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Independent Whole of System Review of Protection in the Context of Humanitarian Action

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This Whole of System Review examines how protection issues are addressed in the context of humanitarian action and makes practical suggestions to help humanitarian actors be more strategic, and better capable of meeting core life-saving humanitarian responsibilities in relation to protection.
The failures of the United Nations (UN) system in Sri Lanka and subsequent soul searching at the highest levels of the UN – which led to the launching of the Human Rights Up Front initiative by the SecretaryGeneral – are the backdrop for this Review. This is the first such exercise initiated by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC). It presents a unique opportunity to take stock of past efforts and to chart a new and more effective way forward. It is worth noting at the outset that this is an Independent Review; it is not an evaluation. It also needs to be noted that protection concerns in relation to refugees were explicitly excluded, as outlined in the Terms of Reference, from the scope of this Review.

Emphasis on the protective dimension of international humanitarian action, beyond agencies with specific protection responsibilities, is relatively new and represents a step change from the more traditional focus on relief assistance. This shift is happening at a time when the humanitarian enterprise has experienced massive growth and institutionalisation. Humanitarianism has become a critical element of contemporary global governance; at-risk groups and global public opinion expect rapid action from concerned authorities and the humanitarian system when crises occur. At the same time, the rapid growth of new actors in the humanitarian arena, including middle-income countries, diasporas and local civil society groups is bringing new opportunities and challenges to a complex and sometimes contested humanitarian system that is still widely perceived as “of the North”.

This Review used an inductive method to examine the complexities, discontinuities and dysfunctionalities that characterise the way in which protection issues are presently addressed in the context of humanitarian action. It is based on a combination of methods including a literature review, interview data, an online survey, field missions to Myanmar, South Sudan, and the Syria crisis as well as a desk review of protection issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It contextualises the challenges and opportunities associated with protective humanitarian action in a landscape of changing power relations that has direct implications for at-risk groups in settings as diverse as Yemen, Somalia or Nepal.

Authors: Norah Niland and Riccardo Polastro (co-team leaders), Antonio Donini and Amra Lee.
Commissioned by the Norwegian Refugee Council on behalf of the Inter Agency Standing Committee and the Global Protection Cluster.
Copyright: Norwegian Refugee Council.
Date of Final Report: May 2015