Survivors of armed conflict and natural disasters are exposed to the risk of physical and mental violence. In the absence of concrete measures taken by the authorities of the countries concerned, their security is directly threatened. The recruitment of child soldiers, forced displacement and sexual violence continue to this day. These issues are at the heart of Switzerland's humanitarian engagement.
Protection is one of the priority issues for Swiss Humanitarian Aid (SHA). It is committed to protecting people affected by conflict and natural disasters and uses a variety of instruments in its work. Switzerland supports partner organisations working in the field of protection by providing funding and deploying specialists from the SHA Unit. SHA is also committed to the processes of political and humanitarian dialogue conducted with the governmental authorities concerned and/or local and international partners.
In projects that are run or supported by SHA, the issue of protection takes centre stage. Response methods take the particular needs of the most vulnerable people requiring protection into account.
Coordinated action in Switzerland and abroad
SHA activities in the field of protection are carried out in a concerted and coordinated way with other FDFA and federal units, starting with the Human Security Division and the Section for International Humanitarian Law. Coordination also takes place internationally via SDC offices abroad and, at the multilateral level, via the Swiss permanent missions in Geneva and New York.
SHA is heavily involved in implementing Switzerland's new strategy to protect civilian populations in armed conflict. The Federal Council endorsed this strategy at the end of 2013.
Childhood protection in Mali following the 2012 crisis
Protecting civilians in northern Mali remains a major humanitarian concern. Often witnesses to or victims of acts of extreme violence, the children affected by the conflict that erupted in 2012 symbolise how vulnerable and traumatised the local population is. Swiss Humanitarian Aid is supporting a programme providing psychosocial assistance to almost 4,400 young people and children who have suffered harrowing experiences. The aim of the programme is to help them return to normality and back to school. Childhood-protection committees have been set up within schools and recreational facilities for schoolchildren who may need psychosocial support.
Protection refers to all activities aimed at ensuring that individual rights are fully respected, particularly with respect to international law. The major international instruments in this field are the Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols, the Refugee Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.This rights-based approach warrants placing the issue of protection at the centre stage in all humanitarian activities, and the importance it is given by SHA.
Despite efforts by Switzerland and the international community in recent years to step up protection for victims of armed conflict and natural disasters, there are still enormous needs in this area. Even today, millions of innocent people across the world see their rights being challenged or flouted in crisis situations, and continue to suffer injury to their person and dignity. Those particularly affected are the victims of forced displacement, sexual violence and even killings.
The responsibility to protect these people lies primarily with the authorities of the country concerned, or with the entities controlling the territory in question. However, if they are incapable or unwilling to provide an adequate level of protection, humanitarian aid workers must be able to step in quickly and without hindrance. If humanitarian interventions are delayed or impeded, as is often the case, the victims are deprived of the assistance and protection they are afforded by international law.