January 2015 Monthly Forecast

Posted 23 December 2014
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Protection of Civilians

Expected Council Action

In January, the Council expects to hold an open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, with a focus on the needs of women. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos is expected to brief.  Although yet to be confirmed, other potential briefers include Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and an NGO representative.  No outcome is anticipated.

Key Recent Developments

Conflict continues to have a dramatic impact on civilians. More than 50 million people are internally displaced, refugees or asylum seekers worldwide—the highest level since the end of World War II.  The majority of them are women and children.  In Syria, approximately 7.6 million people are now internally displaced and more than 3 million people are refugees, accounting for roughly 20 percent of the world’s displaced population. In February 2014, it was estimated that 100,000 people had perished in the Syrian conflict; now that figure is closer to 200,000. Since the civil war in South Sudan started in December 2013, nearly two million people have been forcibly displaced, either internally or as refugees in bordering countries, and more than 10,000 people have died. Displacement, sexual violence, killings and other significant violations of international humanitarian and human rights law continue to be key features of conflicts in the Central African Republic, Darfur, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, among others. 

On 7 March 2014, the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) published a report entitled “Evaluation of the implementation of protection of civilians mandates in United Nations peacekeeping operations”. The report found that there is “a persistent pattern of peacekeeping operations not intervening with force when civilians are under attack”. This occurs, the report argues, for a variety of reasons, including:

  • dual chains of command in national contingents, with the result that they adhere to input from capitals rather than orders from the mission’s force commander;
  • differing interpretations of protection mandates among Council members and troop contributors, with some troop contributors being risk adverse;
  • perceptions within peacekeeping operations that the necessary resources to “respond to force with force” are not available;
  • a lack of understanding that peacekeeping operations are obliged to act when host governments do not fulfil their responsibilities to protect civilians; and
  • concerns among troop contributors about the potential consequences of using force if it is later considered to be a mistake. 

The report made three recommendations: strengthening the command and control of peacekeeping missions over national contingents; providing improved tactical guidance to peacekeepers in the field about what is expected of them with regard to protecting civilians; and enhancing relations between peacekeeping operations and humanitarian actors on protection issues.    

The High-level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations, which was launched by the Secretary-General in late October 2014, is expected to include protection of civilians as one of its areas of focus. The findings of the panel, which is chaired by José Ramos Horta, are expected to be released in a report in mid-2015.

The Council held a briefing on the safety and security of humanitarian workers in armed conflict on 19 August 2014, coinciding with World Humanitarian Day, which honours the efforts of aid workers and takes place on the anniversary of the 2003 bombing of the UN Baghdad compound, in which 22 people were killed. In the aftermath of the briefing, the Council adopted resolution 2175 ten days later, which: 

  • strongly condemned violence and intimidation against those involved in humanitarian operations;
  • urged parties to armed conflict to allow complete, unhindered humanitarian access;
  • urged states to ensure that they hold accountable those who commit crimes against humanitarian workers on their respective territories; and
  • requested the Secretary-General to include in his reports on country-specific situations and other relevant reports information regarding the safety and security of humanitarian workers and to present recommendations about how to strengthen their protection.

On 28 October 2014, the Council held its annual open debate on women, peace and security. During the debate, it adopted a presidential statement which, among other things: 

  • recognised that displaced women and girls are at heightened risk of confronting sexual violence and discrimination; and
  • expressed concern that violent extremism frequently leads to increased displacement and often targets girls and women.
Key Issues

An underlying issue is how the Council can better translate its focus on protection of civilians as a thematic issue into concrete results in country-specific situations.

A related issue is whether and how the recommendations of the OIOS report can be incorporated into the approach of UN peacekeeping to protect civilians. 

Another related issue is identifying ways the Council could provide better guidance to Council-mandated peacekeeping and political missions to enhance the protection of girls and women on the ground.

Also a key issue is what impact the Secretary-General’s “Human Rights Up Front” initiative has had to date and what future steps are envisioned for its integration into the work of UN entities moving forward. (The initiative is an action plan to develop an integrated, more dynamic approach to human rights issues throughout the UN system.)


The Council may choose to hold the debate but not take any specific action at the current time. 

Given the devastating impact that conflict has on civilians, the Council could also consider adopting a resolution requesting that the Secretariat:

  • submit a report on the protection of civilians to the Council on an annual basis, as such a report is now submitted only every 18 months;
  • update the Council on the implementation of the “Human Rights Up Front” action plan, including an assessment of efforts to date and details of next steps;
  • develop a common system to record civilian casualties with the aim of strengthening efforts to monitor and report violations of international human rights and humanitarian law; and
  • underscore the heightened threat that violent extremism poses to girls and women (e.g. kidnapping, human trafficking, sale and forced marriage, rape, and sexual slavery).
Council Dynamics

Fundamental fault lines continue to divide the Council on this agenda item, especially in some instances at the country-specific level. Some members, notably China and Russia, emphasise the need to respect national sovereignty as an element in any decision to ensure civilian protection and therefore are generally reluctant to authorise measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, such as sanctions. Others give less weight to the sovereignty argument and thus have a lower threshold for when the Council should act to protect civilians. This divide has undermined Council efforts to protect civilians in South Sudan, Sudan and Syria, among other cases.

Among the incoming members, New Zealand and Spain noted their support of protection issues during their campaigns.    

The UK is the penholder on protection of civilians and on women, peace and security in the Council. The US is the penholder on sexual violence.

UN Documents 

Security Council Resolution
29 August 2014 S/RES/2175 This resolution condemned violence and intimidation against those involved in humanitarian operations.
Security Council Presidential Statements
28 October 2014 S/PRST/2014/21 This was a presidential statement that addressed the particular needs of displaced women, highlighted the impact of violent extremism on women and welcomed the Secretary-General’s commissioning of a global study.
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
28 October 2014 S/PV.7289 This was the annual open debate on women, peace and security.
19 August 2014 S/PV.7244 This was a briefing on the protection of humanitarian workers in recognition of World Humanitarian Day.
12 February 2014 S/PV.7109 This was an open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.