February 2011 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 January 2011
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THEMATIC ISSUES

Protection of Civilians/Children/Women in Situations of Armed Conflict

Expected Council Action

It seems possible that in February Council members will informally review the progress of the Council’s thematic work under the general rubric of protection. It is unclear whether this will lead to any decisions. But it could lead to more structured planning of when during the year to hold debates under the three protection themes.

Background
Readers will be aware, from our series of Crosscutting Reports, of the detailed background to the three major themes on protection that the Council has developed:

  • Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (see Security Council Report’s Cross-Cutting Report of 29 October 2010)
  • Children and Armed Conflict (see Security Council Report’s Cross-Cutting Report of 2 June 2010)
  • Women, Peace and Security, including the impact of sexual violence in conflict (see Security Council Report’s Cross-Cutting Report of 1 October 2010)

Typically the Council receives substantial reports from the Secretary-General at 12-18 months intervals on each of these subjects. The Council has often held up to six thematic debates a year. For protection of civilians there is a more or less settled practice to hold two debates a year. But overall there has been uncertainty in the Council work programme in these areas. This has often been due to delays in reporting by the Secretariat (complicated by competing interests in the Secretariat and agencies) and also by members of the Council taking unilateral and late decisions on the focus of their presidency.

The timing for the thematic debates is as follows:

  • Protection of Civilians—mid-year and late in the year
  • Children and Armed Conflict—variable depending on dates of interested presidencies and timing of the Secretariat reports
  • Women, Peace and Security—variable depending on dates of interested presidencies and timing of the Secretariat reports

Underlying Issues
In general, P5 members are sceptical about thematic debates, but the protection area produces a quite marked differentiation between them. France, the UK and the US are often strongly supportive (although with differences of emphasis). China and Russia have been cautious about normative development resulting from Council decisions in thematic resolutions. Russia has been more resistant about the growth of thematic work on gender issues and China has been more hesitant about protection generally. (China has refrained from participating in the informal Council expert group on protection.)

Non-Alignment Movement and G77 members have also tended to be cautious in principle about normative development by the Security Council. But at times in practice the protection agenda has had strong appeal to them because of situations in their own regions. South Africa, for instance, was a strong supporter of the women, peace and security agenda during its previous term on the Council. Violence in the Middle East has often led others to take a strong interest in protection of civilians. And even the most sceptical Council members have been reluctant to be seen to oppose the call to address issues relating to children.

It seems, looking back over the last decade or so, that perhaps Council members’ interest in thematic protection debates has tended to grow when Council members have found themselves embarrassed at their inability to apply protection principles in specific situations of armed conflict.

For many Council members, thematic debates on protection offer a valuable opportunity to profile their country during their Council presidency. For that reason over the years the interest in such debates has often been driven by capitals at high political levels. This has led many members to see some advantages in the current amorphous approach.

Issues for 2011
A key issue will be whether protection sceptics try to use the opportunity of a general review of activity on protection to roll back the number of Council events on protection and thereby reduce the number of pressure points for new decisions—or even amalgamate some or all of the topics.

A related issue will be whether the proponents of protection discussions are amenable to a new approach to scheduling the work programme for these debates.

A third issue is whether the Secretariat can bring a “whole of organisation” approach to the discussion of this issue, including the perspectives of key components based in Geneva such as the High Commissioner for Human Rights and hold out to the Council members a prospect of a better organised schedule of reports.

Options
Council members could:

  • reach the conclusion that the current approach best serves their collective interests;
  • decide, in the interests of both efficiency and transparency, to issue in the form of a note from the President or a letter to the Secretary-General, a list of the months in 2011 during which thematic debates on the three protection issues will be held and specify the dates by which the related reports are expected; and
  • reach agreement on a reduced schedule of debates for 2011.

Full forecast