Protection of Civilians
Expected Council Action
In February, the Council is scheduled to hold its biannual open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. The Secretary-General is expected to brief along with Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and ICRC Director for International Law and Cooperation Philip Spoerri. The meeting will be chaired by Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan of the Republic of Korea (ROK).
In preparation for the debate, the ROK circulated a concept paper on 25 January. A presidential statement requesting the Secretary-General to submit another report on protection of civilians later this year is a possible outcome.
Key Recent Developments
The Council last discussed protection of civilians as a thematic issue in an open debate on 25 June 2012. It featured briefings by the Secretary-General, Amos, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović (on behalf of Pillay) and Spoerri.
Presenting his 22 May report (S/2012/376), the Secretary-General emphasised in particular the need for greater focus on the growing use of explosive weapons in populated areas as a violation of international law, as well as attacks against health-care facilities, and said there was an urgent need for a “more systematic engagement” with non-state armed groups. He also called on the Council to exercise strong leadership in guiding the international response to ensure justice for perpetrators of violations against civilians.
Amos expressed specific concerns relating to the situations in Afghanistan, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Mali, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. She echoed the Secretary-General’s call for action to address the humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons and also called for a comprehensive and robust arms-trade treaty and more systematic recording of civilian casualties. On the issue of accountability, she said the Council had a responsibility to ensure justice and urged it to consider taking forward the recommendations from the 1 November 2011 workshop co-hosted by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Portugal (S/2012/373).
Šimonović focused on the Council’s responsibility for ensuring accountability. He reiterated his call for the Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC. While welcoming the Council’s increased practice of referring to the findings of commissions of inquiry established by other bodies, Šimonović said it could do more to enhance the impact of such commissions by calling on parties to cooperate with them, making more use of their reports and itself establishing commissions. He also stressed that civilian casualty tracking mechanisms could serve as an important tool to ensure greater accountability and welcomed the recently adopted human rights due-diligence policy for UN support to non-UN security forces.
Spoerri focused on threats against the security and delivery of health care; the availability and use of arms; and the failure to comply with international humanitarian law. He said the ICRC strongly supported the adoption of a global arms-trade treaty as a means to prevent the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law and other relevant legal instruments.
On 19 September, the Council held an open debate on children and armed conflict and adopted resolution 2068, which expressed concern about persistent perpetrators of violations against children, called on member states to bring them to justice and reiterated its readiness to adopt targeted measures against them.
On 17 October, under the presidency of Guatemala, the Council held an open debate on peace and justice with a special focus on the role of the ICC. Guatemala had circulated a concept note (S/2012/731) setting out as one of the debate’s objectives exploring how the ICC could assist the Council in carrying out its mandate to uphold the rule of law, maintain peace and security and combat impunity while ensuring accountability for mass atrocities. (For more details on the debate, please see our Cross-Cutting Report on the Rule of Law published on 18 January.)
The Council’s informal expert group on the protection of civilians continued to meet regularly. In the period since the 2012 open debate, it considered the mandates of the following missions:
- UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (June);
- UN Mission in South Sudan (June);
- UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (July);
- AU-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (July);
- UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (July);
- International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (October); and
- the proposed African-led International Support Mission to Mali (December).
An immediate issue for the Council is whether to address any of the questions raised in the ROK’s concept paper or take up any of the additional recommendations and proposals put forward by the Secretary-General and others on ways to strengthen the protection of civilians. The concept note emphasises the need to translate normative progress into concrete improvements in the protection of civilians on the ground and proposes that discussions focus in particular on three of the five core protection challenges outlined in the Secretary-General’s most recent reports: enhancing compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, ensuring accountability for violations of the law and strengthening implementation of peacekeeping protection mandates. (The other two are improving humanitarian access and enhancing compliance with the law by non-state actors.)
