Ministerial-level Debate on the Protection of Civilians in the Context of Peacekeeping Operations
Tomorrow (10 June), the Security Council will hold a ministerial-level open debate on the protection of civilians in the context of peacekeeping operations. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and President Faustin-Archange Touadéra of the Central African Republic are expected to address the Council. ICRC President Peter Maurer will brief as well via video-teleconference. Jean-Marc Ayrault, French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, will preside. No immediate Council outcome (i.e., a resolution or presidential statement) is anticipated.
The Secretary-General is likely to focus his remarks on the importance of a whole-of-mission approach to the protection of civilians that integrates political, civilian and military elements. Maurer may discuss the complementary activities of peacekeepers and their humanitarian partners, while emphasising the importance of neutrality, independence and impartiality in the delivery of aid. The participation of President Touadéra reflects the fact that the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSMA) has a strong protection of civilians’ mandate.
France views this debate as the centerpiece of its presidency. The debate is intended to continue discussions on the reform of peace operations, which featured in the UN’s three major reviews last year—the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) report, the Advisory Group of Experts report on Peacebuilding, and the Global Study on the Implementation of Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security—as well as in the General Assembly’s high-level thematic debate on peace and security on 10 and 11 May.
In preparation for the debate, France has circulated a concept note that poses a series of questions to help focus the discussion. The concept note asks how relevant regional and international organisations can be encouraged to take protection of civilians into account; how local-level protection capacities can be developed; and how partnerships with humanitarian actors can be strengthened. Some of the questions are directly relevant to the Security Council’s mandating and oversight of peacekeeping missions, including whether protection mandates are clear enough; what means are available to track the implementation and achievement of targets established by the Council; and whether mandates should be reviewed regularly. The concept note also presents questions for discussion particularly relevant to the training and operations of peacekeepers, including how protection of civilians should feature in the initial training of deployed contingents and how the operational capacities focused on the protection of civilians should be adapted.
In addition, members may choose to explore other matters relevant to the protection of civilians in peacekeeping operations. Among other issues, this could include how to ensure that non-military protection tools—including political engagement, human rights monitoring and advocacy, and rule of law development—are adequately integrated into relevant mandates; how to protect civilians in contexts in which the host country is not cooperating with the mission, or its own forces are responsible for harming civilians; and how to interpret the appropriate use of force in the context of the three core peacekeeping principles: the consent of the parties, impartiality, and the use of force only in self-defence and in defence of the mandate.
It seems that this debate may be considered as the meeting at which the Secretary-General’s protection of civilians annual report, which was published on 13 May, is taken up. The Council adopted a presidential statement on 25 November 2015 requesting that the reports of the Secretary-General be submitted in May of each year to be “formally considered by the Security Council each year within the same General Assembly session” (i.e. by September). Therefore, although the debate is focused on the protection of civilians in the context of peacekeeping operations, it seems that some member states will choose to include in their interventions a discussion of some of the broader issues raised in the latest protection of civilians report. Thus, issues related to adherence to international humanitarian and human rights law, humanitarian access and accountability may be raised.
There is strong awareness in the Council that more needs to be done to translate the protection of civilians at the thematic level into concrete results at the country-specific level. There has been considerable analysis and discussion about how to better protect civilians in peace operations over the past year, but this does not appear to have resulted in significant progress at the strategic or operational levels. Regarding the protection of civilians in peacekeeping missions, there are divergent views among Council members and troop- and police-contributing countries regarding the appropriate use of force, which may be reflected in statements tomorrow. Some members tend to emphasise the importance of upholding the core principles of peacekeeping; others, while espousing these principles, tend to have a more flexible interpretation of protection-of-civilians mandates, arguing that the use of force is required to protect civilians when they are under attack or threatened with attack.