In the late 1990s a group of specialists from International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), UN organisations, and humanitarian agencies defined protection as follows:
'All activities that are aimed at obtaining full respect of the rights of the individual in accordance with the letter and spirit of international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and refugee law.'
The definition is broad and flawed, but it represents the best consensus on protection there is within the sector. Oxfam, and some other agencies, use this definition as a basis for protection work while using a simpler, more meaningful definition in everyday work. Within Oxfam we use a simple working definition: 'improving the safety of civilians'.
Read Oxfam's protection training pack Improving the Safety of Civilians.
Oxfam's protection framework
Our protection work is based on a risk-reduction model: RISK = Threat + Vulnerability x Time
We try to improve the safety of civilians in the face of the following threats:
- including deliberate killing, wounding, torture, cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment, sexual violence including rape, and the threat of any of the above.
- including forced prostitution, sexual slavery, sexual exploitation, forced or compulsory labour, forced displacement or return, forced recruitment into armed forces, and being forced to commit acts of violence against others.
- including deliberately destroying civilian objects such as homes, wells, crops and clinics; preventing access to land and jobs; preventing the delivery of relief supplies; deliberate discrimination in getting jobs, schooling, land, services, etc.; and demanding illegal 'taxes' or tolls.
We consider these to be protection threats when they take place in a widespread and systematic manner.
What makes people vulnerable?
- in crisis situations people are vulnerable to these threats for a wide variety of reasons. They could be vulnerable because of their identity: ethnicity, sex, HIV status, political allegiance, race or social status, or perceptions of such.
also make people vulnerable, as they are often characterised by a lack of law and order, a proliferation of small arms, and a breakdown of the social structures and behaviours that protect the most vulnerable people.
- In general, poverty makes people more vulnerable, as they have fewer resources to draw upon to sustain and protect themselves and their families. Certain events can also heighten vulnerability, such as being widowed or orphaned, being arrested and held in detention, displacement from homes and communities, and demobilisation and return.
When people are vulnerable and face the threats outlined above, they are at risk. The longer or more frequently they encounter such threats, the higher the level of risk.
What we do
Oxfam tries to reduce the level of risk by reducing the level of threat, the level of vulnerability, and the time that people are exposed to the threat. We can categorise our actions into the following:
What we do to reduce the threat
Advocacy and campaigning: convincing those with power to protect people, or getting others to put pressure on them to protect people
Capacity-building: supporting the authorities to protect civilians
Presence: using physical presence to deter attacks on civilians where possible
What we do to reduce the vulnerability
Assistance: directly providing services or goods so that people can avoid threats
Voice: helping people to negotiate their own safety and have their ideas heard by decision-makers
Information: providing impartial information to help people make informed decisions about their safety.