ICRC Washington and InterAction recently consulted with a range of influential American NGOs to revise existing standards for humanitarians and human rights advocates working in the field of civilian protection.
Professional Standards for Protection Work, a text originally published by the ICRC in 2009, aims to make sure that fieldwork is carried out professionally and does not harm the people it aims to help.
Pierre Gentile, a Geneva-based expert on protection work, had identified and codified the best practices of major organizations through extensive consultations back in 2009. The result rapidly became a standard document for professionals working in armed conflict.
Three years later, Mr. Gentile is leading another round of consultations to revise existing standards in light of recent developments in armed conflict environments, including the emergence of new mapping and communication technologies and the presence of international military and police forces involved in protection work. Given the number of actors now in the field, better monitoring and evaluation of protection activities is also needed.
New technologies, many of them developed by US-based organizations, have impacted humanitatian and human rights protection work by providing access to information about abuses and violations in unaccesible areas and by enabling populations to communicate about what is happening in their communities in real time. Unfortunately, experience shows that the public availability of sensitive protection data can also have negative impacts for the people directly affected by armed violence. It was thus important for the ICRC to engage with groups like Ushaidi, Sahana and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative to better understand the opportunities offered by new technologies but also the kind of ethical and practical challenges they pose.
Mr. Gentile explains why the Washington workshop held on August 23rd was an important step in consultations we believe will ultimately have a positive impact on the way humanitarians behave in the field and, most importantly, on the civilians we work to better protect.