Freddy Giovanni Pérez Cárdenas

In the lead article, Gemma Davies, Pascal Bongard, Leigh Mayhew and Veronique Barbelet provide an overview of the state of evidence and practice with regard to community engagement with armed actors for protection, prevention and peace. Marc Linning looks at the Center for Civilians in Conflict’s (CIVIC’s) practical application of community-based protection, how it has strengthened communities’ engagement with armed actors to reduce conflict-related civilian harm, and the challenges in using such approaches. Mike Jobbins, Allassane Drabo and Habibou Bako explain Search for Common Ground’s approach to engaging armed groups, emphasising the central role and agency of community stakeholders in peacebuilding initiatives. In interviews with Carla Ruta, civil society representatives from Cameroon, Iraq and Lebanon look back on several years of engagement with non-state armed groups on community protection, highlighting different approaches and strategies as well as the risks and challenges associated with implementing them. Jérôme Grimaud reflects on his experience of supporting community mediation in the Central African Republic from 2014. Drawing on a wide range of country-based research and experience, Kiran Kothari and Lauren Meredith propose a series of steps humanitarian practitioners could follow to better support community negotiations with armed actors.

Based on research in Myanmar, Ashley South, Jasminpaw, Jacqueline Hpway, Angela Aung, Eileen May, Mi Kun Chan Non and Anne-Meike Fechter describe how ‘protection partnerships’ between community leaders, civil society actors and ethnic armed organisations play important protective and mobilisation roles.Julia Steets shares the findings from a two-year research project on protection in Iraq, suggesting that practitioners need to understand local political dynamics, break the top-down logic of international aid programmes and find ways to balance power and diversity when supporting community structures. Ashley Jackson discusses the dilemmas faced by civilians living in Taliban areas pre-August 2021, and the tactics people used to resist and renegotiate the terms of Taliban control. Drawing on the work of the Creating Safer Space network, Louise Ridden and Berit Bliesemann de Guevara introduce the main practices and mechanisms of unarmed civilian protection, give examples of how it works in different contexts and discuss some of the central challenges. Sukanya Podder also looks at unarmed civilian protection focusing on the Jos Stakeholders Centre for Peace in Nigeria, an example of a locally led and owned multistakeholder collaboration working to prevent conflict escalation and violence against civilians. The edition ends with an article by Beatriz Elena Arias López, Laura Jiménez Ospina, Freddy Giovanni Pérez Cárdenas and Berit Bliesemann de Guevara who explore non-violent self-protection through artistic and cultural practices developed by community-based organisations in Medellín.

Issue 82 articles

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