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Protection of Civilians Open Debate

Tomorrow, Tuesday 12 February, the Security Council will hold an open debate on protection of civilians in armed conflict. Briefings are expected by the Secretary-General, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) Director for International Law and Cooperation Philip Spoerri. The meeting will be chaired by Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan of the Republic of Korea (ROK). Other expected high-level participation includes the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Rwanda and Brazil. At press time, a draft presidential statement had just been put under silence till nine tomorrow morning with the expectation of being adopted during the meeting.

A key provision of the statement appears to be a request for a report from the Secretary-General on protection of civilians by 15 November and then every 18 months thereafter. It would also request that the November report include an assessment of measures taken by peacekeeping missions to implement their mandates to protect civilians and the impact of those measures.

In addition to establishing a regular reporting cycle for the Secretary-General’s reports, the statement would reconfirm the Council’s commitment to the protection of civilians based on agreed language from resolution 1894 (the most recent resolution on protection of civilians, adopted on 11 November 2009). It focuses in particular on fighting impunity, humanitarian issues and implementing peacekeeping protection mandates.

It seems negotiations have been difficult, with the usual divisions between those Council members that would like the Council to play a more proactive role in protection issues, who are currently in the majority, and others such as Azerbaijan, China, Pakistan and Russia.

Final discussions seem to have focused in particular on issues related to accountability. More specifically, it seems one P5 member had problems with a reference to the ICC that would express the Council’s commitment to ensure an effective follow-up to the Court’s referrals. Bilateral negotiations were also needed over whether to include references to the responsibility to protect and reparations to victims of violence as well as issues related to proper registration systems for the distribution of humanitarian assistance. It seems that compromise language on all of these issues appears in the draft currently under silence.

It seems that the final draft also contains new provisions relating to international humanitarian law that would specifically condemn attacks against medical personnel and facilities (concerns about recent increases in such attacks have been raised in the past both by the Secretary-General and by the ICRC) and express concern about attacks against schools and threats against teachers. There is also language expressing concern about violence against journalists and media professionals. (According to Reporters Without Borders, there was a 33 percent increase in the number of journalists killed in 2012 compared with 2011.) These provisions appear to have been uncontroversial.

In preparation for the debate, the ROK on 4 February circulated a concept note (S/2013/75) inviting member states to discuss ways to enhance the protection of civilians while stressing the need to translate normative progress into concrete improvements on the ground and focusing in particular on three of the five core protection challenges outlined in the Secretary-General’s most recent thematic reports: ensuring accountability for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, strengthening implementation of peacekeeping protection mandates and enhancing compliance for violations of the law. (The other two challenges are improving humanitarian access and enhancing compliance with the law by non-state actors.)

Contrary to expectations, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos is not on the list of briefers for the debate.
Although she had wanted to speak, it seems she will not be participating because as a general rule if the Secretary-General briefs the Council no other Secretariat official speaks. However, in the past this practice has not always been strictly enforced. This would therefore be the first time since 2001 that the Emergency Relief Coordinator or his/her deputy will not brief at a thematic debate on protection of civilians.

In reaction to this, the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians (a group of 15 UN member states chaired by Switzerland which includes Council members Australia, France and the UK) expressed its concerns in a 6 February letter to the Council President. The letter stressed that the comprehensive humanitarian perspective that Amos would bring to the debate was an essential prerequisite for any meaningful discussion on the protection of civilians and asked that the President facilitate her participation.

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