Research Report

Posted 15 May 2015
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Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

This is Security Council Report’s seventh Cross-Cutting Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, continuing a series that began with the publication of our first report on the subject in 2008. The entire report can be downloaded in PDF.

The present report covers relevant developments at the thematic level since our December 2013 cross-cutting report and analyses Council action in country-specific situations relating to the protection of civilians, with a special focus on South Sudan. It also discusses Council dynamics and outlines some possible options that could help strengthen the Council’s work on this important thematic issue. The main conclusion of the report is that a stronger focus is needed on how to implement the existing normative framework on protection issues to have enhanced impact on the ground.

Summary and Conclusions

During the period covered in this report, the deterioration of existing crises and the emergence of new ones had a devastating effect on civilians. The Council spent considerable time managing these crises and their protection of civilians challenges, with limited results. The case study on South Sudan describes the Council’s engagement on a now intractable protection crisis. It offers a more comprehensive and in-depth analysis than the country-specific statistical analysis in the report can provide.  

At the thematic level, two open debates on the protection of civilians have been held since our last cross-cutting report. The first of these focused on effective implementation of protection of civilians mandates in UN peacekeeping operations (S/PV.7109 of 12 February 2014). The second focused on the protection challenges of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict settings (S/PV.7374 of 30 January 2015). 

During the 12 February 2014 debate (S/PRST/2014/3), the Council adopted a presidential statement that underscored the need to end impunity for violations of international humanitarian law; reaffirmed support for the efforts of the Secretary-General to review peacekeeping operations and to provide enhanced planning for peacekeeping operations in collaboration with troop- and police-contributing countries; reiterated the Council’s determination to upgrade the strategic oversight of peacekeeping operations; and reaffirmed the need for peacekeeping operations to ensure that they implement their protection of civilians mandates and stressed the role of senior mission leadership in this regard. The statement recognised the updated aide mémoire, which was attached as an annex. (It had last been updated in 2010 [S/PRST/2010/25 of 22 November 2010]).  New language was added to the 2014 aide mémoire condemning the impediments to the fulfilment of the mandates of UN peace operations, such as attacks on mission personnel and bureaucratic obstacles, and calling on the Council to consider the use of “targeted and graduated measures” against those violating international humanitarian and human rights law.

A number of other developments relevant at the thematic level have occurred since our last report. A briefing was held on 16 April 2014 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda (S/PV.7155); during the briefing, the Council adopted resolution 2150, calling upon states to recommit to preventing and fighting genocide and other serious crimes.  On 30 May 2014, Council members convened an Arria-formula meeting on the protection of internally displaced persons. And on 19 August 2014, coinciding with World Humanitarian Day, the Council held a briefing on the safety and security of humanitarian workers; resolution 2175 was adopted by the Council on 29 August 2014 strongly condemning violence and intimidation against those involved in humanitarian operations.

At the country-specific level, the Council continued to include protection provisions in nearly all relevant resolutions and presidential statements adopted over the course of 2013 and 2014, in some cases expanding on the protection language that had existed in previous similar decisions. Two new peacekeeping operations with a protection of civilians mandate were established in 2013 and 2014: the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (2013) and the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (2014). There are now 10 UN peacekeeping operations with a mandate to protect civilians. The trend toward more frequent briefings on country-specific issues by high-level officials from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which began in 2011, continued in 2013 and 2014, increasing significantly in 2014.

In the case study on South Sudan, we explore what the Council has done to address three of the five core-protection challenges identified by the Secretary-General in his recent reports on the protection of civilians—including strengthening protection through peacekeeping, enhancing humanitarian access and promoting accountability. We analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the Council’s engagement, recognising that the complex security and political environment has made protecting civilians and finding a solution to the conflict extremely difficult.

The final section of the report presents some options for consideration by the Security Council. While normative advances have been achieved in recent years, we argue that the real challenge for the Council is to implement existing norms in country-specific situations more effectively. In this sense, it would be helpful if the Council received more fine-grained analyses of protection issues on the ground that could serve as springboards for enhanced strategic thinking about how to enhance the protection of civilians. Increased interactions with field-level personnel would be helpful in this regard. We also offer some options regarding the role of the informal expert group on the protection of civilians.