May 2024 Monthly Forecast


Protection of Civilians

Expected Council Action  

In May, the Security Council will receive the Secretary-General’s annual report on the protection of civilians (PoC) in armed conflict and hold its annual open debate on the topic. The expected briefers for the debate are Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths and ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric Egger. Mozambique, the Council president in May, is also expected to invite a civil society representative.  

Background and Key Recent Developments  

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions and the 25th anniversary of resolution 1265, which introduced PoC as an item on the Council’s agenda. While it has been customary in recent years for the Secretary-General’s report and the Council’s open debate to focus on a specific sub-topic—such as conflict and hunger, humanitarian access, or the protection of healthcare workers and facilities—this year is expected to survey PoC-related progress and challenges more broadly.  

For the 20th anniversary of the PoC agenda in 2019, OCHA published an occasional policy paper reviewing the evolution of the Council’s protection practices. The paper reaffirmed the enduring relevance of resolution 1265’s main provisions, which remained the agenda’s “building blocks”: enhancing compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL), facilitating access to humanitarian assistance, protecting forcibly displaced persons, providing protection through UN peace operations, and responding to violations through targeted measures and the promotion of accountability. According to the paper, the Council’s subsequent engagement with the PoC agenda centred on strengthening its architecture through the adoption of thematic resolutions on relevant sub-topics, integrating and addressing protection concerns in country-specific resolutions and actions, and developing monitoring and accountability tools that seek to ensure the effective protection of civilians on the ground. In 2015 and 2018, the Council issued presidential statements describing PoC as one of the “core issues on the Council agenda”. 

In April, OCHA published a follow-up policy brief that reviewed developments over the past five years. The brief described increasingly detailed and specific PoC-related language in Council resolutions, notably with regard to the actors bound by IHL; prohibited conduct; and protected persons and objects. It also noted the further development of monitoring mechanisms to track progress on the ground, including dedicated reporting mechanisms on conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) and children in armed conflict (CAAC). Additionally, the brief observed, special attention has been given to specific vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities, missing persons, and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, while there has been a call for increased involvement of women, youth, and internally displaced persons in peace processes. The Council has also increasingly used UN sanctions regimes as vehicles to protect civilians by establishing designation criteria related to IHL and human rights violations, and it has sought to address the potential negative impact of sanctions on humanitarian assistance, notably through resolution 2664 of 2022, which established a cross-cutting humanitarian exception to UN sanctions. 

Notwithstanding this progress, the brief also described new and emerging challenges to the PoC agenda. It highlighted increasing political pushback from countries hosting peace operations with PoC mandates, resulting in the closure or transition of some operations despite continued threats to civilians in these contexts. In June 2023, for instance, the Council terminated the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) after the country’s transitional government withdrew its consent for the mission. Similarly, in December 2023, at the host government’s request, the Council ended the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), a special political mission that was mandated to support national and local authorities in protecting civilians in conflict-affected areas. Multidimensional peacekeeping missions in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan are also engaged in various stages of transition planning despite continued protection concerns. 

OCHA also identified non-compliance with IHL as another growing challenge to the PoC agenda, exacerbated by a lack of stronger accountability mechanisms. In this context, the brief noted that the gap between the agenda’s expanding normative framework and the realities experienced by civilians on the ground has “remained, if not widened,” over the past five years. 

The Secretary-General’s report is expected to focus more narrowly on developments in 2023. It will describe the general state of the PoC agenda during the reporting period and give an overview of identified trends, including specific harms to civilians in armed conflict and relevant country-specific situations. Harms it is likely to highlight include civilian deaths, attacks on civilian infrastructure, conflict-induced hunger, explosive weapons in populated areas, and CRSV. It will draw examples from a variety of conflict situations around the world, which may include Burkina Faso, Colombia, Gaza, Myanmar, Nagorno-Karabakh, Niger, Sudan, and Ukraine, among others. The report is expected to provide recommendations to address relevant protection concerns, including stronger efforts to ensure compliance with IHL, as well as other actions that go beyond minimum compliance with legal frameworks. As in previous years, the report may include an annex detailing constraints to humanitarian access, such as bureaucratic impediments, attacks on humanitarian personnel, and insecurity in conflict zones.      

