Protection of Civilians
Expected Council Action
In August, the Security Council will hold an open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. The Secretary-General, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay (by video-conference) and the International Committee of the Red Cross Director for International Law and Cooperation, Philip Spoerri, will brief the Council. The meeting will be chaired by Susana Ruiz Cerutti, the legal adviser to the foreign ministry of Argentina and member of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC). (The IHFFC is a permanent international body whose main purpose is to investigate allegations of grave breaches and serious violations of international humanitarian law, established under the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 1949.)
No outcome is expected.
Key Recent Developments
The Council has discussed protection of civilians in open debates twice in 2013: on 12 February it held its semi-annual open debate on the issue (S/PV.6917 and Resumption 1), and on 17 July it held an open debate on the protection of journalists (S/PV.7003 and Resumption 1).
The February meeting was chaired by Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan of the Republic of Korea and featured briefings by the Secretary-General, Pillay and Spoerri. More than 50 member states spoke in addition to Council members.
The Council adopted a presidential statement reconfirming its commitment to protection of civilians, focusing on the need to fight impunity for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, the humanitarian impact of conflict and implementation of peacekeeping protection mandates (S/PRST/2013/2). The statement expressed the Council’s particular concern about attacks on medical personnel and facilities; schools, teachers and other protected school personnel; and journalists and other media professionals. It also recognised the role of the ICC, ad hoc international criminal tribunals and mixed tribunals in ensuring accountability and expressed its commitment to effectively follow up on Council decisions in this regard.
The February presidential statement asked the Secretary-General to submit his next report on the protection of civilians by 15 November and include an assessment of concrete measures taken by peacekeeping missions to implement their mandate to protect civilians. According to the concept paper, one of the goals of the August open debate is to contribute to discussion by the Council and the broader membership in light of the upcoming report.
During the 17 July open debate, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson briefed the Council on UN activities related to the protection of journalists. Four prominent journalists—Richard Engel (NBC), Kathleen Carroll (Associated Press/Committee to Protect Journalists), Mustafa Haji Abdinur (AFP) and Ghaith Abdul-Ahad (The Guardian)—spoke about their personal experiences as journalists in conflict situations. In addition to Council members, 29 member states participated in the debate.
Two other recent Council debates, touched upon protection issues. On 17 June, the Council held a debate on children and armed conflict (S/PV.6980), with Special Representative Leila Zerrougui briefing on the Secretary-General’s annual report on the issue (S/2013/245). Other briefers included Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous, Associate Vice-President of Save the Children Gregory Ramm and UN Children’s Fund Deputy Executive Director Y YYoka Brandt. (Unlike in previous years, the June debate was not open to the membership at large.) During the debate, the Council adopted a presidential statement stressing its commitment to deal with persistent perpetrators and its readiness to adopt targeted measures against them (S/PRST/2013/8). The presidential statement also highlighted the contribution of the ICC in the fight against impunity, encouraged the continuing inclusion of child protection into the policies and programmes of pertinent regional organisations and the importance of engaging armed forces and armed groups on child protection concerns during peace talks.
On 24 June, an open debate on women, peace and security was held (S/PV.6984). Briefing the Council were the Secretary-General; the Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura; Jane Awywar, on behalf of the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice; and actress Angelina Jolie, as Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Forty member states participated in addition to Council members. The Council adopted resolution 2106, which focused on accountability for perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict and stressed women’s political and economic empowerment as central to the long-term prevention of sexual violence. There was also a 17 April open debate (S/PV.6948) on the Secretary-General’s annual report on sexual violence in conflict (S/2013/149).
The Council’s informal expert group on protection of civilians continued to meet regularly. Most recently, it met to consider the mandates of the following missions prior to their renewal:
- UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (June);
- UN Mission in South Sudan (June);
- UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (July);
- AU-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (July); and
- UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (July).
Outside the Council, Norway, in cooperation with Argentina, Austria, Indonesia and Uganda hosted the Global Conference on Reclaiming the Protection of Civilians under International Humanitarian Law (the “Oslo conference”) on 23-24 May. Building on a series of four workshops held since 2010 aiming to strenghthen protection of civilians under international humanitarian law, the conference had roughly 300 participants, including representatives from 94 states.
