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Civilians become defenders in conflict zones

Civilians are proving they can defend themselves in warzones without the need for military aggression, according to a Leeds Beckett University academic.

Rachel Julian peace keeping

Dr Rachel Julian, a Reader in Peace Studies at the School of Social Sciences, has recently returned from speaking at a United Nations event in New York.

She said: “In Mindanao, Philippines, demobilised soldiers are being trained in unarmed strategies, so that they become community protectors.

“And in South Sudan, 1,900 women have been trained in unarmed protection which has meant less retaliatory violence, rape and abuse of children.”

Rachel Julian peace keeping
Dr Julian speaking at a United Nations conference in New York

During her research, Dr Julian has collected Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping (UCP) evidence from around the world to show that using the military is not the only option when civilians are threatened by violence.

In fact, unarmed, trained, civilians are effective in both protecting people and increasing their ability to protect themselves and their communities.

UCP staff have stood in front of armed aggressors, she said, refusing to let them take women and children during a raid, saving lives in South Sudan.

Rachel Julian peace keeping

“It is the strong community relationships and local knowledge that enables this protection to be effective,” said Dr Julian.

“It’s also important to build on the strategies and skills people already use to protect themselves, using intervention and spotting early warning signs through established networks.

“This approach to peacekeeping, using nonviolence, challenges a widely held view that when there is violence, we need soldiers or threats of violence in response.

“In the last three years, high level UN documents and discussions have included the need for unarmed approaches to be included, and the UN is the largest international protector.

“By demonstrating how it works in practice, and the direct impact on people’s lives, this evidence will inform policies and practices that directly improve the protection of civilians.”

Dr Julian, who has worked on unarmed peacekeeping for the past 15 years, was invited to the New York event by the Permanent UN Missions of Australia and Uruguay, during a week-long conference to explore global civilian protection.

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