Protection of civilians

  • Last updated: 13 Jul. 2021 12:03

NATO and its partners are contributing to the protection of civilians by integrating related measures in the planning and conduct of NATO-led operations and missions. The protection of civilians includes all efforts taken to avoid, minimise and mitigate negative effects that might arise from NATO and NATO-led military operations. It is a vital aspect of NATO’s human security approach.

Marines from 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), talk to a local Afghans about demolishing a wall while Marines conduct road improvement operations adjacent to the wall in Sangin, Helmand province, Afghanistan. The Marines of 9th ESB, 1st MLG (FWD), improved roads near Sangin in order to provide a smoother and safer means of transportation for both coalition forces and Afghan villagers.

 

  • At the Warsaw Summit in July 2016, NATO leaders endorsed the NATO Policy for the Protection of Civilians.
  • NATO identifies and implements lessons learned on the protection of civilians in all relevant areas of operations and missions, as well as in training and education.
  • A NATO Military Concept on the Protection of Civilians was developed for future NATO operations and missions, in close cooperation with other international organisations and civil society.
  • At the Brussels Summit in June 2021, Allied Leaders committed to continue working with partners, international organisations and civil society to further NATO’s work on human security, including the protection of civilians.

More background information


  • NATO Policy for the Protection of Civilians

    NATO and its partners have developed specific policies and guidelines for the protection of civilians in the planning and conduct of NATO-led operations and missions, drawing on experience from Kosovo and Afghanistan.

    At the Warsaw Summit in 2016, NATO leaders adopted a NATO Policy for the Protection of Civilians. The aim of this overarching policy is to set out a coherent, consistent and integrated approach to the protection of civilians in NATO and NATO-led operations, missions and other mandated activities. The policy was developed with NATO partners and in consultation with the United Nations (UN) and other relevant international organisations. It is an integral part of NATO’s human security approach.

    Conceptual framework

    The protection of civilians (persons, objects and services) includes all efforts taken to avoid, minimise and mitigate the negative effects that might arise from NATO and NATO-led military operations on the civilian population. When applicable, it also includes efforts to protect civilians from conflict-related physical violence or threats of physical violence by other actors. These efforts consist of a range of activities including the use of force to prevent, deter, pre-empt and respond to situations in which civilians suffer or are under the threat of physical violence.

    Long-term, self-sustained peace, security and stability is best achieved in cooperation with the local authorities, populations and civil society, as well as in coordination with the activities of other international actors.

    Integrating the protection of civilians from the outset

    NATO integrates the protection of civilians from the outset of NATO and NATO-led operations, missions and other mandated activities. In recent years, NATO has made considerable progress in implementing the policy at both the political and military levels through tailored training that includes partners, by integrating the protection of civilians into NATO exercises, and by ensuring its integration into NATO’s doctrine and planning. In all related efforts, NATO is guided by the following principles:

    Civilian harm mitigation from NATO actions: NATO will take measures to reduce the risks posed to civilians when the Alliance conducts operations and missions, including by ensuring adequate training rooted in past experience.

    Protection of civilians from the actions of others: where external threats to populations are identified, NATO planners may, if appropriate, recommend military response.

    Support to humanitarian action: NATO can play an important role by contributing to the provision of a safe and secure environment. In exceptional circumstances, NATO may also respond to requests for assistance by humanitarian actors.

    Lessons learned on the protection of civilians: NATO will identify and implement lessons learned on the protection of civilians, including through a gender-sensitive approach, in all relevant areas of operations and missions, as well as in training and education.

    Aspects of communication: NATO will continue to communicate measures it is taking to protect civilians. It will also continue to make every effort to communicate known civilian casualties to the host nation authorities, local population and media.

    NATO Headquarters-level and joint exercises: during exercises, Allies and NATO Military Authorities are encouraged to continue to include the protection of civilians within exercise scenarios.

    Training of forces participating in NATO and NATO-led operations and missions: NATO education and training facilities will continue to develop specific modules in strategic- and operational-level curricula that will take into account the impact of conflict on women, men, girls and boys.

    Training of local forces: when training local security forces is part of the agreed mandate, NATO should continue to share experiences and best practices for the protection of civiliansparticularly civilian harm mitigation, as well as on the implementation of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

    Defence and related security capacity building: defence and related security capacity building packages may comprise elements on the protection of civilians, in line with the needs of requesting countries.

    Partnership tools and programmes: partner countries with an interest in developing interoperability with NATO on the protection of civilians are encouraged to make use of partner programmes, tools and mechanisms and include the subject as part of their partnership goals and objectives. Contributors to the Partnership Cooperation Menu should consider widening their training offer in the field of protection of civilians, including on such issues as civilian harm mitigation and casualty tracking.

    Concept on the protection of civilians

    To effectively protect civilians, NATO forces must understand the threats that exist and match capabilities to counter them.  In 2018, a NATO Military Concept on the Protection of Civilians was endorsed. It operationalises the NATO Policy for the Protection of Civilians and includes four objectives: understand the human environment, such as the culture, history, demographics, strengths and vulnerabilities; safeguard civilians from harm by belligerents; facilitate access to basic needs and services to the population; and contribute to a safe and secure environment through support to local government and its institutions.