Humphrey School News—October 28, 2016

Working for DC Think Tank, Humphrey School Students Address Ways to Protect Civilians in War-Torn Countries

In political hotspots around the world, civilians are often caught in the crossfire—literally—between warring factions. Research conducted by a group of students from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs is helping to determine the best ways to protect innocent civilians and promote peace in areas of conflict.

The students, all of whom recently received their Master of Public Policy degrees, worked on their global policy capstone project in conjunction with the Stimson Center, a Washington, DC-based think tank devoted to enhancing international peace and security through rigorous analysis and outreach.

Their project, part of a larger Stimson effort on “Protecting Civilians in Conflict,” examined actions that are designed to protect civilians from violence in countries facing conflict.

“Either caught in the crossfire or deliberately targeted, each year millions of civilians suffer from physical violence or are denied access to essential services,” said the Stimson Center in describing the project’s goals. “Protecting civilians in conflict is not only a moral or legal imperative: it is a necessary component of and pragmatic step toward sustainable peace.”

The students—Michael Beach,Laurel Draine, Maribeth Menendez, Eric Switzer, and Lingran Zhou— studied conflicts in five different countries—Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala, Lebanon, and South Sudan—and identified best practices of local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that protect innocent civilians from harm.

Stimson Center capstone project team

Given time and financial constraints, the students didn’t visit those countries; they conducted most of their interviews via Skype, phone, and email. They learned of several best practices being carried out by local organizations, including: integrating potential or former fighters into community support roles, fostering social cohesion between groups in conflict, empowering women to be active in conflict resolution efforts, and promoting civic engagement.

The Humphrey students also recommended several steps to improve the response in countries that are engaged in conflict. Among them: more on-the-ground field research in various countries, more emphasis on using ex-fighters in anti-recruitment efforts, and stable funding sources to support the NGOs and local groups that are organizing these efforts. Their hope is that these practices can be adapted for use in other conflict hot spots around the world.

“By adopting these types of good practices, local and international practitioners will be better able to protect civilians in conflict-affected areas,” their report concluded.

The partnership between the Stimson Center and the Humphrey School, announced in November 2015, is fostering collaboration between the two institutions on programming, outreach, and education—including research projects involving Stimson experts and Humphrey School students.

The benefits of that arrangement are now being felt directly by students. “We are [the Stimson Center’s] first major academic partner of this level,” noted Mary Curtin, the Humphrey School’s diplomat-in-residence and the students’ capstone advisor. “This gives our students an opportunity to participate in the work of one of the top-ranked think tanks in the country.” 

As for the experience of working with the Stimson Center, Maribeth Menendez called it “a great opportunity to present and articulate our ideas, and to make professional connections.”

Menendez, who lives in Philadelphia, plans to begin searching for jobs in the Washington DC area in the next few months.

“It’s an advantage for our students to have this direct partnership with a Washington-based think tank,” said Curtin. “For students who are interested in careers in international and global issues, making these kinds of connections in Washington is very important.”

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