Reflecting several of the recommendations of the Oslo conference, the Argentinian concept note circulated for the upcoming open debate focuses on three of the five core challenges identified by the Secretary-General pertaining to protection issues:
- enhancing compliance with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law, highlighting states’ obligation to comply with international humanitarian law and ensure compliance by others, particularly by engaging with non-state armed groups;
- ensuring humanitarian access to affected populations, stressing that parties to an armed conflict shall take all necessary measures to ensure rapid and unimpeded access by humanitarian actors; and
- strengthening accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. In this context, the concept note highlights the role of commissions of inquiry, in particular as the February presidential statement stated that the Council would consider the possibility of making use of the IHFFC in the future and stressed the Council’s commitment to follow up on its decisions regarding cooperation with international and mixed criminal courts and tribunals, including the ICC. The concept note recalls the recommendations of the joint workshop organised by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Portugal on 1 November 2012 on the Council’s role in enhancing accountability.
A continuing issue for the Council is the importance of consolidating and ensuring implementation of the existing normative framework on protection of civilians in country-specific situations.
A further issue is fulfilling commitments made in previous Council statements—as in the February presidential statement—regarding accountability for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including by consistently ensuring compliance with the Council’s own decisions on cooperation with international justice mechanisms.
One option for the Council is to issue a press statement or for the Council President to make an extensive oral statement to the press, reiterating its commitment to protection of civilians and making advances on the five core challenges.
Another option is for member states to use this platform to further consider the role of the Council in enhancing individual accountability and its cooperation with justice mechanisms, such as the ICC.
As this thematic issue is expected to be discussed again this year, when the Secretary-General submits his next report in November, Argentina chose not to pursue an outcome for this event. Several Council members see the debate as an opportunity to raise awareness about particular protection aspects and keep up the momentum created by the debates to date in 2013 on an issue that is normally discussed only twice a year.
The difficult negotiations on the February presidential statement highlighted the usual divisions between Council members over how proactive the Council should be regarding protection issues (see our What’s in Blue story of 11 February). However, the decision not to pursue an outcome may have eased tensions around the upcoming open debate. Only one permanent member has expressed its dissatisfaction with the fact that the Council will discuss protection of civilians in August after discussing the protection of journalists in July and the expected debate on the issue later this year.
UN Documents on the Protection of Civilians
|Security Council Resolutions|
|24 June 2013 S/RES/2106||This was a resolution adopted on 24 June 2013 focusing on accountability for perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict and stressing women’s political and economic empowerment.|
|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|
|17 June 2013 S/PRST/2013/8||This presidential statement expressed strong concern over the high number of repeat offenders that openly disregard Council resolutions and stressed the Council’s commitment to effectively deal with persistent perpetrators as well as its readiness to adopt targeted measures against them.|
|12 February 2013 S/PRST/2013/2||This presidential statement reconfirmed the Council’s commitment to the protection of civilians.|
|14 March 2013 S/2013/149||This was the second annual report on sexual violence in conflict.|
|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 July 2013 S/PV.7003||This Security Council Meeting Record was on the protection of journalists.|
|17 July 2013 S/PV.7003 (Resumption 1)||This Security Council Meeting Record was on the protection of journalists.|
|24 June 2013 S/PV.6984||This was a ministerial-level open debate on prevention of sexual violence.|
|17 June 2013 S/PV.6980||This was a debate on children and armed conflict.|
|17 April 2013 S/PV.6948||This was the Security Council’s open debate on Women, Peace and Security on the Secretary-General’s annual report on sexual violence in conflict (S/2013/149).|
|12 February 2013 S/PV.6917||This was an open debate on protection of civilians.|
|12 February 2013 S/PV.6917 (Resumption 1)||This was the resumption of the 12 February 2013 open debate on protection of civilians.|
|Security Council Letter|
|18 May 2012 S/2012/373||This letter from Portugal submitted the report from the 1 November 2011 workshop on accountability.|
Useful Additional Resources
Oslo Conference Co-Chair’s Summary (23-24 May 2013) includes the recommendations of the conference.