What's In Blue

Posted Fri 16 Aug 2013

Protection of Civilians Open Debate

On Monday (19 August) the Security Council will hold an open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. The briefers are expected to be the Secretary-General, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay (both by video-conference), as well as the International Committee of Red Cross Director for International Law and Cooperation, Philip Spoerri. The meeting will be chaired by the legal adviser to the foreign ministry of Argentina, Susana Ruiz Cerutti. Although there will be no outcome it seems the purpose of this debate is to contribute to a discussion by the Council and the broader membership in anticipation of the next report of the Secretary-General which is expected by 17 November 2013. (This will be the third open debate on protection of civilians since the start of 2013, with a fourth expected following the Secretary-General’s report in November. Council members appear to have agreed that there was no need for an outcome document given that there is likely to be one following the November debate.)

In preparation for the open debate Argentina circulated a concept note suggesting three areas in particular that Council members may wish to focus on: (i) enhancing compliance with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law; (ii) ensuring humanitarian access to affected populations; (iii) strengthening accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

These three areas have been part of the protection of civilians Council discussion for some time. In February, following an open debate on protection of civilians, the Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2013/2) which focused on the need to fight impunity for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, and the humanitarian impact of conflict. The statement also recognised the role of the International Criminal Court (ICC), ad hoc international criminal tribunals and mixed tribunals in ensuring accountability.

Many of these issues are relevant to a number of country-specific situations on the Council’s agenda. Some members may wish to relate the importance of applying these concepts in particular to places such as Sudan, Syria, the Central African Republic or the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Humanitarian access issues have featured in discussions on Sudan and Syria while the Secretary-General’s recent recommendation for a panel of experts for Central African Republic hints at the possibility of a commission of inquiry to ensure accountability. Enhancing compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law and strengthening accountability for their violations have been a challenge throughout Council’s more than a decade-long engagement on the DRC.

In discussing the strengthening of accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, Council members are furthermore likely to cover the role of commissions of inquiry and cooperation with international mixed criminal courts and the ICC. Issues related to the tribunals and the ICC have been somewhat divisive among Council members this year and it is likely that members’ statements will reflect these differing views.

The three aspects of protection of civilians have come up in recent debates on children and armed conflict and women, peace and security. Some members may be keen to look at what needs to be done to ensure concrete improvements. The prospect of another debate in November might encourage some members to suggest the need to have the informal expert group on protection of civilians, which normally only meets to consider mandates of missions, to come up with specific suggestions for a possible outcome following the November debate.

Some members may want to highlight the importance of measures taken by peacekeeping missions to implement their mandate to protect civilians as the Council had asked the Secretary-General to include an assessment of such concrete measures in his next report (expected in November).

Monday’s debate will take place on the tenth anniversary of the bomb attack on the Baghdad headquarters of the UN Assistant Mission in Iraq that claimed the lives of 22 people and wounded more than 100. The High Commissioner for Human Rights and head of UNAMI at the time, Sergio Vieira de Mello, was among those killed. (The start of the debate at 10:45 is to allow the Council President to join the Secretary-General in a ceremony commemorating the anniversary.) It is likely that some of the speakers will choose to refer to the 19 August 2003 events in Bagdad during the debate. They may also wish to use this occasion to reflect on the implementation of Council resolution 1502 adopted in the wake of the Baghdad tragedy in which, in addition to condemning the attacks, the Council urged states to ensure that crimes against personnel participating in UN operations do not remain unpunished and reaffirmed the obligation of all parties involved in an armed conflict to comply fully with the rules and principles of international humanitarian law, human rights and refugee law as they relate to the protection of humanitarian personnel, the UN and its associated personnel. This may be particularly relevant in light of recent attacks on UN personnel in Darfur, DRC and South Sudan.

Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.