May 2011 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 April 2011
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Protection of Civilians

Expected Council Action

In May, the Council is scheduled to hold its biannual open debate on protection of civilians in armed conflict. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy and Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic are likely to speak.

(Security Council Report will be publishing an Update Report in early May with more detailed analysis of the Council’s recent work on protection of civilians. Our 2011 annual Crosscutting Report on Protection of Civilians will also be published soon, although unfortunately it will not be available in time for the May debate because of the recent decision to bring forward the date of the debate.)

Key Recent Developments
The Secretary-General’s eighth report on protection of civilians came out in November 2010. It focused on the same five core protection challenges that were identified in the Secretary-General’s seventh report of May 2009:

  • enhancing compliance with international law by parties to conflict;
  • enhancing compliance by non-state armed groups;
  • strengthening protection of civilians by UN peacekeeping and other missions;
  • improving humanitarian access; and
  • enhancing accountability for violations of international law.

The report reviewed progress in responding to these challenges and made a number of recommendations. It outlined three additional areas for action:

  • ensuring a comprehensive approach by finding ways to address situations not formally on the Council’s agenda;
  • ensuring a consistent approach by considering, among other things, ways to make further use of the informal expert group on protection of civilians through briefings on thematic protection issues and on progress made against established benchmarks; and
  • ensuring an accountable approach by developing indicators for systematic monitoring and reporting on the protection of civilians.

The open debate on 22 November featured briefings by Amos, Le Roy, Pillay and Yves Daccord of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Council adopted a presidential statement endorsing an updated version of the aide-mémoire that was first adopted in March 2002 to facilitate consideration of protection issues. The statement also reaffirmed the Council’s commitment to the protection of civilians and its condemnation of all violations of applicable international law. It emphasised the need to fight impunity, the importance of humanitarian access and implementation of protection mandates in peacekeeping operations. In particular, it:

  • called for the continuation of systematic monitoring and analysis of constraints on humanitarian access;
  • welcomed the proposals, conclusions and recommendations on the protection of civilians included in the 2010 report of the General Assembly’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations;
  • stressed the importance of ensuring that senior peacekeeping leadership was focused on protection;
  • emphasised the importance of improving pre-deployment training of peacekeeping personnel regarding protection;
  • underlined the need for peacekeepers to communicate effectively with local communities to carry out protection mandates;
  • reaffirmed the importance of benchmarks to measure progress in the implementation of peacekeeping mandates and the need to include protection indicators in such benchmarks; and
  • reiterated its request to the Secretary-General to include more detailed and comprehensive reporting on protection issues in his reports to the Council and to develop guidance to UN missions on such reporting.

In December 2010 the Council, in resolution 1960 , established a monitoring, analysis and reporting mechanism on conflict-related sexual violence in situations on the Council’s agenda. The resolution calls on parties to armed conflict to make specific, time-bound commitments to prohibit and punish sexual violence and asks the Secretary-General to monitor those commitments.

In February, at the initiative of the Brazilian presidency, Council members met in informal consultations to discuss all three protection-related items on its agenda—protection of civilians; women, peace and security and children and armed conflict—with the stated aim of ensuring that the three issues are dealt with in a coherent way and that actions undertaken by the Secretariat are mutually supportive. There was no formal Council decision, but there seemed to be an understanding that the current framework for all three protection issues functions well and should be retained.

The Council’s informal expert group on protection of civilians has met four times since the November 2010 debate. It met twice in December, first in connection with the termination of the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad as of 31 December and then to discuss the renewal of the authorisation of the AU Mission for Somalia. In March, there was a briefing on Afghanistan in connection with the mandate renewal for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and also a briefing on the post-electoral crisis in Côte d’Ivoire. This was the first meeting not directly linked to a mandate renewal. (The Council renewed the mandate for the UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire [UNOCI] in December 2010 for another six months.)

Key Issues

A key issue for the Council is continued practical implementation of resolution 1894.

A second key issue is compliance by the Secretariat with the November 2010 presidential statement, which contained several specific requests, in particular relating to peacekeeping, humanitarian access and reporting.

A third issue is how to address cases where protection concerns are real, but where the situations in question are not formally on the Council’s agenda. (The Council eventually found a solution to this issue in 2009 in the Sri Lanka case, but the challenge remains.)

Another issue is how to enhance monitoring and oversight, and specifically whether the Council should provide more detailed guidance on benchmarks and indicators (as it did in the case of women, peace and security when it endorsed the indicators for implementation of resolution 1325 in an October 2010 presidential statement).

A related issue is the Council’s own working methods and tools at its disposal, such as the informal expert group on protection, and whether these can be improved. This also includes the question of whether to request more frequent briefings at the Council level that specifically address protection issues in country-specific situations or schedule a follow-up to the Brazilian initiative.

Underlying Issues
How to translate thematic principles into protection of civilians on the ground remains an underlying issue for the Council. The five key challenges identified by the Secretary-General as noted above also remain key underlying issues.

Some practical options for the Council include:

  • organising field missions for Council experts, similar to those undertaken by the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, that would focus on how protection of civilians is carried out on the ground;
  • briefings focusing more often on country-specific protection concerns;
  • continuing on a regular basis the informal consultations initiated by Brazil, but focusing on different protection issues;
  • providing a much more detailed request to the Secretary-General than the Council has done so far as to the structure and kinds of information the Council would like to see on protection of civilians in his country-specific reporting, including on the issue of humanitarian access;
  • encouraging the Secretariat’s work to develop indicators for the protection of civilians; and
  • asking the informal protection expert group to monitor progress made against protection indicators and benchmarks.

Council Dynamics
The recent experiences regarding Libya, Côte d’Ivoire, Yemen and Syria have put protection issues in sharp focus in Council members’ minds. (For more details on Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, please refer to our most recent briefs on these two situations.)

The divisions over resolution 1973 on Libya, which authorised member states “to take all necessary measures…to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack,” seem to have reopened some of the more fundamental differences that still exist among Council members. There appears to be some concern that action taken in Libya in particular may lead to some push back by those countries that have only reluctantly agreed to the Council’s continuing expansion of the framework to protect civilians. But it also seems that much may depend on how the end game plays out.

The vibrations seem less acute in the context of Côte d’Ivoire (where the Council in resolution 1975 unanimously encouraged the robust use of force by UNOCI to protect civilians against the use of heavy weapons). But the case is a new element in the Council’s overall protection approach. How this element will play out in terms of Council dynamics at the thematic level may also be influenced by how successful the UN and the Council are in adjusting the UNOCI focus to an effective peacebuilding role.

The upcoming open debate may offer some initial indications as to the impact of these new developments.

The UK is the lead country in the Council on protection of civilians and chairs the informal expert group.

UN Documents

Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1975 (30 March 2011) imposed sanctions on former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo and his circle and authorised UNOCI to prevent the use of heavy weapons against the civilian population.
  • S/RES/1973 (17 March 2011) authorised all necessary measures to protect civilians in Libya.
  • S/RES/1960 (16 December 2010) established a monitoring, analysis and reporting mechanism on conflict-related sexual violence in situations on the Council’s agenda.
  • S/RES/1894 (11 November 2009) was the Council’s most recent resolution on protection of civilians.

Presidential Statements

  • S/PRST/2010/25 (22 November 2010) was on protection of civilians, containing an updated aide-mémoire.
  • S/PRST/2010/22 (26 October 2010) supported taking forward the indicators proposed by the Secretary-General to track implementation of resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

Latest Secretary-General’s Report

Latest Meeting Record

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