Nigeria: Engaging the Media in Canvassing for Protection of Civilians During Conflicts

24 February 2021

To enhance, improve and strengthen the media reportage on Human Rights, Protection of Civilians and Civilian Harm Mitigation in various theatre of operations, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre with the support from Open Society Initiative for West Africa, recently held a media training on Protection of Civilians and Civilian Harm mitigation in Nigeria, Chiemelie Ezeobi reports

According to reports, 40 operations launched by the Armed Forces in the last five years has largely increased militarisation of the civil space, which further threatens civilian protection and dwarfs equal opportunities. In such conflict situation, tens of thousands of civilians suffer loss of life and grave injury, especially when it deals with insecurity. Presently in Nigeria, about 2.5 million people are displaced and 10 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

This is where Protection of Civilians (PoC) is important. Protection for the civilian population is a basic element of humanitarian law that states that all civilians and all those not taking part in the fighting must on no account be attacked and must be spared and protected. In fact, the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols contain specific rules to protect civilians.

Although the concept of protection of civilians has been progressively introduced to a wider audience, however, within the framework of conflict operations, the full implementation of this principle is hindered by a number of shortcomings, such as the limited understanding of roles and responsibilities, and the lack of clear methods and guidelines.

Thus, to underscore the urgency in achieving a policy framework for PoC, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) with the support from Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), recently held a one-day media training on Protection of Civilians (PoC) and Civilian Harm Mitigation in Nigeria.

Objectives

According to CISLAC Program Officer (Defence and Security), Bertha Ogbimi, the objectives of the training was to enhance, improve and strengthen the media reportage on Human Rights, Protection of Civilians and Civilian Harm Mitigation in various theatre of operations; enable media practitioners employ journalism principles based on impartiality, balance and responsibility while, at the same time, they (media) are conscious of need to gather adequate data on civilian threats in various theatres of operations.

Civilian Harm During Conflicts

Civilian harm during conflicts can come in form of death, injury, property loss (homes,

businesses, livestock), civilian infrastructure damage (schools, hospitals, water treatment facilities), loss of livelihood and psychological trauma.

The causes are often when civilians are caught in between crossfire, when they live in proximity to military targets, use of force at checkpoints and during raids, use of indirect fire in populated areas, use of inappropriate weapon systems, targeting errors or mistaken identity on the basis of faulty intelligence and lack of preparation for civilian presence on the battlefield.

Essentially, even when principles of IHL are rigorously applied, harm to civilians may nevertheless occur as a direct consequence of the use of force.

"This 'incidental harm' while not illegal must be minimised, investigated, and appropriately addressed by security forces," Hashim declared.

Protection of Civilians

According to Hashim, Protection of Civilians (PoC) is new in the whole of Africa continent and if Nigeria begins to legislate and begin to design in-house mechanism that works, it will help develop Civilian Harm Mitigation (CHM) infrastructure.

He said: "Because we are pushing for legislation, it becomes imperative to engage with the media, so that they can actually take this forward as a medium to begin to influence decision makers in terms of how they go forward from here."

He held that since PoC is new, his organisation felt that the media ought to be brought into the conversation and allow them to understand the concept as well as get deeper into the ingredients that the law should actually begin to be advocated for.

"PoC is new, so if Nigeria goes on to put that policy framework in place, it becomes the first in the whole of Africa to do so. And I think that those within the regime and corridors of power will want their name to go down well in history."

According to him, one of the reasons why POC is so important in various theatre is because of the horrendous consequences conflicts have on civilians, adding that the venom of civilian harm has further deepened trust deficit between the citizens (state and non-state) and security institutions - Amotekun now caught in the web of extra-judicial killings and torture.

Noting that the serum is Protection of Civilian and Civilian Harm Mitigation and it lies with the ability to establish respect (local cultural sensitivities), establish community liaison, apply gender

dynamics, adaption strategies - rules of engagement and the use of force, Hashim, while clarifying the concept why it's difficult to protect civilians, noted that the principle of distinction (civilian and combatant) was borne out of perceived failure to discern (2018 ICRC report Rules of restraint in war) culture of socialisation; state centric focus on regime and not citizens (protectors and perpetrators) and lack of accountability in designing and administering protection of civilian and civilian harm mitigation.

Given the principle of precaution and destruction, he noted that given the zero interest of security agents, there is need to tame reflationary power of discretion, while under legal compliance, he posited for cure relational defect given that law can cure relational deficit and impose sanction for non compliance.

