How to behave around rebels

I just came across a thought provoking article in the March 2011 edition of Forced Migration Review called “How to Behave: Advice from IDPs.”  The author, Stine Finne Jakobsen, summarizes advice from internally displaced Colombians living around Cartagena into four “modes of behavior” intended to lower the risk of living in a war zone.  To quote her summaries of them:

  • Passivity: In a situation where an illegal armed actor is controlling the local population and imposing order through terror, not to talk, not to know and not to see may be essential coping strategies.
  • Invisibility: [This] implies to duck and hide, to melt into the rest of the population and avoid actions that can draw attention to you. Certain daily activities should be restricted or abandoned but total invisibility is never possible since everyday life has to go on.
  • Obedience: [This] implies following the rules and orders of the [non-state armed groups] – a first step towards securing survival. However, obeying the orders of one group is inevitably perceived by their adversaries as supporting that group. And in obeying, the principle of passivity is violated.
  • Mobility: In wartime, mobility is restricted and regarded as suspicious by armed actors and groups.  Unnecessary movement should be avoided – but moving away can be the ultimate solution to secure survival through anonymity in an urban setting.

I found this a very moving depiction of the impossible choices people make during conflict, and would like to revisit some of the other academic literature focusing on civilian life in wartime (such as Zachariah Mampilly’s Rebel Rulers) with these precepts in mind.