June 2009 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 May 2009
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Protection of Civilians

Expected Council Action
In June the Council will hold an open debate on protection of civilians in armed conflict. (It takes up this issue twice a year; the last debate was on 14 January.) At press time the Secretary-General’s seventh report on the issue was expected. It is likely to assess the first ten years of Council involvement in the issue since it first addressed it thematically in 1999. John Holmes, the Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, is expected to brief the Council on the report.

No new decisions are expected in June. However, the recommendations of the Secretary-General and the findings expected in late June of the independent study on implementation of protection mandates in peacekeeping operations, commissioned by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) may lead to new initiatives later in the year.

For the Council’s history of addressing the issue of protection of civilians both thematically and in country-specific situations, please see our 14 October 2008 Cross-Cutting Report on Protection of Civilians.

Recent Developments
The Council has recently been confronted with three major crises that have focused attention on protection of civilians:

  • the severe fighting in late 2008 in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC);
  • Israel’s military operation in Gaza in December/January; and
  • Sri Lanka’s military offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

In all three cases the Council’s response was subject to significant public criticism.

The January debate on protection of civilians took place with the situations in DRC and Gaza as an important backdrop. Holmes’s briefing on that occasion focused on the conduct of hostilities and the need for strict compliance with international humanitarian law. He made particular reference to the Gaza situation, along with those in the eastern DRC, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sri Lanka. Holmes also pointed to the need for humanitarian actors to engage with all parties to a conflict (including non-state actors like the Taliban, Hamas or Al-Shabaab) to ensure access and promote respect for international humanitarian law. He noted the need to respond to protection challenges in a more consistent and comprehensive way, including in peacekeeping operations and efforts to combat sexual violence.

At the end of the debate the Council adopted a presidential statement with an annex that contained an update of the aide-mémoire that the Council first adopted in March 2002 “as a means to facilitate its consideration of issues pertaining to protection of civilians” (see our January 2009 Forecast). The aide-mémoire was expanded substantially to cover issues in more detail, reflect new priorities, and offer a more user-friendly format by providing specific protection language relating to the list of issues.

Also in January the Council held a private meeting on respect for international humanitarian law, addressing this as a separate issue for the first time. It was a French initiative with the stated purpose of starting a process focusing on possible measures that the Council could consider in order to more effectively prevent or end violations of international humanitarian law. OCHA as well as the UN’s Office of Legal Affairs, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees were invited to brief the Council, as was the International Committee of the Red Cross. While France initially floated the idea of a presidential statement, there was no outcome. It is unclear whether there will be any follow-up. France hopes that others will pursue the issue, including in fora other than the Council. (For more details, see our Update Report of 27 January.)

A significant new development was the establishment of an informal Council expert group on protection of civilians in line with the Secretary-General’s recommendation in his October 2007 report. At this stage its agreed informal mandate is to consider protection issues related to existing peacekeeping operations. A meeting is thus convened when a peacekeeping mandate with a protection dimension comes up for renewal. OCHA is invited to brief on behalf of the entire UN system, focusing on what are considered to be the most pressing protection issues. Based on the revised aide-mémoire, OCHA is also invited to make suggestions on agreed language that the Council might want to include in the mandate resolution.

As the lead country in the Council on the issue of protection of civilians, the UK convened the first meeting of the expert group in January on the mandate for the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) which was renewed on 27 January. There have been two more meetings so far: one focusing on the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) which was renewed on 23 March, and the other on the mandate of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) which was renewed on 30 April. The next meeting will be on the mandate of the AU/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur which expires on 31 July. China has so far not participated in any of the meetings.

In March, the General Assembly’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C-34), which meets annually to “conduct a comprehensive review of all issues related to peacekeeping.” for the first time included protection of civilians in its report, acknowledging that protection of civilians is one of the mandated tasks of UN peacekeeping operations, requiring integration and a comprehensive approach. The Special Committee also requested the Secretary-General to present proposals to improve the ability of existing peacekeeping operations to respond to situations where civilians are under threat and provide information on resources, training and concepts of operation with regard to protection mandates.

Key Issues
After ten years of Council attention to protection of civilians, a key issue is how to make the Council’s role more effective and consistent. In this regard, the Secretary-General’s report is expected to provide an assessment of what has been done and what the key challenges are, and make proposals for the way forward.

