What's In Blue

Posted Fri 22 Jun 2012

Protection of Civilians Open Debate

On Monday (25 June), the Council is scheduled to hold its semi-annual open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. (The last such debate was held on 9 November 2011.) As in the past, given the long list of speakers, it will likely be a whole day event. The Secretary-General is expected to brief as are several others, including Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Simonovic (who will deliver a statement on behalf of High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay), as well as International Committee of the Red Cross Director, Philip Spoerri (via videolink). No Council outcome is expected following the debate.

With a number of protection challenges facing the Council in situations on its agenda, this debate is likely to be an opportunity for participants to cover a wide range of issues which are highly relevant to the Council’s current work.

The main focus of the debate will be the Secretary-General’s 22 May report on protection of civilians (S/2012/376), which is structured around five key protection challenges: enhancing compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law; improving non-state armed groups’ compliance with the law through more consistent and effective engagement; strengthening protection by peacekeepers; improving humanitarian access; and enhancing accountability.

Recommendations in the report of particular relevance to the Council include its role in preventing health care facilities from being targeted as well as the movement and use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas.

The issue of accountability for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law is likely to come up during the debate and it appears that this may be one of the areas that Pillay’s statement will focus on. The Secretary-General’s report highlights the Council’s role in ensuring accountability for these violations. It encourages the Council to consider the recommendations that came out of a workshop on accountability co-organised by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Mission of Portugal on 1 November 2011. (A summary of the workshop and its recommendations submitted by Portugal was circulated on 29 May.)

While the report seems to have been generally well received, it appears that some Council members were unhappy with how it referred to the implementation of resolutions 1970 and 1973 on Libya. (The report emphasised the need for the future implementation of such Council decisions to comply “scrupulously with international humanitarian and human rights law” and be limited to protection of civilians.) Some Council members seemed to interpret the language as an implicit and undue criticism of NATO’s enforcement of the mandate to protect civilians. It is possible some participants may respond to this during the debate.

Participants are likely to also focus on country-specific situations, particularly Syria. It seems that Amos will also cover protection challenges in several specific countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, South Sudan , Sudan, and Syria.
Divisions which first emerged over how the protection mandate was being carried out in Libya in 2011 have continued to affect Council dynamics relating to protection of civilians. The current composition of the Council also includes a number of members with strong views on what the Council should or should not do to ensure the protection of civilians. As a result, Council members who would normally have pushed for an outcome chose not to as they felt that an attempt to agree on a text under the present circumstances could lead to a weakening of the protection of civilians agenda.

For more background on protection of civilians as an issue on the Council’s agenda and relevant recent developments, please refer to our 31 May Cross-Cutting Report on the Protection of Civilians.

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