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Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response

Protection Principle 3: Protect people from physical and psychological harm arising from violence and coercion

People are protected from violence, from being forced or induced to act against their will and from fear of such abuse.


This principle includes the following elements:

Guidance notes

Protection from violence and coercion

  1. The primary responsibility to protect people from threats to their lives and safety rests with governments and other relevant authorities (see the Humanitarian Charter). In times of armed conflict, the parties engaged in conflict must protect the civilian population and those who have laid down their arms. In analysing the context in terms of the risks and threats for the population, humanitarian agencies should establish who has the legal responsibility and/or the actual capacity to provide protection.
  2. Help minimise other threats: This includes providing assistance in such a way as to make people more secure, facilitating people’s own efforts to stay safe or taking steps (though advocacy or otherwise) to reduce people’s exposure to risk.
  3. Monitoring and reporting: Humanitarian agencies should consider their responsibility to monitor and report grave violations of rights. They should also consider advocating for the rights of affected populations with relevant authorities and actors by reminding them of their obligations. They may use different modes of action including diplomacy, lobbying and public advocacy, keeping in mind the guidance on managing sensitive information (see Protection Principle 1).
  4. During armed conflict, humanitarian agencies should consider monitoring the institutions that are specifically protected under international humanitarian law, such as schools and hospitals, and reporting any attacks on them. Agencies should also make efforts to reduce the risks and threats of abductions or forced recruitment that may happen in these locations.
  5. Where explosives pose a threat to the affected population, humanitarian agencies should coordinate with the relevant government authorities and specialised agencies on the removal of landmines and unexploded ordnance. This threat may be particularly present in situations where populations are returning to their home areas following an armed conflict.
  6. Political, law enforcement and military actors play significant roles in protecting people from abuses and violations. Ultimately, it is in the political realm where solutions can be found to the underlying problems that are often at the heart of protection concerns. Security and law enforcement agencies, for example the police and military forces, including peacekeeping forces, can and should play an important role in ensuring the physical security of people at risk. Agencies can alert the relevant actors to ongoing violations. Such interventions with military contingents, their commanding officers or the authorities under whose control these forces operate, may be an essential step in stopping violations by military forces.

    Freedom of movement
  7. People should not be forced to stay in, or go to, a place that is not of their choice (such as a camp) nor should any other unreasonable restrictions be placed on their movement. Restrictions to freedom of movement and choice of residence should only be made if there are serious security or health reasons and should be proportional to the aim. At all times, people affected by conflict or disaster have the right to seek asylum.
  8. Evacuations: Humanitarian agencies should only be involved in evacuations as exceptional measures in extreme circumstances, where there is no other way of providing urgent assistance or protection in the face of severe threats to life, security and health.
  9. Incentives to remain in a dangerous place should not be provided to the affected population nor should their return or resettlement be promoted when they do not have full access to all information on the conditions in those areas.

    Particular vulnerabilities to violence and coercion
  10. Vulnerable people: Consideration should be given to individual, social and contextual factors in order to identify those most susceptible to certain risks and threats. Special measures may be needed for those facing particular risks, including women, children, people who have been forcibly displaced, older people, persons with disabilities and religious or ethnic minority groups.
  11. Safe environments for children: Agencies should provide children with access to safe environments. Families and communities should receive support in their efforts to keep children safe and secure.
  12. Children, especially when separated from their families or not accompanied by an adult, can be more easily abused or exploited during disasters or conflict. Agencies should take all reasonable steps to prevent children from being recruited into armed forces and, if they are associated with armed forces, work on their immediate release and reintegration.
  13. Women and girls can be at particular risk of gender-based violence. When contributing to the protection of these groups, humanitarian agencies should particularly consider measures that reduce possible risks, including trafficking, forced prostitution, rape or domestic violence. They should also implement standards and instruments that prevent and eradicate the practice of sexual exploitation and abuse. This unacceptable practice may involve affected people with specific vulnerabilities, such as isolated or disabled women who are forced to trade sex for the provision of humanitarian assistance.

    Community-based social support and self-help
  14. Family and community mechanisms of protection and psychosocial support should be promoted by keeping families together, teaching people how to prevent children from becoming separated from their families, promoting appropriate care for separated children and organising family tracing and reunification processes for separated children and other family members. Wherever possible, keep families together and enable people from a particular village or support network to live in the same area.
  15. Supporting community self-help activities: Such activities include, for example women’s groups addressing issues of gender-based violence, youth groups collaborating on livelihood supports, parenting groups supporting positive interactions with children and care for parents of young children and of children with special needs, youth groups spreading protective information on threats such as landmines and community groups reaching out to women and men who have lost their partners, older people and persons with disabilities.