Why a PoC-CHM Regime?

Expatiating on the PoC- Civilian Harm Mitigation (CHM) regime, Hashim noted that providing adequate protection is a daunting task that needs the closest possible coordination to be effective.

He said: "Stakeholders have a role to play on civilian casualties. It is vital that their knowledge and contributions are factored into our discussion of protection issues. There is often a lack of clarity and common understanding about PoC and how to achieve it. Civilians are the people most at risk during armed conflict, and military as well as other armed non state actors operations have faced significant challenges in protecting civilian populations effectively

"In some situations, security forces plan, prepare, and conduct operations specifically to protect civilians. In others, they support the protection of civilians with offensive, defensive, and stability activities that may primarily be conducted for other purposes besides civilian protection."

Protection of Civilians in International Humanitarian Law

Speaking on protection of civilians in International Human Law (IHL) and law of armed conflict, Hashim noted that the foundational basis for protection is the application of

national law Section 43-45 CFRN 1999 which ensures that the International Human Rights Law (IHRL) is applicable all times either in peace and conflict times; foundation for civilians receiving protection from their government and other actors; and violators should be prosecuted.

Essentially, IHL is the baseline to regulate legal behavior for armed forces during armed conflict and ensures constant care to spare civilians from harm.

The fundamentals of IHL provides room for accountability given that during operations, it ensures that civilians are distinguished from combatants, feasible precautions and proportional use of force are taken.

Engaging the Media

The media over the years have been globally acknowledged as the watch dog of the society and their information/monitoring roles considered a sine qua non for democracy and good governance.

The role of the media in creating awareness and changing narratives cannot be overemphasised; a factor CISLAC cannot overlook, thus, its recent engagement of the media in its campaign to get legislation that would enhance protection of civilians in crisis periods.

The group opined that since human rights are key to protection, there is a vital need for effective monitoring, reporting, and investigation of human rights abuses in the field, just as it stressed that the media has a role to play in advocating for a legal framework on the issue of PoC and Civilian Harm Mitigation.

According to CISLAC Program Manager (Defence and Security), Mr. Salaudeen Hashim, who acknowledged the challenges facing the media, he said the media is a reflection of every larger society and of course, every sector and profession in this country has got its own challenge.

He added "We cannot ignore the successes the media has recorded over the years. Post-independent Nigeria, the media has been very strategic and has come thus far, and I think that is not arguable and I think they've indeed provided a whole lot of contribution in terms or national development.

"I think the media has a whole lot to play in terms of influencing and advocating for a legislation on Protection of Civilians and that is why we believe in using different of their own contacts to push this conversation going forward."

On the need for the media, he said they are needed to - understand the notion of protection and relational defect in conflict situation- seeing

protection from an obligation/mandate to protect rather than from a moral perspective; highlight

gaps and risks associated physical protection of civilian, human right violation with more emphasis on the use of non lethal means such as rape, hunger, force, lack of access to relief, health, freedom; also understand that the state are the primary agents of protectors and perpetrators

- increased belligerent behaviours; enhance state capacity for human security over the

concept regime security we only a law can cure the defect - oversight, sanction, and compliance.

Coordination by TWG

To coordinate all these, the importance of Technical Working Group (TWG) comes to bear. The TWG are a wide range of actors involved in POC-CHM and since each actor deals with protection in different way - legal framework, civilian threat (risk) assessment, negotiators, operational, public and mission wide information sharing, oversight and planning, data gathering and monitoring, they effectively coordinate more to understand the inter-related roles of implementing the POC-CHM regime

They also cooperate across functions as an important pre-requisite for good protection work; take action to protect civilians, which should be planned in consultation with stakeholders with a

view to empowering them and supporting the mechanism by taking ownership; and at the same time, create a robust platform for political advocacy to give birth to a framework on POC-CHM.

Earlier Collaborations

Meanwhile, as part of earlier collaborations last year December, CISLAC sought partnership with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Civilian Protection Policy. CISLAC led by its Executive Director, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, made this call during an advocacy visit to the NHRC, which was aimed to secure the partnership of the NHRC, to agree on a right-based approach to protect civilians and engage a framework on civilian harm mitigation.

