Protection of Civilians
Expected Council Action
In May, the Council is scheduled to receive the Secretary-General’s report on protection of civilians and hold its annual open debate on the topic. It seems that Indonesia, as Council president, is planning to focus the debate on community engagement as a means of enhancing the protection of civilians. Secretary-General António Guterres and representatives of the ICRC and civil society are expected to brief.
Key Recent Developments
The situation for civilians in conflict continues to be troubling, including across the Council’s agenda. On average, 91 percent of reported casualties of explosive weapons in populated areas are civilians. In Yemen, the number of people in need has increased by two million since last year to 24.1 million people (80 percent of the population), including 11.3 million children. The number of people needing humanitarian assistance in Syria is 13.1 million. In Iraq, 6.7 million people need humanitarian assistance, and 1.7 million remain internally displaced as a result of armed conflict. The number of civilians killed in conflict-related action in Afghanistan in 2018 increased by 11 percent to 3,804. In South Sudan, some 4.4 million children are in need, while 2.2 million children are out of school, and around 600,000 pregnant and lactating women will be acutely malnourished in 2019. In Nigeria, the conflict in the northeast has continued to cause humanitarian suffering, with 7.7 million in need of assistance and 1.7 million internally displaced. All told, the UN has estimated that in 2019 over 130 million people will require humanitarian assistance.
Likewise, ICRC President Peter Maurer recently said in a speech that the organisation has almost doubled both its budget and staff in the last few years because of demand. According to the ICRC’s numbers, two billion people are affected by fragility, conflict or violence, and it predicts that by 2030 half of these people will live in extreme poverty. In 2017, it found that 68.5 million people were displaced because of violence and conflict. In an analysis of 20 areas of conflict, the ICRC noted that most conflicts are lasting longer than they did in decades past.
The Security Council’s most recent open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict was held on 22 May 2018. Poland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jacek Czaputowicz, presided, as Poland held the Council presidency that month. The briefers were Secretary-General Guterres; Director-General of the ICRC, Yves Daccord; and Hanaa Edwar of the Iraqi Al-Amal Association, a civil society group.
Guterres highlighted three actions to advance the protection agenda, taken from his 2018 report. First, he said that governments around the world should develop policy frameworks for protecting civilians in conflict, including in urban warfare. Second, UN member states should back attempts by the UN and others to engage with non-state armed groups in developing policies, codes of conduct, and action plans to support and protect civilians. Finally, member states should increase their advocacy for the protection of civilians through ensuring accountability to end impunity for serious violations. Daccord stressed his concern over the large gap between policy and implementation with respect to the protection of civilians. Edwar spoke of ways the Iraqi people had suffered in conflict in past years, drawing from her first-hand experience of the destruction of Mosul.
Since the May 2018 open debate, there have been two thematic outcomes on the protection of civilians. On 24 May 2018, the Council adopted resolution 2417 that focused on the link between armed conflict and food insecurity. The resolution strongly condemned the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, as well as the unlawful denial of humanitarian access. It further requested the Secretary-General to brief the Security Council every 12 months on the resolution’s implementation in the context of his annual briefing on the protection of civilians. On 21 September 2018, the Council adopted a presidential statement recognising the contribution of the updated aide memoire, a document designed to facilitate the Council’s consideration of issues pertaining to the protection of civilians in armed conflict and created through discussions between the Security Council, OCHA, concerned UN departments and agencies, and other relevant humanitarian organisations.
On 1 April, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas chaired a briefing on “Promoting and strengthening of the rule of law in the maintenance of international peace and security.” The briefers were Maurer, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, and Naz Modirzadeh, founding Director of the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict.
Several Arria-formula meetings during the past six months have focused on aspects of the protection agenda. These include meetings on the disproportionate impact of armed conflict on persons with disabilities (3 December 2018); enhancing the effectiveness of atrocity crime protection (10 December 2018); the protection of medical care in armed conflict (21 December 2018); the protection of children affected by armed conflict in contexts where humanitarian space is shrinking, with a specific focus on the Central African Republic (12 February); protecting humanitarian and medical personnel (1 April); and human rights in peace operations (17 April).
Key Issues and Options
While the Council has engaged extensively on the protection of civilians at both the thematic and country-specific level during the past two decades, a key issue is how to work toward more consistent implementation of this agenda on the ground. In this regard, member states may decide to emphasise in their interventions how protection can be enhanced in country-specific cases with respect to compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, the protection of medical personnel and facilities, and humanitarian access, among other pertinent matters.
Another key issue is how best to secure follow-up and engagement on protection issues in the aftermath of the debate. In this regard, Indonesia could decide to produce a chair’s summary, capturing the main proposals made during the open debate. Council members could also decide to use the ideas generated during the debate to produce an outcome afterwards.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members and the wider membership are acutely aware of the continued devastating impact of armed conflict in the 20 years since the Council held its first meeting on protection of civilians. The debate affords member states an opportunity to emphasise their support for the protection agenda, while underscoring that more needs to be done to translate advances at the normative level into effective country-specific strategies. As part of its effort to frame the discussion around community engagement, Indonesia may discuss the role of community engagement in gaining the trust of conflict-affected communities and enhancing the effectiveness of peacekeeping.
Council members and other member states may also discuss efforts to implement resolution 2417 on the link between conflict and food insecurity and resolution 2286 on the protection of health care in armed conflict, as the Secretary-General is required to report on these issues on an annual basis and may refer to them in his briefing.
The UK is the penholder on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
UN DOCUMENTS ON PROTECTION OF CIVILIANS
|Security Council Resolutions|
|24 May 2018S/RES/2417||This was a resolution on the link between armed conflict and food insecurity. It strongly condemned the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, as well as the unlawful denial of humanitarian access.|
|14 May 2018S/2018/462||This was the Secretary-General’s annual report on protection of civilians in armed conflict.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|24 May 2018S/PV.8267||This was the meeting at which the Council adopted resolution 2417 on the link between armed conflict and food insecurity.|
|22 May 2018S/PV.8264||This was the ministerial-level open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.|