In February, OCHA, with the support of Switzerland, released an updated version of its aide memoire for PoC, which is a consolidated database of Council resolutions and presidential statements that records agreed PoC language and identifies key themes and sub-topics. OCHA compiled the first aide memoire in 2002 upon request from the Security Council in a letter to the Secretary-General and has regularly updated it since then. This year’s edition is the first revision since 2018. 

On 25 March, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Farhan Haq announced that Griffiths would step down from his position at the end of June because of health issues. Secretary-General António Guterres appointed him in July 2021. 

Key Issues and Options  

While the Council has engaged extensively on the protection of civilians at both the thematic and country-specific levels over the past 25 years, an overarching issue remains how to ensure a more consistent implementation of this agenda on the ground.  

Securing compliance with IHL is one key task in this regard, including by strengthening accountability mechanisms, and humanitarian actors have also emphasised the importance of taking action beyond legal remedies to promote PoC as a political and strategic priority across international and national decision-making bodies. To further stimulate such discussion after the open debate, Mozambique could decide to produce a chair’s summary, capturing the main proposals made during the meeting. 

One specific PoC issue concerns attacks on humanitarian and UN personnel in conflict situations. It appears that Switzerland has proposed a draft resolution on this topic that Council members are currently negotiating. They may adopt the draft resolution in May.   

Council and Wider Dynamics  

Member states generally agree that the protection of civilians remains a core issue on the Council’s agenda and that of the broader UN.  

Views diverge, however, regarding the applicability of different frameworks for the provision of humanitarian assistance. While Western members typically emphasise the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence, other members—particularly China and Russia—have in recent years emphasised the UN guiding principles for humanitarian assistance adopted by the General Assembly in 1991, which stress state sovereignty and consent of the concerned member state. 

This discussion has notably played out in the context of peacekeeping. In mandate negotiations, China, Russia, and African members tend to highlight the primary responsibility of the host state to protect civilians within its territory, while other members underscore the international community’s obligation to secure a protective environment in contexts lacking capable state authority. 

Given the broad nature of this month’s open debate, members are likely to highlight a variety of other issues and contexts depending on their priorities. While many members have welcomed the emergence of various sub-themes within the PoC agenda as a means by which to shed light on otherwise neglected threats and populations, some have also expressed reservations about the possible fragmentation of the agenda in a way that undermines holistic protection efforts or creates different categories of civilians receiving unequal levels of attention—a concern that some humanitarian actors have also voiced. Moreover, within the Council, several countries—including China and Russia and former members Brazil and India—have cautioned against linking PoC to other agendas, such as climate security, which they consider to be beyond the Council’s purview.  

Finally, protection concerns have been subject to rising geopolitical tensions within certain country-specific situations. Western countries have condemned alleged IHL violations by Russia in Ukraine, while Russia and many Arab countries have condemned alleged violations by Israel in Gaza and criticised Western countries for supporting Israel’s war effort. This has led to accusations of hypocrisy and double standards from both sides. 

The UK is the Council’s penholder on protection of civilians in armed conflict.   

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Security Council Resolution
17 SEPTEMBER 1999S/RES/1265 This was the Council’s first thematic resolution on protection of civilians in armed conflict, condemning targeting of civilians; calling for respect for international humanitarian, refugee and human rights law; and expressing willingness to take measures to ensure compliance and to consider how peacekeeping mandates might better address the negative impact of conflict on civilians.
Security Council Presidential Statements
21 SEPTEMBER 2018S/PRST/2018/18 This was a presidential statement in which the Security Council requested the Secretary-General to submit annual reports on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, to be formally considered by the Security Council each year within the same General Assembly session.
25 NOVEMBER 2015S/PRST/2015/23 This was a presidential statement on the protection of civilians.
Secretary-General’s Report
12 MAY 2023S/2023/345 This was the Secretary-General’s annual report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.


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