NUPI, PRIO and the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies (NCHS) have the pleasure of inviting you to the public seminar Humanitarian Changes, Humanitarian Challenges and the Protection of Civilians. The seminar marks the final conference for the Protection of Civilians: From Principle to Practice research project and discusses possible conflicts between humanitarian principles and local realities.


Why are civilian protection and humanitarian action increasingly challenged despite the great efforts done to refine their policies and implementation? With the increase in civilian casualties in contemporary conflict, the protection of civilians (PoC) became a renewed concern for the international community in the late 1990s. While considerable normative progress has been made by the humanitarian community, PoC has been insufficiently operationalized on the ground.

Humanitarian principles and humanitarian practices are not always coherent. The apolitical principles guiding humanitarian action provide for access and legitimacy, but may also curb action and conform aid in diverse places in paying more heed to the principles than the contextual factors, including politics. What happens when the principles and practice of humanitarianism are at odds with each other? Is there a hierarchy – or even a contradiction – between humanitarianism in principle and practice?

Humanitarian action and efforts to protect civilians can never be simply rolled out in strict accordance with the guiding principles. Humanitarian action needs to be negotiated and might change and deviate from the original intention through the translation chain from principles to policy to practice. What are the mechanisms and power politics involved, and should the malleability of the humanitarian principles be seen as a strength or a challenge? While malleability can foster greater local sensitisation it might also dilute and undermine the girding principles in consequential ways.

This seminar seeks to address these topics, central to the nature and future of humanitarianism.

The seminar is part of the project “Protection of Civilians. From Principle to Practice” funded by the Norwegian Research Council, and is organised as part of the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies.

About the speakers

Alex de Waal is Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation and a Resaerch Professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. He is considered one of the foremost experts on Sudan and the Horn of Africa, his scholarship and practice has also probed humanitarian crisis and response, human rights, HIV/AIDS and governance in Africa, and conflict and peacebuilding. He worked for several Africa-focused human rights organizations, focusing on the Horn of Africa, and especially on avenues to peaceful resolution of the second Sudanese Civil War. He also researched the intersection of HIV/AIDS, poverty and governance, and initiated the Commission on HIV/AIDS and Governance in Africa. He recently published the book “The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa. Money, War and the Business of Power” (Polity Press, 2015).

Dr. Olivia Rutazibwa is a Lecturer in International Development and European Studies at the University of Portsmouth. Her research focuses on the motivations and effects of western ethical foreign policy in the Global South. Understanding ethical foreign policy as those policies that are explicitly designed around the well-being of the receiving societies cf. democracy promotion, development, good governance and humanitarian interventions, she specifically focuses on the EU’s policies in sub-Saharan Africa to understand their limited success and potential alternatives like autonomous recovery and genuine ownership beyond self-management. She did her doctorate at the European University Institute in Florence, has worked for the European Commission and been a visiting researcher at the EU Institute for Security Studies, as well as conducted fieldworks in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somaliland.

Kristin Bergtora Sandvik is senior researcher at PRIO and the Director of the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies. She holds a doctorate in Juridical Science from Harvard Law School. Her research focuses on the interface between international law, humanitarianism, technology and violence.

Ole Jacob Sending is research director at NUPI. He does research on global governance, with a particular focus on the role of international and non-governmental organizations in peacebuilding, humanitarian relief, and development.

Benjamin de Carvalho is senior research fellow at NUPI and is working on projects on UN peacekeeping, and has worked on the protection of civilians and sexual and gender-based violence in Liberia, Chad, and the Sudans. He is also involved in projects addressing status as a key driver of foreign policy, focusing on Norway and Brazil. Central issues here are the role played by small states in international politics, emerging powers and great power responsibility.

Relevant publications


1200: Ole Jacob Sending, NUPI: Welcome, information about the seminar and the project.

1215: Inger-Ann Ulstein, The Research Council of Norway.

1230: Keynote speaker: Professor Alex de Waal: “Humanitarianism and the political marketplace”.

1330: Dr. Olivia Rutazibwa: “Ethical Retreat and Humanitarian Crises”.

1400: Kristin B. Sandvik, PRIO: “Presentation of main findings from the project”.

1430: Panel and Q&A

1515: End

Conference chair/ moderator: Benjamin de Carvalho, NUPI.


Registration via the NUPI portal.