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Protection Zones: Possibilities, Limits, Dilemmas

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The study presents international-law-related and political considerations and discusses possible dilemmas in the setting up and implementing of protection zones to protect the civilian population from mass atrocities. It defines different types of protection zones, analyses their bases in international law and their legitimation, discusses experiences thus far, and identifies operative prerequisites for the setting up of protection zones. The aim of the study is to put greater emphasis again on protection zones in the peace and security policy debate in Germany.The study is available in German language.

The guidelines on “Preventing Crises, Resolving Conflicts, Building Peace” are the strategic framework for the Federal Government’s peace policy engagement. The guiding principles are the prioritisation of civil courses of action and prevention, adherence to human rights, interministerial coherence, context-specific and inclusive approaches, as well as transparency in dealing with risks. The protection of civilians is of particular importance in increasingly complex conflict constellations, and the international community shares responsibility for this. Against the historical background of the Holocaust, Germany has a particular obligation to contribute to the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities.

This also means that the peace and security policy debate in Germany should place more emphasis on the tools used to protect the civilian population in violent conflicts. Once a conflict escalates, this generally limits the courses of action open to external actors as regards preventing mass atrocities. Setting up internationally monitored protection zones is a possible course of action in reducing civilian deaths. The concept of the responsibility to protect, which is the basis of such an intervention in a national conflict, requires a sense of sovereignty defined by the state’s responsibility towards its citizens. This is one reason why the use of protection zones at the international level is contentious.

The necessary international-law-related and political considerations and the dilemmas involved in setting up and implementing protection zones are the object of this study. The study contributes to the strategy debate on the protection of the civilian population and provides German actors with legal, political and operative decision-making criteria. In so doing, it defines different types of protection zones, analyses their bases in international law and their legitimation, summarises experiences thus far, and defines operative prerequisites in discussion with experts in the field. The target audience for the recommended courses of action is the Federal Government, the Bundestag and the professional public.

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