What's In Blue

Posted Tue 11 Feb 2014

Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians

Tomorrow morning (12 February), the Security Council will hold an open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Lithuania, as President of the Council for the month, circulated a concept note to Council members on 3 February (S/2014/74) proposing that the debate focus on effective implementation of protection of civilians mandates in UN peacekeeping missions, which is one of the five core protection challenges identified by the Secretary-General in his thematic reports since 2009. (The other four are enhancing compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, enhancing compliance by non-state armed groups, ensuring humanitarian access and promoting accountability.) Expected briefers are Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay by video teleconference (VTC) and the Director General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Yves Daccordalso by VTC. As an outcome, the UK, the penholder on the issue, has proposed a presidential statement, and at press time it had been put under silence.

The concept note acknowledges progress over the last five years in developing more detailed guidance and other policy documents to improve implementation of protection mandates as called for by the Council in resolution 1894. (Adopted on 11 November 2009, this was the last thematic resolution on the protection of civilians and had a special focus on peacekeeping.) Recognising, however, the many remaining challenges, the note encourages participants in the debate to consider ways to ensure that there is a common understanding of peacekeeping mandates and that mission leadership is aware of the Council’s prioritisation of protection tasks. It also invites participants to address policy, planning and preparedness gaps regarding protection mandates and consider how to improve coordination among actors on the ground, situational awareness, early warning and rapid response. Moreover, the concept note suggests that participants discuss the Council’s engagement with regard to implementation challenges and progress after the adoption of a mandate, best practices and how to ensure adequate resources and financing to support implementation.

While there seems to be widespread support for the idea of focusing the debate on peacekeeping, it is also understood that participants may want to raise other protection issues. In particular, the concept note includes a reference to the Secretary-General’s latest report (S/2013/689) which was issued on 22 November, but has not yet been formally considered by the Council. An open debate on the protection of civilians was expected in December under the presidency of France, but this did not take place. The last open debate was on 19 August 2013 (S/PV.7017). The concept note encourages members to “reflect on the other core challenges to the protection of civilians as well as the recommendations” of the report. Participants in the debate are also likely to express views on some of the many pressing protection challenges on the Council’s agenda such as the situations in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Syria.

The draft presidential statement’s main objective is to endorse the recently updated aide memoire on the protection of civilians, which was drafted by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to facilitate the Council’s consideration of key protection issues, and was first endorsed in a presidential statement on 15 March 2002 (S/PRST/2002/6). The aide memoire was last updated in 2010 and endorsed by the Council in a 22 November 2010 presidential statement (S/PRST/2010/25). The draft statement also aims to reaffirm the Council’s commitment to the protection of civilians based on agreed language from previous resolutions or presidential statements, noting that this year marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Council’s consideration of this issue.

On the issue of peacekeeping, the statement reiterates the Council’s determination to upgrade the strategic oversight of peacekeeping operations and expresses support for the Secretary-General’s efforts in this regard. It also stresses the role of senior mission leadership in ensuring implementation of protection mandates and encourages coordination between the UN and regional and sub-regional organisations on protection issues relating to peacekeeping.

Given the fact that the draft proposed by the UK was based on agreed language, it seems that no face-to-face negotiations were initially scheduled as there was an expectation that agreement could be reached over e-mail. It seems, however, that a major disagreement emerged over language in the draft stating that the Council “adopts the updated aide memoire contained in the annex”. Although this is the exact phrase that the Council has used in past decisions to endorse the aide memoire, it appears that Russia this time wanted to only take note of the revised document. It is unclear exactly why Russia finds the previously agreed language unacceptable at this point, but it has expressed concerns about the way the aide memoire has been updated. The main changes in it can be found in the addendum on agreed language which has been updated to reflect decisions made by the Council since the last version was adopted in 2010 and should not be controversial. Also, it seems that Russia did not raise any objections during the consultations OCHA conducted with Council members earlier to discuss the updates.

At press time, it seemed a revised draft with compromise language had been put under silence. Instead of adopting the aide memoire, the Council would “recognise the contribution” of the updated aide memoire for the consideration of issues pertaining to the protection of civilians in armed conflict, and as a practical tool that provides a basis for improved analysis and diagnosis of key protection issues, and stresses the need to continue its use on a more systematic and consistent basis.

If the proposed statement is agreed to, it will signal a continuing cautious approach in the Council to the protection of civilians as a thematic issue, as there is no new language and no reference to any of the concerns raised in the Secretary-General’s report. Although a presidential statement would appear to be a suitable vehicle for mentioning the Secretary-General’s “Rights up Front” action plan which was presented in the General Assembly on 17 December and aims to strengthen the UN’s overall response to violations against civilians, there was no suggestion to include language on this. Russia’s intransigence over previously agreed language referring to the aide memoire may serve to reinforce the notion that the climate in the Council, in spite of the change in Council membership, is still not particularly conducive for trying to advance protection of civilians at the thematic level.

Please see our 20 December 2013 Cross-Cutting Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict for more recent developments at the thematic level, as well as in country-specific situations.