December 2005 Monthly Forecast

Posted 23 November 2005
Download Complete Forecast: PDF

Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

Expected Council Action
The Council will hold an open briefing and is expected to adopt a third resolution on strengthening and enhancing the protection of civilians in armed conflicts which will pick up the language approved by Heads of Government at the September World Summit on responsibility to protect civilians. A report of the Secretary-General is due 28 November. An Arria formula briefing was hosted by the UK on 22 November 2005.

Key Facts
The growing need for enhanced protection of civilians in armed conflict was first addressed in detail in the report of the Secretary-General on the causes of conflict in Africa (S/1998/318 of 13 April 1998). The Secretary-General observed that a deterioration of the respect for international humanitarian norms had led in the preceding years to targeting civilians and also relief workers, thereby dramatically worsening their conditions in conflict situations. Therefore, he identified protecting civilians as a “humanitarian imperative”. At the initiative of Canada, the issue of the protection of civilians in armed conflict was first introduced to the Security Council on 12 February 1999. Following an open briefing, a presidential statement was adopted, requesting the Secretary-General to submit a report giving the Council insights on how it could improve the physical and legal protection of civilians. To date, the Secretary-General has issued four reports and the Security Council, in addition to holding semi-annual open briefings, has adopted two resolutions and six presidential statements.

Resolution 1265 of 17 September 1999 expressed concerns about the erosion in respect for humanitarian, human rights and refugee law and principles in armed conflict and strongly condemned deliberate targeting of civilians. It expressed Council’s willingness to respond through the consideration of appropriate measures to situations of conflicts where civilians were targeted and humanitarian assistance was deliberately obstructed.  Resolution 1296 of 19 April 2000 reaffirmed Council’s  concerns, affirmed its intention to ensure that peacekeeping missions be given  suitable mandates and adequate resources to protect civilians under immediate threat of physical danger, and focused on several operational areas of protection. It also requested the Secretary-General to bring to its attention situations in which civilians were particularly vulnerable and to address issues related to the protection of civilians in his periodic reports on the matters with which the Council was already seized.

In 2002, Norway, at the time an elected Council member, led the way in preparing in consultation with the Secretariat, an aide memoire that highlighted specific issues for consideration in addressing protection of civilians in armed conflict as well as listed previous Council resolutions and statements with reference to similar concerns. The document was adopted as an annex to a presidential statement and was meant as a practical tool assisting the Council in analysing and diagnosing protection issues as well as in drafting resolutions and designing peacekeeping mandates.

In December the Council, under the UK presidency, will consider a third resolution on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. The text, a draft of which is already being circulated, will take up the language of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document with its provisions regarding the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. It is also expected to emphasize the unacceptability of impunity for such crimes; to condemn in strongest terms sexual and all other forms of violence against women and children in situations of armed conflict; and to deplore all acts of sexual exploitation, abuse and trafficking by personnel involved in UN operations.

Key Issues
One of the main issues for the Council has been not so much the adoption of generic lofty statements, but the practical challenge of systematically incorporating the principles related to protection of civilians from resolutions 1265 and 1296 in country-specific resolutions and in peacekeeping   activities and changing the realities on the ground. The record has been mixed, though, increasingly, the Council has been including provisions ensuring the protection of civilians in designing new mandates or modifying old ones.  However, much remains to be done to consistently implement those provisions.

Council Dynamics
There is a is broad consensus about the necessity to enhance protection of civilians in armed conflict, and the need for better implementation of Council resolutions on this matter. The lead supporters among current Council members have been the UK, France, Argentina, Benin, Denmark, Japan and Tanzania.

There is a general agreement that a third resolution on the theme needs be adopted. 

  • One option is to simply reiterate and update the previous texts and debates.
  • However, a second option, reflected in the draft that is circulating, is for the Council to be more assertive with regards to particular fields of concern: respect for international humanitarian law, condemnation of sexual abuse against women and children, need for addressing sexual abuse by members of UN field operations, necessity to ensure safe access to conflict areas for humanitarian personnel, strengthening of DDR processes and, possibly, the use of force to protect civilians, drawing upon the concept of responsibility to protect.
  • A third option is for the Council to revisit the recommendations of the Secretary-General in paragraphs 60-63 of his 1999 report which were not taken up at that time and which specifically address the issue of implementation in the field.

