3. What to do: Response options

For detailed technical guidelines for protection, see Annex 31.1 Protection: An ALNAP guide for humanitarian agencies, Annex 31.5 Draft Minimum Standards for ProtectionAnnex 31.7 Reach out: A refugee protection training project, and Annex 31.8 Protecting refugees: a field guide for NGOs.

  • Focus on safety, dignity and integrity: Keep people physically safe and preserve their personal dignity.
  • Think about law, violation, rights and responsibilities: People’s suffering as a result of conflict can often be a result of violation of international law. Their suffering and need are a result of the policy and conduct of the conflict. Violations of law impose clear humanitarian responsibilities on governments, non-state actors and individuals.
  • Ensure respect: Move beyond just giving relief, ensure respect for humanitarian and human-rights norms.
  • Build on people’s own self-protection capacity: Affirm people’s own knowledge, capacity, insight and innovation in a threatening situation, and seek ways to build this into an emergency project.
  • Work with clear protection outcomes and indicators: Have a good understanding of what people’s lives would be like if they were protected, and develop appropriate indicators and means of verification to work towards this outcome.
  • Prioritise complementary/joint interagency work: Develop a basic understanding of the different agencies involved in the emergency response and their mandates, protection priorities and expertise. In some cases, mandated agencies such as UNHCR will take the lead on protection. This means that CARE still has a role to play in supporting fulfilment of this mandate.
  • Prevent counter-protective programming or behaviour: Be aware of your activities, attitudes and behaviour, and how this can negatively affect the people you are working with. Well-intentioned advocacy action on an international level regarding a particular emergency might produce a terrible backlash against national staff and the programmes.
  • Be courageous but realistic about your agency’s limits: In many cases where conflict is the catalyst for an emergency, CARE does not have the mandate or the means to protect people. We need to recognise this to ensure our programming is realistic and to avoid raising expectations.
    Source: Annex 31.1 Protection: An ALNAP guide for humanitarian agencies (pp.112-113)

CARE’s activities during and immediately after the emergency should respond to the most immediate needs of affected populations, and should respect their dignity and ensure their safety. CARE should not put people’s dignity and safety at further risk through our attempts to assist, and we should be held accountable to people affected by natural disaster or conflict. To achieve this, a protection approach should be mainstreamed in all of CARE’s programmes.

In practice, this might mean that in a camp setting managed by CARE, all essential services and facilities will be located in an easily accessible and secure location so that people, especially women and children, will not be vulnerable to attack when they use these services and facilities.

Another example is placing a protective ‘lens’ on a food distribution programme to ensure that the types and methods of distribution do not increase risk to people’s security. For example, sometimes the types of food distributed require increased fuel and water for cooking. This can mean people have to travel further to collect water and fuel, and be at risk of attack. A protection approach would advocate for more fuel-efficient foods. Distribution methods would have strategies to ensure that food cannot be used for exploitation and abuse of power. For more information, refer to the chapter on Prevention of and response to sexual exploitation and abuse.

Providing basic information to the community about CARE and the emergency project, including a complaints mechanism and a means for regular reports and updates throughout the project cycle, is another possible protection approach. See the chapter on Quality and accountability.

A set of Draft Minimum Standards for Protection have recently been developed by a group of NGOs including CARE (see Annex 31.5). These standards provide checklists and indicators for each sector to help integrate a protection approach.

NEW – ICRC’s joint agency agency initiative in professional standards ‘Professional standards for Protection work – ICRC 2009.’ Refer to Annex 31.15 .


3.2.1 Sample checklist: How to protect refugees during the asylum period


  • Help refugees organise themselves.
  • Help ensure that the layout, location and infrastructure of the camp are designed to protect camp residents (for example, that latrines, water and fuel collection points, medical facilities, etc. are within easy and safe access to all, and that camps are well lit).
  • Alert refugees to their rights and responsibilities under national and local laws.
  • Foster dialogue between the refugee community and local population.
  • Ensure women are included as initial points of contact for emergency and longer-term food distribution.

