Ending Atrocities: Third Party Interventions into Civil Wars

Project Overview

Project leader

Project participants

Project period 

  • 2015 - 2020

Project description

Civil wars and civilian atrocities are no longer treated as internal affairs. Recent decades have seen a norm shift, emphasizing the responsibility of the international community in ensuring human security when states fail to protect their citizens. There are high expectations on the international community to respond to killings and sexual violence against civilians. Nevertheless, there is seldom agreement as to what the best and most effective response would be. There is a wide set of strategies that the international community may take: forceful military interventions, impartial peacekeeping operations, sanctions, and diplomatic efforts. But which policy is more likely to succeed in ending atrocities?

This project seeks to make two main contributions to our understanding of the effects of third-party interventions into civil wars. First, it examines the relative effectiveness and complementarity of various coercive and non-coercive measures that third parties may take in response to civilian abuse. Second, it explores potential trade-offs in the effects that interventions may have, in particular with respect to long-term stability and peace.

The main mechanisms by which interventions can reduce violence are through raising the costs of continued atrocities and reducing the incentives of the perpetrator for engaging in such policies. But the effectiveness of different forms of interventions depends on the preferences and motivations of the warring actors. Understanding the function of civilian targeting in the conflict is thus crucial for making theoretical predictions about the effects of intervention. Through a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, this project will systematically address questions of intervention effectiveness. These insights would be highly valuable to policy makers with an interest in reducing human suffering in war-torn countries.


This project is funded by Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation through the Wallenberg Academy Fellows program.


Lisa Hultman, Associate Professor, Project Leader

As the project leader, I am involved in research relating to the overall project theme as described above. I am interested in understanding both the determinants of UN policy and the effects of various forms of intervention given the local conditions. 

Sabine Otto, Postdoctoral Researcher

Why are some UN peacekeeping operations (PKO) effective in reducing violence against civilians while others are not? To address this research question I focus on the different types of armed actors involved in civil wars. While researchers have started to disaggregate PKOs to explain missions’ success and failure, most studies assume that the conflict is fought between two unitary actors. Building on research on multi-party civil wars I explore how domestic armed actors’ constellation impact PKOs outcomes. I am especially interested in how the existence of pro-government militias is related to PKOs' effectiveness in decreasing violence against civilians.

Corinne Bara, Postdoctoral Researcher

My research focuses on peacekeeping and postwar armed violence, that is, various forms of collective violence that often accompany and follow peace processes and can last well into the postwar period. The two main questions I aim to answer within this project are: Do peace operations reduce the overall extent of collective postwar violence? Or do they inadvertently contribute to an increase in postwar violence by shifting the strategic calculus of actors away from battlefield engagements towards forms of violence that are less easily detected and sanctioned by those with a stake in the peace? Part of the answer to these questions may depend on whether peace operations are mandated and equipped to fill the public security vacuum that often presents itself after the end of civil war. To test this, this project involves the collection new data on the public security aspects of peace operations.

Angela Muvumba Sellström, PhD, Researcher

My interest is centred on the conditions that lead to changes in the behaviours of armed groups and their reduction of violence against civilians. With Lisa Hultman, we will first build on previous work on armed actors in civil wars in Africa, and their punishment of wartime sexual violence, utilizing theoretical contributions from case study research on Burundi's rebel groups. Second, we will assess different relationships between international mediation and patterns in rebel group sexual violence and one-sided violence, using global data. A focus will be to understand if there are incentives which lead to decreases in abuses, whether arising from the type of intervention, its key proponents, timing and content, or residing within the rebel group itself, and its ideology, its command and control capacity - or other factors.  Additional research will explore the causal mechanisms which propel rebels toward positive, non-violent cooperation with civilians, or its opposite. The aim is to identify entry points for international diplomacy to prevent or stop atrocities.

Karin Johansson, PhD Candidate

Ralph Sundberg, Postdoctoral Researcher

My current research focus within the project deals with two different phenomena: 1) violence against peacekeepers, and 2) the mechanisms that allow for successful Protection of Civilians (PoC)operations  in UN PKO missions. Concerning the first topic I employ disaggregated and georeferenced event data on violence directed at peacekeepers, to understand what factors increase the risk of such violence. The second topic deals with deepening our understanding of the mechanisms of the UN military’s Protection of Civilians activities. In this project I try to move beyond static indicators of peacekeeping missions (number of soldiers, equipment etc.) and understand how variations in military leadership and operational doctrine affect the tactics and implementation of on the ground PoC.

Sara Lindberg Bromley, PhD Researcher

Kajsa Tidblad-Lundholm, Research Assistant

My interest is centred on the supply side of peacekeeping and particularly on women’s participation in peacekeeping. I am also interested in the local effects of mission composition. In my role as research assistant, I support the work of the project members while also conducting my own research.

The following students have done internships within the project:

  • Henrique Garbino
  • Ognjen Gogic
  • Astrid Juckenack
  • Herman Wieselgren

The project has hosted the following visiting PhD students and postdocs:

  • Hana Bredikova
  • Deniz Cil
  • Vanessa Meier
  • Jessica Di Salvatore


  • Sundberg, Ralph. Forthcoming. "UN Peacekeeping and Forced Displacement in South Sudan", International Peacekeeping.
  • Cil, Deniz, Hanne Fjelde, Lisa Hultman, and Desirée Nilsson. Forthcoming. “Mapping Blue Helmets: Introducing the Geocoded Peacekeeping Operations (Geo-PKO) Dataset.” Journal of Peace Research.
  • Hultman, Lisa, Jacob Kathman, and Megan Shannon. 2019. Peacekeeping in the Midst of War. Oxford University Press. Forthcoming.
  • Johansson, Karin and Lisa Hultman. 2019. “UN Peacekeeping and Protection from Sexual Violence.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 63(7): 1656–1681.
  • Hegre, Håvard, Lisa Hultman, and Håvard Mokleiv Nygård. 2019. “Evaluating the Conflict-Reducing Effect of Peacekeeping Operations.” Journal of Politics 81(1): 215-232.
  • Hultman, Lisa. 2019. “Mediation and Prevention of Violence against Civilians”, in Jonathan Wilkenfeld, Kyle Beardsley, and David Quinn (eds.) Handbook on Mediating International Crises. Edward Elgar.
  • Hultman, Lisa and Angela Muvumba Sellström. 2019. “WPS and Protection of Civilians,” in True, Jacqui and Sara Davies (eds.) Oxford Handbook on Women, Peace, and Security. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  • Johansson, Karin and Mehwish Sarwari. 2019. “Sexual Violence and Biased Military Interventions in Civil Conflict.” Conflict Management and Peace Science 36(5): 469-493.
  • Hultman, Lisa and Karin Johansson. 2017. “Responding to Wartime Sexual Violence: UN Peacekeeping and the Protection Agenda”. Global Responsibility to Protect 9(2): 129–146.
  • Hultman, Lisa and Dursun Peksen. 2017. “Successful or Counterproductive Coercion? The Effect of International Sanctions on Conflict Intensity.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 61(6): 1315-1339.
  • Hultman, Lisa, Jacob Kathman, and Megan Shannon. 2016 “United Nations Peacekeeping Dynamics and the Duration of Post-Conflict Peace.” Conflict Management and Peace Science 33(3): 231–249.