Protection in Armed Conflict

In this section


Armed conflict stands as one of the most potent drivers for forced displacement, causing civilian casualties, infrastructure destruction, and the proliferation of explosive ordnance, such as mines, and unexploded ordnance. Moreover, conflicts disrupt public services, undermine the rule of law, and tear families apart. Regrettably, International Humanitarian Law (IHL), which forms the bedrock of legal frameworks during conflict, alongside international refugee law and international human rights law, is increasingly disregarded by combatants in modern conflicts. This disregard endangers millions of civilians, sometimes as a deliberate war tactic.

The notion of Protection of Civilians (PoC) constitutes a collective endeavor within the UN to protect those not actively engaged in hostilities. The UNHCR and its partners approach protection in conflict through meticulous conflict and protection analyses. This approach encompasses various strategies aimed at fostering both compliance with IHL by conflicting parties and empowering communities to undertake protective measures.

The fundamental principles of IHL governing the treatment of civilians include:

  • Distinction: the obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants,

  • Precaution: to take all feasible precautions to protect the civilian population and civilian objects against the effects of attacks,

  • Proportionality: not to cause damage that is excessive in relation to the direct military advantage anticipated.

The centrality of protection underscores the necessity for collective endeavors aimed at mitigating protection risks for affected individuals. As an integral component of these efforts, protection in armed conflict must be conducted in close collaboration with other humanitarian and UN partners while taking into account the humanitarian and protection architecture, particularly within UN missions with a protection mandate.

Legal Instruments


Geneva Conventions

International Committee of the Red Cross

Protocols to the Geneva Conventions



Executive Committee and Standing Committee Documents

Policy Documents



In Focus: Protection in Armed Conflict Toolkit