Protection of Civilians
Expected Council Action
In August, the Council expects to hold a briefing on the protection of humanitarian workers in armed conflict. UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Peter Maurer and possibly an NGO are expected to brief. In the event that Eliasson is unavailable, it seems that Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos may brief. (The meeting is likely to be held on 19 August to mark World Humanitarian Day, which honours the efforts of aid workers and takes place on the anniversary of the bombing of the UN Baghdad compound, in which 22 people were killed.)
A resolution or other outcome is a possibility.
The safety and protection of humanitarian workers has been affirmed in various international instruments, including the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions, the 1994 Convention on the Safety of UN and Associated Personnel and the 2005 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Safety of UN and Associated Personnel.
Different organs within the UN system have also given the safety and security of humanitarian personnel considerable focus. The General Assembly has taken up the issue each year since its 52nd session (1997-1998). The Council has also emphasised the importance of protecting humanitarian and UN personnel in various country-specific and thematic resolutions since the adoption of resolution 1265, its first thematic resolution on the protection of civilians. The Secretary-General’s September 2013 report to the General Assembly, “Safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of UN personnel”, stated that the Secretary-General’s highest priority was the safety and security of UN personnel (A/68/489).
Key Recent Developments
The world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place for humanitarian workers. According to Humanitarian Outcomes’ Aid Worker Security Database, there were 248 security incidents, defined as “deliberate acts of violence affecting aid workers”, in 2013. (Humanitarian Outcomes provides consulting services to donor governments and aid organisations on humanitarian issues.) This is, by a wide margin, the highest number of annual security incidents since Humanitarian Outcomes began compiling this data in 1997. The second-highest annual number of security incidents (170) was reported in 2012. According to the data, five of the six most dangerous places for humanitarian workers in 2013 in terms of number of security incidents against aid workers—Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia—were on the Council’s agenda. (The other country among these six is Pakistan.)
As outlined in the Secretary-General’s September 2013 report (A/68/489), several trends have been especially noticeable in recent years that have made the operating environment particularly risky for workers of the UN system. For more than a decade, attacks targeting UN personnel have become more prevalent. Furthermore, improvised explosive devices and suicide bombings are now features of the asymmetric conflict landscape. A new trend has also been the significant rise in abductions of UN personnel and non-UN humanitarian workers, as demonstrated in Afghanistan, Mali, Sudan and elsewhere. The statistics are particularly striking in Sudan, where more aid workers have been abducted so far this year (25) than in any full calendar since 2004.
The Council held its most recent debate on the protection of civilians on 12 February (S/PV.7109), with briefings by High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous, ICRC Director General Yves Daccord and Amos. During the debate, some of the briefers spoke about the safety and security challenges facing UN staff and aid workers. Pillay said that support was needed from the Council when “mission personnel are intimidated, expelled or attacked because they are doing their jobs”. Amos noted that humanitarian workers protect and assist people “at great personal risk,” adding that they must be “protected and respected by parties to conflict”. Ladsous underscored the risks facing UN personnel, referring to the 17 January bombing of a Kabul restaurant by the Taliban that claimed 21 lives, including four UN employees, and the threat that extremists in Mali might target UN peacekeepers there.
Key issues for the Council include:
- ensuring that humanitarian workers can maintain their impartiality, neutrality and independence in settings where the international presence is heavily militarised;
- balancing the safety and security of humanitarian workers with the effort to serve populations in need in dangerous environments;
- addressing the steady rise in abductions of humanitarian workers in recent years; and
- combating impunity with regard to those who attack humanitarian workers.
The Council may adopt a resolution that:
- deplores the rise in attacks on humanitarian workers, especially the recent trend in abductions;
- emphasises the need to hold accountable those who commit acts of violence against humanitarian workers; and
- underscores the commitment of aid workers to the principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence.
The Council could also request from the Secretariat an update on the Department of Safety and Security’s efforts to evaluate and strengthen the physical security of UN facilities worldwide, as described in the Secretary-General’s September 2013 report.
Although not discussed extensively in the Council, the safety and security of humanitarian workers is an issue of concern to a number of Council members. This was reflected most notably by the statements of France and Lithuania during the February debate on the protection of civilians (S/PV.7109). France said that deliberate attacks on civilians and humanitarian workers were unacceptable and that the Council “could no longer accept such repeated and flagrant violations of international humanitarian law”, while Lithuania argued that there must not be impunity for those “who attack and kill humanitarian and medical workers, journalists and peacekeepers”. It remains unclear whether members generally espousing strong sovereignty norms will qualify their concern for the safety and security of humanitarian workers by emphasising that these workers must adhere to the norms and restrictions placed on their movement and activities by host governments.
The UK is the lead in the Council on the protection of civilians.
UN Documents on Protection of Civilians
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|12 February 2014 S/PRST/2014/3||This presidential statement reiterated the Council’s commitment to the protection of civilians and contained as an annex an updated aide mémoire.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|12 February 2014 S/PV.7109||This was an open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.|
|General Assembly Documents|
|13 December 2012 A/RES/67/85||This was a resolution on the safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of UN personnel.|
|27 September 2013 A/68/489||This was a report of the Secretary-General, requested by A/RES/67/85, which reported on the safety and security of humanitarian personnel and the protection of UN personnel.|
Useful Additional Resources
Aid Worker Security Report 2013, The New Normal: Coping with the kidnapping threat, Humanitarian Outcomes, October 2013
The Aid Worker Security Data Base, available at www.aidworkersecurity.org