Protection of civilians
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 the negative effects that might arise from NATO and NATO-led military operations. It also includes efforts to prevent conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence.
- At the Warsaw Summit in July 2016, NATO leaders endorsed the NATO Policy for 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.
- 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.
More background information
Over the past decade, NATO and its partners have been developing specific policies and guidelines for the protection of civilians in the planning and conduct of NATO-led operations and missions. NATO has drawn lessons from its experience in Afghanistan, where it took measures to mitigate civilian casualties when leading the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
At the Warsaw Summit, 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 has been developed with NATO partners and in consultation with the United Nations (UN) and relevant international organisations. It complements NATO’s existing efforts in areas such as Children and Armed Conflict, Women Peace and Security, and Conflict-related Sexual and Gender-based Violence.
The protection of civilians encompasses many different areas of activity such as the defence of Alliance borders, implementing tailored partnership programmes, or engaging in crisis management operations.
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.
Promoting long-term, self-sustained peace, security and stability is best achieved in cooperation with the local authorities, population and civil society (i.e., organisations working for human rights, including gender equality). To be effective, NATO also needs to take into account the roles and activities of other international actors.
Integrating the protection of civilians from the outset
NATO and its partners have committed to integrating the protection of civilians from the outset of NATO and NATO-led operations, missions and other mandated activities through a variety of means and measures:
Civilian harm mitigation from own actions: NATO will take measures to reduce the risks posed to civilians when the Alliance conducts operations and missions. It will ensure planning and preparations are made to avoid placing civilians in harm’s way. This planning would be based on past successes.
Protection of civilians from the action of others: NATO planners might be tasked, as appropriate, to recommend military response options, including a gender-sensitive approach, after having identified threats, type of perpetrators, their motivation, strategies and tactics, capabilities, and the expected outcome for civilians.
Support to humanitarian action: A NATO or NATO-led force can play an important role by contributing to the provision of a safe and secure environment. In exceptional circumstances, and based on humanitarian considerations, NATO may also respond to requests for assistance by humanitarian actors.
Lessons learned on protection of civilians: NATO will identify and implement lessons learned on protection of civilians, including through a gender-sensitive approach, in all relevant areas of operations and missions, as well as in training and education.
Communications aspects: 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 including 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 best practices and experiences on the protection of civilians, particularly 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 nations.
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.
In 2015, NATO and its partners adopted, for the first time, military guidelines on the protection of, and response to, conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence.
Gender-related issues are also increasingly being incorporated into NATO exercises, as appropriate.
See Women, Peace and Security for more information.