Building on more than 15 years of field work in a wide range of conflict zones, I am undertaking a PhD to explore the theory that can help to explain some of the more horrific failures of humanity to protect those in greatest need. Linking theory with extensive practice may shed some light on alternative interpretations or ways forward.
This research is positioned in relation to IR Constructivist norm diffusion theory, but is deeply rooted in micro level protection politics and survival processes in so-called “fragile protection zones” of South Sudan and CAR. It traces various trajectories through which global protection norms are presumed to penetrate into the local context and become translated into a concrete protection impact. These include legal, physical, and humanitarian protection. Asking if global protection norms actually make a difference in the lives of people caught in armed conflict, the concrete manifestation of these protective institutions in the local space is juxtaposed with perceptions of threat, vulnerability, and protection of individuals living the experience of violence. Findings suggest that in “fragile protection zones” the politics of protection largely manifest at the point of interface between the perpetrator and victim of violence. No institutions buffer this harsh reality. The influence of global protection norms is largely excluded from these politics, with the influence of the gun rather winning favor. As such, the responsibility to protect sits almost exclusively in the hands of the individuals at risk, with success being defined by ones independent capacity to navigate the imminent and often deadly risks of the environment.