Mainstreaming unarmed approaches to civilian peacekeeping

Evidencing that unarmed civilian peacekeeping (UCP) is effective in changing the behaviour of armed actors in violent conflicts, making civilians safer, saving lives and preventing displacement of communities, without using weapons.

Mainstreaming unarmed approaches to civilian peacekeeping

The Challenge

Around the world there are millions of people who are threatened by armed or violent conflict, and the capacity of international agencies to protect them is very small and there is not enough capacity within the existing mechanisms. There are hundreds of places where people are threatened, but only about 12 sites of UN military peacekeeping. This research is helping communities to learn how to protect themselves.

At a time when war and conflict are very much on Europe’s doorstep, this vital and potentially life-saving research into unarmed civilian peacekeeping (UCP) is looking at how unarmed civilians in areas of violent conflict are protecting other civilians from physical harm without the use of weapons.

UCP is defined as the work carried out by unarmed civilians to reduce violence and protect civilians, based on the principles of non-violence and non-partisanship, and based in local communities. It places UCP in the context of protection, peacekeeping, and violence prevention.

Professor Rachel Julian, from Leeds Beckett’s School of Social Sciences, is an internationally recognised researcher working on UCP and the way we recognise the lives and voices of those affected by violence and crisis. Her work challenges the widespread acceptance of violence in International Relations and the assumption that peacekeeping requires soldiers.

The Approach

Professor Julian has established the UCP Research Network collaborating with other academics and researcher-practitioners to challenge a key assumption in peacekeeping studies and practice – that only the use of soldiers and threat of force can work in responding to violence.

Working with community partners in South-East Asia and East Africa, the research has explored how civilians protect one another from violence, producing substantial evidence that unarmed civilians can de-escalate violence without using weapons.

In Myanmar, research has examined how arts and lived experience reveal more about the reality of armed conflict and the way that women work in their communities to understand inequality in broad terms. In Mindanao, Philippines, civilian views on their roles and tasks in protection other civilians and community early warning have been collected.

This research looks at how we can prepare people to recognise threats and have a plan for what happens afterwards. For example, if you see or hear of any troops moving towards your area, what is the plan?

Some people might want to fight, some people might want to hide but it is creating that protection – is there a safe space that people can go to, whether it is in that community or moving to the next village.

Being present, watching and listening to people is a really important part of how this protection mechanism works, as well as trying to humanise the population by connecting with the soldiers and humanising the soldiers by talking to them about their day and their families.

The research includes the way we protect vulnerable populations such as refugees who face multiple threats. Women face violence, the risk of being trafficked and are more vulnerable when they are alone. By working on how protection issues are inter-related, and what capacity people have to implement their own mechanisms, it shows that refugees can take action to protect themselves and their families as they adapt, including how they are safer in groups and working together.

The Impact

Professor Julian’s collaborative research is building capacity and changing lives through exploring the inter-relationship between feminism, peace, conflict, resistance, culture, and power in a range of partnerships.

The research has been instrumental in establishing the efficacy and credibility of UCP in evidence-based policy. It has directly supported campaigns by two non-governmental organisations (NGO) to incorporate for the first-time language and actions support and recognising UCP as a viable peacekeeping approach in official policy documents from the United Nations, and the governments of the United States and Germany.

This research has been essential to growing acceptance of UCP as a viable protection method among international organisations. Decision-makers need to be convinced the UCP works and by demonstrating the effectiveness of UCP, Professor Julian’s research has created a robust evidence base that has strengthened the negotiating position of the international NGO Nonviolence Peaceforce (NP) that campaigns for recognition and wider adoption of UCP.

Professor Julian has also worked in partnership with the German NGO, Federation for Social Defence and has influenced the inclusion of UCP in a policy paper from the German government.

In the United States, her research was used successfully to support UCP being included in a report accompanying their Fiscal Year 2020 Appropriations Bill.

We like to refer to Leeds [Beckett] as one of the universities that takes the concept of UCP seriously. It really adds to the credibility of this approach to be able to say that there are universities, there are established researchers, who do work on this concept or work with this concept.


Outputs and recognition

  • Julian, R. and Schweitzer, C. (2015) “The origins and development of Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping.” Peace Review: a Journal of Social Justice, 27(1): 1–8.
  • Furnari, E., Oldenhuis, H. and Julian, R. (2015) “Securing Space for Local Peacebuilding: the role of international and national civilian peacekeepers.” Peacebuilding, 3(3): 297-313.
  • Julian, R. and Gasser, R. (2018) “Soldiers, civilians and peacekeeping – evidence and false assumptions.” International Peacekeeping, 26(1): 22–54.
  • Julian, R. (2020) “The transformative impact of unarmed civilian peacekeeping.” Global Society, 34(1): 99-111.
  • Julian, R., Bliesemann de Guevara, B., and Redhead, R. (2019) “From expert to experiential knowledge: Exploring the inclusion of local experiences in understanding violence in conflict.” Peacebuilding 7(2): 210-225.

Image credit | header image supplied by Nonviolent Peaceforce.

Contact Dr Rachel Julian

  • Culture and applied social sciences
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