Civilians in Conflict Affected Areas

Armed conflict can have a devastating effect on the rights and well-being of individuals and communities. Those already vulnerable are at an increased risk of forced displacement, deliberate and targeted attacks, abduction, sexual violence, denial of property and land rights, lack of access to livelihoods, family separation, and more. Canada has been at the forefront of efforts to develop and promote a range of practical measures to improve legal and physical protection of civilians, and reduce impunity for violations and abuses. The protection of civilians is now a central element of the United Nations (UN) Security Council’s work. 

Canada engages in the protection of civilians in armed conflict situations by:

  • Combatting the recruitment of child soldiers;
  • Maintaining the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum;
  • Preventing unintended humanitarian effects and sanctions;
  • Addressing sexual abuse and exploitation in humanitarian contexts;
  • Stemming the illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons and the use of explosive remnants of war;

Canada’s present focus is creating practical tools to facilitate effective responses to protection challenges and to support international advocacy efforts on behalf of affected populations through:

  • furthering evidenced-based research on the safety of humanitarian aid workers in complex emergencies;
  • protection training and the development of strategic handbooks and field manuals;
  • targeted expert level roundtables and regional seminars to identify good practice and lessons learned that can be applied to better protect civilians at risk.

For more information on Civilians in Conflict Affected Areas:

Forced Displacement in Conflict Areas

Canada has taken an active role at the international level in promoting the rights and well-being of internally displaced persons. We have been active in discussions at the UN Security Council, the UN Commission on Human Rights, the UN General Assembly, and the UN Economic and Social Council, in regional fora and on a bilateral basis, seeking to identify practical solutions to the challenge of internal displacement. Canada has also directly supported the Office of the UN Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons and collaborated on a number of initiatives through the Global Peace and Security Program.

Building on our commitment to seek solutions to the problem of internal displacement, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD) will continue to support activities that improve the humanitarian response to internally displaced persons, encourage a better understanding of internally displaced persons’ concerns and seek to address the root causes of displacement. DFATD’s efforts seek to prevent violent conflict from erupting; to respond to ongoing crises; and to help construct the foundations of stability in countries emerging from crises, all of which help internally displaced persons to return.

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The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the primary inter-governmental agency specifically mandated to protect and assist refugees. It leads and coordinates international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems around the world, and is an important actor in the field to address the needs of its persons of concern. Canada is among its top ten donors.

Canada, through the Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force (START), is responsible for coordinating overall policy which affects Canada’s international relations. START also leads for the Government of Canada on specific policy issues related to refugee protection and humanitarian affairs. In conjunction with other government departments, in particular Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Canadian International Development Agency, START works with the UNHCR to promote protection assistance for vulnerable persons and populations and long-term solutions for refugees and persons of concern.

Globally, there are 10.4 million refugees - ordinary people who overcome extraordinary odds when fleeing persecution and conflict, either in mass exodus or on an individual basis. UNHCR works with host countries to ensure that the basic human rights of vulnerable persons are respected and that refugees are not returned involuntarily to a country where they face persecution. UNHCR and its partners also seek to provide at least a minimum of shelter, food, water and medical care in the aftermath of a refugee movement. In the longer term, UNHCR helps to find durable solutions for refugees by supporting civilians to voluntarily repatriate to their countries of origin, integrate into countries of asylum, or resettle in third countries. The UNHCR also provides protection and assistance to stateless persons, individuals and groups fleeing situations of generalized violence; mass violations of human rights; and in specific instances, persons displaced within their own countries.

Through its members it UNHCR’s executive committees, Canada contributes to shaping UNHCR policies and programming and has the opportunity to advance issues of importance to Canada and Canadians; the promotion and protection of human rights and the rights of vulnerable persons and protection assistance to those in need.

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Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Emergency Situations

Sexual violence in armed conflict is often used as a method of war to instil fear in the civilian population, especially women and girls. Children may be at particular risk due to their level of dependence, limited ability to protect themselves, and their separation from family. They are at greater risk of exploitation and coercion. Sexual and gender-based violence in conflict contexts is a serious life-threatening protection issue; it is a crime against humanity under international law. 

Humanitarian action must therefore consider the different humanitarian and protection needs and capacities of women and men.  Canada pays close attention to the possible effects that a humanitarian response may have on the role of men and women in households and in their communities.  It is critical that additional tensions are not created through response efforts.

To that end, Canada is actively advocating for humanitarian action to meet the security and protection needs of women and girls in natural disasters and complex emergencies by:

  • ensuring the gender balance of humanitarian response teams; underscoring in multilateral fora the importance of documenting and analyzing sex-disaggregated data
  • including strong sexual and gender based language in humanitarian resolutions to strengthen the normative framework;
  • engaging bilaterally and multilaterally political and diplomatic authorities to draw attention to instances of sexual and gender-based violence in country-specific contexts; and
  • encouraging the compilation of best practices to codify them as a doctrine in the context of peacekeeping operations, where the protection of civilians is often now a core component of the mandate. This will enable mission planners and commanders to have a clear sense of how to respond in the face of specific protection challenges, including the targeting of women and children and sexual violence.  We also advocate that those entrusted with protection (troops, police, etc.) must have the knowledge and training required to effectively fulfill their protection role, with particular sensitivity to the realities and needs of women and children.