A continuing issue is the importance of consolidating and ensuring implementation of the existing normative framework on the protection of civilians in country-specific situations, bearing in mind the five core challenges. A related issue is how to ensure that the Council is comprehensive and consistent in its approach.
The main option for the Council is to adopt a presidential statement requesting another thematic report on protection of civilians by the end of November and every 18 months thereafter. By establishing such a regular reporting cycle, the Council would avoid having to issue an ad hoc request for each report as it has done in the past. (The Council did this for children and armed conflict when in resolution 2068 it requested the Secretary-General to report on an annual basis instead of asking for only one more report.)
In addition, the presidential statement could:
- reaffirm the Council’s commitment to the protection of civilians;
- express concern about the increase in attacks against health care facilities and condemn such attacks;
- call on parties to conflict to refrain from using explosive weapons in populated areas and express its willingness to consider more robust action to prevent such use, including the imposition of targeted measures against the leadership of parties that use explosive weapons in violation of applicable international law;
- encourage the creation of civilian casualty tracking mechanisms in situations of conflict; and
- express the Council’s intention to carefully consider the recommendations from the 1 November 2011 workshop on ways to strengthen accountability for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. (For more details on these recommendations, please see our 2012 Cross-Cutting Report on the Protection of Civilians.)
Alternatively, the Council could adopt a resolution. (This would change the dynamics of the negotiations because a resolution, contrary to a statement, does not require consensus.)
A further option would be to request a new report on protection of civilians from the Secretary-General in a letter from the Council President.
There seems to be some expectation that the 2013 Council composition might be more favourable to the protection of civilians agenda than in 2012, as all of the newly elected members are seen as supportive of protection issues. (Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, ROK and Rwanda replaced Colombia, Germany, India, Portugal and South Africa.)
At press time, however, it was still too early to tell how the new dynamics would play out. The UK had indicated it would propose a presidential statement, but had yet to circulate a text. There seems to be continuing concerns among the UK and like-minded Council members that any attempt at advancing the thematic agenda at this stage may result in push-back from those who favour a more limited Council role, such as Azerbaijan, China, Pakistan and Russia. The aim seems to be to consolidate what has already been achieved and a very forward-leaning text is therefore unlikely.
The UK is the lead country in the Council on protection of civilians and chairs the informal expert group.
UN DOCUMENTS ON THE PROTECTION OF CIVILIANS
|Security Council Resolutions|
|19 September 2012 S/RES/2068||Expressed deep concern about perpetrators who persisted in committing violations against children and reiterated its readiness to adopt targeted and graduated measures against them. The Council also called on the Working Group to consider, within the year, a broad range of options for increasing pressure on these persistent perpetrators and asked the Special Representative to brief on the delisting process. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 11 in favour, none against and four abstentions (Azerbaijan, China, Pakistan and Russia).|
|11 November 2009 S/RES/1894||This resolution focused on compliance with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law as well as relevant Council decisions, humanitarian access and UN peacekeeping.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|22 November 2010 S/PRST/2010/25||This was on protection of civilians, containing an updated aide-mémoire.|
|22 May 2012 S/2012/376||This was the ninth report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|17 October 2012 S/PV.6849||This was the open debate on the promotion and strengthening of the rule of law, with a focus on the ICC.|
|17 October 2012 S/PV.6849 (Resumption 1)||This was the open debate on “the promotion and strengthening of the rule of law in the maintenance of international peace and security.”|
|25 June 2012 S/PV.6790||This biannual open debate on protection of civilians in armed conflict featured briefings by the Secretary-General and by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic, as well as the Director for International Law and Cooperation at the ICRC, Philip Spoerri.|
|25 June 2012 S/PV.6790 (Resumption 1)||This was the resumption of a briefing on the protection of civilians.|
|Security Council Letters|
|1 October 2012 S/2012/731||This was a concept note prepared by Guatemala for an open debate on the ICC.|
|18 May 2012 S/2012/373||This letter from Portugal submitted the report from the 1 November 2011 workshop on accountability.|