Source: Adapted from Annex 31.8 Protecting refugees: A field guide for NGOs

As protection is already grounded in human rights, it is essential that protection should be empowering as well as life-saving. CARE can take steps in its programming to raise awareness among vulnerable populations of human rights and responsibilities, and support any protective strategies the community may already have in place. CARE may also have the opportunity in some contexts to develop the organisational capacity of the community by supporting them in their efforts to promote good governance, rule of law and peacebuilding to end violations of abuse.

In an emergency, the presence of an international organisation like CARE in a given area is thought to be beneficial in deterring potential violators of human rights. However, a mere presence alone can lead to ongoing violations if perpetrators are confident they will not be exposed. It is therefore important that staff of international organisations is aware of the role they play, and make the most of it to ensure respect for and observance of human rights.

CARE must use our field presence to work towards protection, but at the same time balance CARE’s protection approach against any risks that may exist. It is important to remember that protection activities are not always welcomed by authorities and/or armed groups, and can carry risks to the continuance of programmes, staff security and the safety of civilians. Any protection or human rights work must be based on good risk analysis and principles of ‘do no harm’ (refer to Annex 31.9 Do No Harm Framework for Considering the Impact of Aid on Conflict).

CARE USA’s Witnessing Guidelines (Annex 31.10) outline a suggested framework for ways that CARE can engage in human rights work in the context of protection, as outlined below:

3.3.1 Types of human rights work

3.3.2 Witnessing and monitoring abuses

Depending on the situation, CARE might choose to take a more direct approach to protection concerns by sing witnessing and monitoring to advocate for better protection of people caught up in conflict and crisis. Witnessing is the act of monitoring and reporting information on violations of human rights that one observes or encounters in one’s work. Human rights violations impact negatively both on the people we serve, and on our relief and development programmes. It is important that these violations are addressed.

CARE can engage in both overt and covert witnessing, depending on the prevailing circumstances in a particular situation. Witnessing is said to be covert where the information gathered is passed on-usually confidentially-to outside organisations, such as human rights monitoring and reporting organisations. It is said to be overt where the information collected is shared with the perpetrators themselves or with the authorities responsible for protecting people from abuses. Given the organisation’s operational nature and the sensitivities often associated with reporting on rights abuses, CARE generally will favour either overt witnessing as part of low-profile advocacy or covert witnessing that does not sacrifice our anonymity. The appropriate course of action will depend very much on the circumstances of any given case and a sound risk analysis.

For more detailed information please see:

Annex 31.10     Draft CARE Witnessing Guidelines
Annex 31.11     Humanitarian protection: Recommendations towards good practice for non-mandated organizations
Annex 31.12    Proactive presence: Field strategies for civilian protection

3.3.3 Advocacy

Protection is the legal responsibility of governments, international peacekeeping forces and/or armed groups on the ground. Advocacy involves influencing those who are legally responsible for protecting civilians in a given situation, to comply with the relevant international laws to ensure population safety. CARE may be able to undertake advocacy to work towards protection objectives. However, such activities must be balanced against staff security, the continuation of programmes, access to affected populations and the risk of putting communities at further risk. For further details, refer to Advocacy.

Where there is limited space for advocacy, CARE can coordinate with protection-mandated agencies such as the UNHCR or Red Cross to bring further attention to protection concerns. Often, these agencies have a greater capacity to respond to a protection threat.

In Zambia, CARE placed a protective ‘lens’ on a food distribution programme in an Angolan refugee camp to ensure that the types and methods of distribution did not increase risk to people’s security. Sometimes the types of food distributed require increased fuel and water for cooking. This can mean that people are required to go further to collect water and fuel, and be vulnerable to attack.

Depending on the situation, CARE might also take a more direct approach to protection concerns, using witnessing and monitoring principles to advocate for better protection for people caught up in conflict. In Darfur, CARE is playing a pivotal role in contributing to ending gender-based violence and promoting peacebuilding. This involves working with youth organisations to sensitise and encourage them to contribute to the enhancement of women’s rights and peace efforts in their communities.

In Timor Leste (2006), child-safe spaces were established in the CARE-managed IDP camps. This provided a protective environment for children in direct response to threats posed by the conflict. CARE also implements the Lafaek project in Timor Leste. The Lafaek magazine is published in the country’s national language, Tetum, and provides information about children’s rights, peacebuilding, health, civic education, natural sciences and the environment.