In closing

This book has been concerned with how humanitarian protection works, focusing on the complex relationship between the official frameworks that seek to guide the protection of civilians and how they actually take shape in practice. To this end, its approach has been ethnographic, examining the everyday practice of humanitarians tasked with disseminating and implementing these laws and principles. Viewed from the inside, it becomes clear that it is not the frameworks that guide protection, but rather it is first and foremost the relationships between the actors who occupy the humanitarian arena. This is not to say that the frameworks do not serve an important function, just not the one that is commonly articulated. Rather than laws to be followed, the frameworks act as a unifying narrative that establishes and preserves these relationships.

We have seen that international humanitarian workers fill two important and interconnected roles. First, they act as intermediaries who, through constant repetition of the frameworks and their everyday performances as neutral, impartial actors, reify the official narrative which works to unify state and state-like actors. Second, they act as mediators or brokers, who actively translate the official frameworks to make them relevant to actors from outside this European, state-focused tradition and who selectively transgress these frameworks according to their circumstances. They, in part, decolonise humanitarian protection by turning to a mix of reasoned arguments and moral values to recruit actors from other political, cultural and religious traditions. In other words, they provide a temporary fix that makes these Western-based frameworks relevant in a post-colonial world. However, the fix also sustains many of the colonial inequalities that are intrinsic to the protection frameworks.


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