Underlying Problems
Despite significant progress to protect civilians since this issue first was raised by the Council, there is still a wide gap between the rhetoric and the actual ability of the Council to ensure that peacekeeping missions and UN agencies implement specific provisions to effectively protect civilians.

The absence within the UN system of standardised operational doctrine to disseminate to peacekeeping units the protection of civilians standards is a major problem.

UN Documents


 Presidential Statements

 Reports of the Secretary-General


  • A/RES/60/1 the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document
  • S/2001/614 (21 June 2001) letter from the President of the Council to the Secretary-General
  • S/2000/298 (7 April 2000) letter from the President of the General Assembly on behalf of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations to the President of the Council
  • S/2000/119 (14 February 2000) letter from the President of the Council to the President of the General Assembly conveying four recommendations from the informal working group on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts for the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations

Historical Background

 14-16 September 2005

World Summit was held in New York, in its final document, it reaffirmed the responsibility to protect civilian populations from crimes against humanity.

 21 June 2005

A Presidential Statement was adopted expressing concern over the limited progress on the ground to protect civilians and expressing intention to take further action, including the adoption of a possible new resolution.

 14 December 2004

A Presidential Statement was adopted reaffirming condemnation of violence against civilians and endorsed a ten-point action plan.

 28 May 2004

The fourth report of the Secretary-General reviewed the performance achieved on protection of civilians at headquarters and in the field, and identified several shortfalls that needed special attention (following the ten-point action plan). The report also noted that enhanced monitoring and reporting frameworks were needed in order to better determine areas in which the impact of conflict would be systematically measured and documented. Finally, two key problems were identified: a lack of regional approaches to protection and the absence of inclusion of guarantees for the protection of civilians in peace processes.  

 15 December 2003

A Presidential Statement introduced a ten-point action plan and revised the aide memoire in accordance with evolving needs.

 20 December 2002

A Presidential Statement was adopted acknowledging the emerging issues raised in the Secretary-General’s report and recognising the importance of a comprehensive, coherent and action-oriented approach.

 26 November 2002

The third report of the Secretary-General highlighted the changing environment for the protection of civilians and, in particular, noted that three new challenges had emerged: gender-based violence in conflict situations; the commercial exploitation of conflict and; the rise of terrorism in armed conflicts.

 15 March 2002

The aide memoire identifying 13 core objectives for protecting civilians was adopted as an annex to a Presidential Statement.

 21 June 2001

A letter from the President of the Council to the Secretary-General requested the Secretariat to (1) reorganise the recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s first two reports to better clarify responsibilities for their implementation and strengthen coordination within the UN system (known as the “roadmap”); and (2) prepare the aide memoire.

 30 March 2001

The second report of the Secretary-General further detailed measures to enhance protection. 

 18 September 2000

The Millennium Declaration adopted by the General Assembly identified “Protecting the Vulnerable” as an area of priority and agreeing to “expand and strengthen the protection of civilians in complex emergencies in conformity with international humanitarian law.” 

 19 April 2000

The second Council Resolution (1296) on civilians in armed conflict was adopted.

 17 September 1999

The first Council Resolution on civilians in armed conflict (1265) was adopted.

 08 September 1999

In his first report, the Secretary-General laid down several recommendations to the Council aimed at strengthening legal and physical protection of civilians.

12 February 1999

Adoption of the first Presidential Statement specifically addressing the issue of the protection of civilians in armed conflict. The Council expressed grave concern at the growing civilian toll of conflicts and requested the Secretary-General to report on recommendations on how the Council could improve the protection of civilians.

13 April 1998

In a report on the causes of conflict and the promotion of durable peace and sustainable development in Africa, the Secretary-General addressed for the first time the protection of civilians in situations of conflict, calling it a “humanitarian imperative”.

Full forecast