Some key challenges expected to be addressed include:

    • enhancing compliance with existing international humanitarian law, particularly during the conduct of hostilities;
    • enhancing compliance by non-state actors;
    • making more effective use of peacekeeping operations in protection of civilians;
    • improving humanitarian access; and
    • ensuring accountability for violators of international humanitarian law.

A key issue common to all these challenges is translating Council decisions into results on the ground.

A related issue is the implementation of peacekeeping protection mandates. Lack of guidelines on protection is still an issue, but the recent developments in the General Assembly’s Special Committee suggest that a more constructive dialogue among key players may be possible. The findings of the OCHA/DPKO independent study on implementation of protection mandates, which are expected at the end of June, may prove helpful.

A further key issue demonstrated recently by the crisis in Sri Lanka is the Council’s often slow and reluctant response when confronted with situations not formally on its agenda and where there is political reluctance from the country in question to be named in a Council agenda item. The question remains whether Council practice can evolve to allow for a less politicised approach when civilians are threatened.

A final issue is whether the Council could make better use of the informal expert group on protection of civilians by agreeing that it can informally discuss urgent new issues as they develop without the need for adoption of a formal agenda item.

No Council decision is expected at this time. However, options for the Council include:

  • continuing work in the informal protection expert group on the current basis;
  • expanding the group’s scope to include discussions of urgent new situations and also inviting representatives from the UN system other than OCHA to give briefings; and
  • devising new informal Council working methods which would allow for briefings on developing situations involving grave risks to civilians.

Council and Wider Dynamics
In spite of the Council’s problems in dealing with several recent protection situations, there seems to be a sense among members and other key players that the atmosphere in the Council on protection of civilians as a thematic issue is improving.

The informal expert group is seen as a positive development that most members find very useful despite the absence of China. China said in the last open debate that it was not in favor of a “working group” on protection. It also seems hesitant about the current informal format. Russia, on the other hand, is seen as an engaged and constructive participant.

The UK, as the convener, seems to see value in taking a cautious approach at the outset in order to limit tensions both among Council members and within the UN system. The initial decision to look only at mandate renewals was part of this approach. In the longer term several members hope for a more ambitious agenda.

OCHA seems pleased with the way the expert group is functioning. Some of the language proposed by OCHA has been reflected in the resolutions. On the wider protection agenda OCHA appears keen on trying to move things forward but seems more focused on process at this stage, rather than substantive recommendations that past experience has shown may never be taken up by the Council.

UN Documents

Selected Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1870 (30 April 2009) extended UNMIS to 30 April 2010.
  • S/RES/1868 (23 March 2009) extended UNAMA to 23 March 2010.
  • S/RES/1865 (27 January 2009) extended UNOCI to 31 July 2009.
  • S/RES/1860 (8 January 2009) called for a ceasefire and full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and condemned all violence against civilians.
  • S/RES/1820 (19 June 2008) called for enhanced action on sexual violence.
  • S/RES/1674 (28 April 2006) reaffirmed the responsibility to protect as formulated in the World Summit Outcome Document (A/RES/60/1) and expressed the Council’s intention to ensure that protection is clearly outlined in peacekeeping mandates and priority given to its implementation.
  • S/RES/1265 (17 September 1999) and 1296 (19 April 2000) expressed the Council’s willingness to take measures to ensure protection of civilians in armed conflict and to consider how peacekeeping mandates might better address the negative impact of conflict on civilians.

Selected Security Council Presidential Statements

  • S/PRST/2009/1 (14 January 2009) reaffirmed previous decisions on protection of civilians and contained an updated aide-mémoire.
  • S/PRST/2008/18 (27 May 2008) reaffirmed previous decisions on protection of civilians and requested a report from the Secretary-General by May 2009.
  • S/PRST/2002/6 (15 March 2002) and its update S/PRST/2003/27(15 December 2003) contained an aide-mémoire to assist Council members in their consideration of protection of civilians issues.

Selected Reports of the Secretary-General

  • S/2007/643 (28 October 2007) was the sixth report.
  • S/1999/957 (8 September 1999) was the landmark first report on the issue.

Latest Council Meeting Record


  • SC/9659 (13 May 2009) was a Council press statement on Sri Lanka.
  • A/63/19 (24 March 2009) was the Report of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations and its Working Group from the 2009 substantive session.

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