"Providing adequate protection is a daunting task," Mr Rafsanjani said. "It is a task that needs the closest possible coordination to be effective. The parliament has an oversight role to play on civilian casualties. It is vital that their knowledge and contributions are factored into discussion of protection issues", he added.

CISLAC, with support from Open Society Initiative for West Africa, OSIWA, has been mobilising champions within government, military, and civil society to advance policies and practices that minimise civilian harm. Going beyond rhetorics, CISLAC in conflict-ridden locations is deeply engaged with communities in several LGAs to help civilians develop self-protection strategies.

This is one of many collaborations with the Nigerian government to develop a national civilian protection legislation that put civilians at the heart of counterinsurgency operations in the country.

In light of this, the team from CISLAC also paid a visit to the House Committee Chair on Army, Hon. Adulrazak Sa'ad Namdas under the auspices of the project "Strengthening Capacity, Advocacy and Local Engagement on Protection of Civilian and Civilian Harm Mitigation Legislation in Nigeria", supported by OSIWA.

According to Rafsanjani, CISLAC believes that parties to armed conflict have a responsibility to prevent civilian harm, adding that CISLAC does this by assessing the causes of civilian harm in conflicts, craft practical solutions to address that harm and advocate for the adoption of practices that can improve the well-being of civilians caught in conflict.

Recognising the power of collaboration, he said CISLAC with support from OSIWA engage with civilians, governments, militaries, and international and regional institutions to identify and institutionalise strengthened protections for civilians in conflict.

"There is often a lack of clarity and common understanding about PoC and how to achieve it. Civilians are the people most at risk during armed conflict, and military operations have faced significant challenges in protecting civilian populations effectively," Rafsanjani added.

Parliamentary Oversight

In fact, there have been incidences in the past where military operations led to the death of civilians, such that the 8thAssembly had to set up a committee to look into the situation and investigate whether concepts of operations in various theatres were keeping up with the rules of engagement, or if it was an issue of negligence. But credit-wise, the 9thAssembly has remained the most responsive to civilian harm and are working tirelessly to ensure the causality rate of civilians during military operations is brought to a minimal level with a framework that is consistent and harmonised with contents already available prior to its emergence in 2016.

According to CISLAC, the POC policy provides an entry points, hence the need to have access to documents, such as the POC policy, to ensure actors incorporate the protection of civilians into legal documents for necessary action. This will largely strengthen parliamentary oversight on the activities of the Armed Forces with protection of civilian optics.

Journey to PoC Advocacy

According to CISLAC, the journey of advocating for the adoption of the POC policy started in 2016, and has gone through several layers of review engagements and consultations with diverse stakeholders, including the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, international organisations, civil society organisations, security agencies, the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the North East, and the diplomatic community. As at now, they noted that the NHRC and the Minister of Justice are currently championing the policy.

In a communique issued last year by CISLAC in conjunction with Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) at the Parliamentary Interface on PoC and CHM in Nigeria ruminated why the policy seem to have stalled. In their observations, the group noted that providing adequate protection is a daunting task that needs the closest possible coordination to be effective.

Stressing that the parliament has an oversight role to play on civilian casualties, the meeting resolved that the Security Committee Chairmen will popularise, own, and sponsor a bill on Protection of Civilians using the content of the POC policy as a guide to ensure consistency with its intent, sustainability, and support from both internal and external stakeholders; the legislation on the Protection of Civilians will be a priority agenda item for the relevant defence and security committees considering that it saves the nation huge resources in various theatres, improves civil-military relations, and strengthens trust between security agencies and citizens - which leads to intelligence-led security.

They further noted that there should be continuous dialogue with security agencies using the POC policy as an instrument to ensure the lives of civilians are protected during operations in compliance with human rights standards. This can be achieved through timely adoption of the policy and possible accompanying legislation on POC; there should be more inter-agency and ministerial coordination around the protection of civilians, and it should be given national attention considering the increased number of fatalities recorded by civilians over the enforcement of the COVID-19 protocols. All national security agencies should prioritise protection of civilians and endeavor to minimise the negative effect of conflict on civilians.

Essentially, they posited that the curve of fatalities and insecurity can be flattened if adequate mechanisms are adopted within a protection framework, which inspires safe spaces within operations of the military. This will largely influence internal military practice, doctrine, regulations, and engagements.

By and large, there is need for all stakeholders to be deeply engaged with communities in conflict-ridden locations to help civilians develop self-protection strategies.

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