Protection of Civilians
Expected Council Action
In November, the Council is scheduled to hold its biannual open debate on protection of civilians in armed conflict. The Secretary-General, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillayand Philip Spoerri, Director for International Law and Cooperation at the International Committee of the Red Cross, are expected to speak.
The debate will be chaired by Aníbal Cavaco Silva, the president of Portugal, which holds the Council presidency in November. In preparation for the debate, Portugal will co-host a workshop on 1 November with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), entitled “Accountability and Fact-Finding Mechanisms for Violations of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law: The Role of the Security Council—Past and Future” and has invited Council members to address ways to enhance accountability in their statements.
No outcome from the debate is expected.
The Secretary-General’s next report on protection of civilians is due in May 2012.
Key Recent Developments
The Council most recently discussed protection of civilians as a thematic issue in an open debate on protection of civilians on 10 May. It featured briefings by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, then-Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy and Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović. It took place with the ongoing crises in Libya and Syria as well as recent developments in Côte d’Ivoire as important backdrops and many speakers referred to these situations in their statements.
Amos focused in particular on the crises in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya, but also expressed concern about the situation of civilians in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—including the threat posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)—Sudan, Colombia, Gaza, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria. She emphasised that implementation of the Council decision on Libya “must be exclusively limited to promoting and ensuring the protection of civilians” and reiterated that the Council must be “comprehensive and consistent in its approach and consider all situations requiring attention”. In addition, she called for an investigation as a follow-up to a recent report of the Secretary-General’s panel of experts on accountability in Sri Lanka.
Le Roy highlighted in particular significant developments relating to protection mandates in peacekeeping operations since the previous thematic debate, including in the General Assembly’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations. He said the Secretariat had finalised the framework for drafting comprehensive protection strategies as well as protection-training modules and would soon consult with troop-contributing countries on protection of civilians resource requirements. (These consultations are now ongoing.)
Šimonović said the denial of human rights was among the root causes of violent conflict. With regard to Libya, he highlighted the important role of the commission of inquiry established by the Human Rights Council. He also called for the prevention of further violence in Syria and announced that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was preparing to send a mission there to investigate allegations of violations of international human rights law. Furthermore, Šimonović welcomed the report on Sri Lanka also referred to by Amos and urged the Sri Lanka government to implement its recommendations. He emphasised the importance of ensuring accountability in Côte d’Ivoire and the DRC and the need to strengthen protection of civilians in Somalia and South Sudan.
On 12 July, the Security Council held an open debate on children and armed conflict and adopted resolution 1998, which expanded the listing criteria in the Secretary-General’s reports on children and armed conflict to include parties to conflict that attack or threaten schools and hospitals. The Council also expressed its intention when establishing, modifying or renewing relevant sanctions regimes to consider including listing criteria that would target parties to armed conflict who violate international law relating to the protection of children.
On 28 October, the Council held its annual debate on women, peace and security. It adopted a presidential statement focusing on women’s participation in conflict prevention, management and resolution in which it reiterated its condemnation of all violations of applicable international law committed against women and girls in situations of armed conflict. It also called on member states to bring to justice those responsible for such violations.
The Council’s informal expert group on protection of civilians has met seven times since the May open debate. It was briefed by OCHA on South Sudan (in preparation for the establishment of a new mission there), DRC, Côte d’Ivoire, Darfur, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan.
No more meetings are scheduled this year, but it is possible there will be a special briefing in November on the LRA in connection with the Council’s consideration of the Secretary-General’s upcoming report on this issue.
A key issue for the debate in November, as suggested by Portugal, is how best to promote accountability for violations of international humanitarian law. This was one of the five key challenges identified by the Secretary-General in his 2009 and 2010 reports on protection of civilians. (The other four were: enhancing compliance with international law by parties to conflict, enhancing such compliance by non-state armed groups, strengthening protection of civilians by UN peacekeeping and other missions and improving humanitarian access.)
A further key issue for the Council is the continued implementation of the existing normative framework on protection of civilians in general, including its most recent decision, resolution 1894. A related issue is how to ensure that the Council is comprehensive and consistent in its approach to protection challenges. A further related issue is how to make sure thematic principles are translated into actual protection on the ground.
Another key issue, which is closely linked to the promotion of accountability, is whether there is a need to enhance the Council’s monitoring and oversight in the area of protection of civilians and specifically whether the Council should provide more detailed guidance to the Secretary-General on reporting requirements or benchmarks and indicators.
A related issue is the Council’s own working methods and the tools at its disposal, such as the informal expert group on protection, and whether these can be improved.
The main option for the Council in November is to hold a debate with a special focus on accountability for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and for Council members to address some key issues highlighted by Portugal, such as mechanisms for ensuring individual criminal responsibility, fact-finding mechanisms and reparation mechanisms for victims and the Council’s role.
A further option would be to adopt a presidential statement addressing these issues and reconfirming the Council’s commitment to the promotion of accountability.
Council members seem to share the sentiment that differences over the interpretation and implementation of the protection mandate of resolution 1973 on Libya have had a significant impact on the Council’s dealing with protection of civilians issues in other country-specific situations, the most recent case being Syria. The general climate for protection issues is seen as difficult, and there seems to be little appetite for pushing the thematic agenda through further Council action at this stage.
Portugal’s initiative with regard to accountability appears to have been well received by other Council members. While they have different views on the best way to address accountability and which tools are most appropriate in different situations, there seems to be general consensus that the issue merits further consideration by the Council.
The UK is the lead country in the Council on protection of civilians and chairs the informal expert group.
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