20 Global Governance 55 (2014)
Revisiting Humanitarian Safe Areas for Civilian Protection

handle is hein.journals/glogo20 and id is 57 raw text is: Global Governance 20 (2014), 55-75

Revisiting Humanitarian Safe Areas
for Civilian Protection
Phil Orchard
Are safe areas an effective option to protect civilian populations from mass
atrocities when they are targeted by their own state? Safe areas disappeared
from the international lexicon following the failures in Bosnia and Rwanda.
But they are now receiving a second look as a way of responding to mass
atrocities without full-scale military intervention. This article argues that the
earlier generation of safe areas failed not due to their size or cost but rather
because of problems inherent with their underlying logic. Safe areas were
based either on logics of consent or the presence of a credible military force.
Hybrid safe areas (such as in Bosnia) were based on neither of these, but in-
stead relied on the legitimacy inherent in the UN Security Council. Crucially,
in cases where civilians were being directly targeted by belligerents, both hy-
brid and consent-based safe areas collapsed. This has direct ramifications for
present discussions around the Protection of Civilians agenda and the Re-
sponsibility to Protect doctrine. KEYwoRDs: safe areas, humanitarian protec-
tion, Responsibility to Protect, peacekeeping, internally displaced persons.
atrocities? I use safe area as an encompassing term to refer to operations under-
taken by international actors that have the primary purpose of providing direct
protection to civilians and internally displaced persons (IDPs) within a state's
borders in a temporary and designated geographic area.' The principle under-
lying safe areas is that, in situations of widespread conflict and atrocities, safe
areas allow threatened civilian populations to remain within their state while
receiving physical protection and humanitarian assistance. This protection is
achieved without full-scale military intervention in the conflict by international
actors. Yet past safe areas have failed to reliably achieve these objectives.
Safe areas were a novel form of humanitarian space that emerged in the
1990s. While a number of such safe areas were created during that decade-
albeit with wide variation in both form and authorization-the concept has
since withered away, with one commentator noting that the UN Security
Council has not designated any safe areas since 1999.2 This is not surprising.
The success of some of these areas was overshadowed by two factors. The
first were fears that the use of safe areas compromised the right to seek asy-
lum and supported a containment agenda. The second was problems in their
implementation including, most notably, the fall of the Srebrenica safe area in
Bosnia in 1995, which led to the genocidal massacre of 8,372 Bosnians.


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