While protection mainstreaming is an essential tool used in humanitarian programming, the integration of protection into programmes is becoming ever more critical, particularly within the context of Syria, to better ensure affected populations’ rights are respected and protected.
WFP is working to improve the integration of protection into its programmes through targeted programming and accountability mechanisms.
WFP will continue to utilize existing coordination structures both inside and outside Syria to 1) strengthen its integration of protection into its programmes and 2) build greater partnerships with organizations/agencies with expertise in protection programming.
The ultimate goal of integrating protection in the Syrian response is to transition the current mentality of humanitarian programming – where sectors work in silos – to one which honors and respects the holistic needs of the people we are serving. According to the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), the primary mechanism for coordinating humanitarian assistance, “protection broadly encompasses activities aimed at obtaining full respect for the rights of all individuals in accordance with international law (international humanitarian, human rights, and refugee law) regardless of their age, gender, social ethnic, national, religious, or other background.”1 In armed conflict environments, this means all parties to the conflict are responsible for ensuring that the civilian population is respected and protected.
At present, through established coordination structures both inside Syria (Whole of Syria-WoS) and in the region (Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan-3RP), WFP is working to uphold its mandate, of providing humanitarian protection to civilians, which, at this stage in the crisis, must be complemented with measures to protect human rights.
The role of protection mainstreaming and protection integration within the Syria crisis response
In the humanitarian context, particularly with regards to the Syrian crisis, protection has commonly become a box that agencies and organizations alike tick. Protection is often an abstract concept not always fully understood by humanitarian actors. In practice it should entail working with “responsible authorities, mandated agencies and the population in need to reduce the incidence of attacks on civilians by all parties to the conflict, and to reduce the impact of the attacks on health, access to food and economic security by enabling the free movement of the civilian population and access by humanitarian agencies.” Within the Syria context, though a large amount of inter-agency protection strategies have been developed, shared, and approved by key stakeholders, operationalizing these strategies remains a challenge due to complexities on the ground.
Currently, WFP is striving to provide civilian protection to those affected by this crisis. However, such measures must be accompanied by human rights protection (investigations on international human rights and humanitarian law violations) from other United Nations (UN) agencies, otherwise it is impossible to achieve our respective mandates.
Last month, particularly in the light of the situation in Madaya and other besieged locations in Syria, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Ms. Elver, underscored that “the deliberate starvation of civilians in both international and internal armed conflict as a tactic of war constitutes a war crime, and could also amount to a crime against humanity if it can be shown that denial of food is a deliberate and systematic tactic to cause civilian suffering.”
As the Syrian crisis becomes increasingly protracted, it is important to remember that under international human rights and humanitarian law, all factions involved the conflict must ensure that civilians and prisoners of war have access to adequate food and water during armed conflict. Ms. Elver further stressed that “the right to food does not cease in times of conflict, indeed it becomes more crucial as a result of the acute vulnerabilities of individuals and communities.” This message acknowledges the fundamental linkage between key humanitarian sectors, food security and protection, and the importance of aid organizations working collaboratively to achieve holistic outcomes, which respect meaningful access, safety and dignity to aid activities