Especially considering that I recently criticized the human security community for failing to pay enough attention to urban violence, I’m delighted to hear of this upcoming web seminar on the topic at Harvard’s Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research. These are open to the public but you must register in advance. I’ve done a few on topics in humanitarian law and find the format and substance quite intellectually compelling.
More than half of the world’s population is concentrated in urban areas. According to UNFPA, this number is expected to rise to 5 billions by 2030, reaching 2/3 of the world population, with the largest cities emerging in Africa and Asia. Regrettably, along with this mass urbanization has come an unprecedented level of violence and crime in densely populated slums and shantytowns… In many countries, particularly in Latin America, this emerging form of violence is considered one of the greatest threats to national security. To curb the violence, states have responded by deploying specially trained military units when traditional law enforcement has failed to restore security. These instances of ongoing urban violence engaging organized criminal networks, coupled with the use of military force, increasingly resemble to situations of armed conflicts... the regulation of the use of military force represents a major challenge in urban environments, even more so when humanitarian law is formally inapplicable and the enforcement of international human rights is weak.
Furthermore, the humanitarian sector faces formidable difficulties in the context of urban violence. First, humanitarian actors must assess whether involvement in these complex situations is appropriate under their respective mandates. Second, humanitarians must develop objective criteria to determine whether the level of violence and human suffering warrants intervention in view of the specific security and policy risks. And third, humanitarian actors must adapt to these situations and identify priority areas of humanitarian action on a case-by-case basis. In light of these considerations, this Live Web Seminar will shed light on the tensions and challenges arising out of the application of humanitarian principles in urban violence. Expert panelists and participants will explore the following questions:
1) Whether instances of urban violence can be characterized as armed conflicts? If so, what are the advantages and disadvantages of applying International Humanitarian Law (IHL) to these situations?
2) To what extent is it necessary to develop a legal framework that incorporates both humanitarian and human rights considerations tailored to situations of urban violence?
3) What strategies and policy tools can be put in place in order to minimize human suffering and, at the same time, address the security concern of states in urban conflicts?
4) What is the proper role of humanitarian actors in urban conflicts?